Justin Morneau shrugged off an o-for-14 slump with a 4-hit afternoon, and Clint Barmes homered and drove in two runs as the Pittsburgh Pirates completed a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers and a 5-4 road trip with a 7-5 win at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas on Wednesday.
The victory kept the Pirates within one game of first-place St. Louis and two games ahead of third-place Cincinnati in the National League Central Division, and lowered their “magic number” for clinching a playoff position to 10. The Bucs (84-61) finished 2013 interleague play with a 15-5 record, currently the best mark in the Major Leagues.
Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett (8-10; 3.45 ERA) retired the first 13 batters he faced, striking out five of the first six hitters. Burnett threw 103 pitches over 6-and-a-third innings, eventually allowing five runs on six hits with seven strikeouts and two walks. The Pirates utilized five pitchers, and Kyle Farnsworth earned the save, his first in two years.
Marlon Byrd went 2-for-5 for Pittsburgh, and Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez all drove home runs. The Bucs rested centerfielder Andrew McCutchen, who entered the day in fourth place in the NL batting race with a .326 average.
The starter for the Rangers (81-64), Matt Garza lasted only four innings. Garza (9-5 overall; 3-4 with Texas; 3.79 overall ERA) surrendered only three runs and five hits with six strikeouts, but he walked four batters and threw 89 pitches. Elvis Andrus went 2-for-5 with 3 RBI’s for Texas. Ian Kinsler and A.J. Pierzynski also recorded two hits.
On Thursday night, the Pirates will begin their 11-game homestand finale with the first of four contests against the Chicago Cubs (62-83). In the opener, the Bucs’ Jeff Locke (9-5; 3.23 ERA) is expected to take on the Cubs’ Seth Rusin (2-3; 2.89 ERA). Seven of Pittsburgh’s remaining 17 games will be versus the Cubs.