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Must C Crushed: Alvarez bounces back with two homers

MILWAUKEE -- The fathers of Pirates players had heard all about the difficulty their sons have here, so they came to Miller Park to see for themselves.

They think they've been put on, after seeing the boys put it to the Brewers for the second straight night. Saturday's 10-2 romp gave the Pirates eight wins in their last 15 games in Miller Park -- following a 7-46 skid here.

Just like Pedro Alvarez Sr. must've felt his son's problems have been exaggerated, watching him belt a pair of opposite-field homers to drive in four runs in leading the offensive parade. The previous night, Vince Harrison Sr. had watched Josh Harrison drive in a career-most five runs in the series-opening 8-3 win.

Wait till all the pops find out Fathers & Sons Weekend has been extended to Fathers & Sons Season. The club isn't about to let them go home.

The Pirates matched their season high of 18 combined runs in consecutive games in a yard they usually don't associate with positives.

"This place has been a little bit -- make that, a big bit -- of a Rubik's Cube for us when we've come in here to play," noted manager Clint Hurdle.

The colored tiles aligned a little more for the Pirates, who with this latest victory moved within four games of the National League Central-leading Brewers. With the Giants' loss to the Nationals, the Bucs also pulled to within 1 1/2 games of the second NL Wild Card spot.

Recall the sidebar of the Pirates' recent seven-game losing streak, of them having to endure it without a third of their regular lineup? Two of those missing guys drove in seven runs, with Neil Walker adding three to the four for Pedro Alvarez, who played his second career game as a first baseman. Russell Martin also drove in three runs.

"When you have three guys in the lineup who come up with multiple RBIs, it's easy," Hurdle said. "We were able to add on throughout the lineup."

Martin neatly bookended the Pirates' two loud rallies against 15-game winner Wily Peralta.

He doubled with two away to touch off a three-run fourth -- the Bucs' first hit of the game -- resulting from Alvarez's first homer, an opposite-field shot to left that was his first since July 11. And Martin's three-run homer was the centerpiece of a five-run fifth, preceded by Walker's RBI double and followed by Alvarez's clone shot into the same left-field section.

Alvarez's first blow was a real long time coming. In the 42 days between No. 15 and No. 16, he had gone a quiet 12-for-65 with merely four RBIs. Then he went about 20 minutes between Nos. 16 and 17.

Now the eternal question: Was this a brief spike in his flatline, or ignition? Could Alvarez be approaching one of his team-carrying stretches?

Hurdle wears on his sleeve a pet peeve about outsiders, media and fans included, being too quick to "take the temperature" of players, hot or cold. So he tempered his own comments about Alvarez's performance.

"He got balls out over the plate and he put good swings on them," Hurdle said, simply. "We're always happy for any player that breaks out. When you put in your work, you feel good for anybody when they can bounce back."

Friday's outburst -- the Bucs hadn't scored as many as eight runs since Aug. 11 -- helped Jeff Locke past his control problems. Saturday's encore supported Edinson Volquez on a night he spent pitching out of the stretch.

Volquez went 5 2/3 innings for his 11th victory. That means he got 17 outs; nearly half of those -- eight -- came with men on second and/or third.

"Every inning," Volquez smiled broadly when those escapes were brought up. "That's part of the game. Trouble happens, then I was able to throw a lot of strikes and get a lot of ground balls."

Volquez allowed 11 hits while also walking two, but only two runs.

"Eddie gave us just enough," Hurdle said. "He got out of some jams very effectively."

The tightest occurred in the fourth, trouble that Volquez invited by issuing a one-out walk to Peralta -- after starting him off in an 0-2 hole. An ensuing single by Carlos Gomez further seemed to pique Volquez. So pitching coach Ray Searage paid him a mound visit.

"I threatened him with bodily harm if he didn't settle down," joked Searage, grinning. "I just wanted to calm him down. He was a little ticked off at himself, a little steamed."

When Jonathan Lucroy followed with another single to load the bases, Volquez could have snapped. The Bucs had just given him a 3-2 lead in the top of the inning on Alvarez's homer, and he was about to throw it away.

"We definitely had our chances," bemoaned Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke. "Our big boys are up when we needed them up."

And they went down: Ryan Braun on a broken-bat popup to second and Aramis Ramirez on a strikeout.

"First thing you have to do is stay under control to be able to execute pitches," Volquez said. "I was under control."

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