Playoff watch: Pirates crush Padres, lead Reds by one game
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Neil Walker had four hits, including his 11th homer of the season, and drove in three runs to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates over the San Diego Padres 10-1 Thursday and stop a three-game losing streak.
Pedro Alvarez hit his NL-leading 34th homer for Pittsburgh. Jose Tabata added two hits and three RBIs as the Pirates moved a game in front of Cincinnati for the top wild card spot in the NL. The rivals begin a three-game series in Pittsburgh on Friday.
Gerrit Cole (9-7) struck out a career-high 12 while allowing one run and four hits in six innings.
Pittsburgh scored four runs total while losing three straight games to the Padres but scored five in the fourth against Ian Kennedy (6-10). Alvarez homered to center with one out to give Pittsburgh the lead.
The win inched Pittsburgh closer to its first postseason berth in 21 years and gave the Pirates some momentum heading into the showdown with the Reds. It also took some of the sting out of a 3-2 loss on Wednesday night when closer Mark Melancon surrendered two runs in the ninth in his third blown save this season.
The Pirates, as they've done nearly all year when tested, responded emphatically. It certainly helps that Cole has quickly matured into the star the franchise envisioned when it selected him with the first overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft.
The 23-year-old won for the third time in nine days by dominating the Padres with a fastball that topped out in the high 90s and an improving breaking ball that kept San Diego from completing the sweep.
Cole's main weakness may be that he gets too fired up. His ERA in the first inning rose to 6.00 when Tommy Medica's two-out RBI single gave the Padres an early lead. It was the lone hiccup on a day he bolstered his case to earn a start in October if the Pirates make it that far.
And for once, he received a little help from an offense that finally found some traction after 27 fruitless innings.
Making a spot start while leadoff hitter Starling Marte spent the day in the hospital helping his wife welcome their first child, Tabata scored on a fielder's-choice grounder by Andrew McCutchen to tie it in the first. Three innings later, Alvarez crushed a belt-high Kennedy pitch and sent it nearly to the concourse behind the seats in center for just his second home run in 22 games.
The homer sent a jolt through Pittsburgh's dugout. Tabata hit a two-run double with two outs, and Walker followed with a shot to right that climbed just over the top of the Clemente Wall for a 6-1 lead.
Cole worked out of a two-on, two-out jam in the fifth and completed his career day by striking out Nick Hundley swinging. The burly right-hander pumped his first in celebration as he walked off the mound. The Pirates hadn't won a game by more than two runs since knocking off Milwaukee 5-2 on Sept. 2.
NOTES: Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said he hasn't set a rotation for the final week of the season. If the Pirates don't make any changes, ace Francisco Liriano would be available to pitch the opening game of the playoffs. Liriano (16-7, 2.29 ERA) will start Friday night against Cincinnati's Mat Latos (14-6, 3.14) ... San Diego begins a three-game series at home on Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Robbie Erlin (2-3, 5.18 ERA) will face Edinson Volquez (9-11, 5.94).