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COL@PIT: Alvarez goes back-to-back with Jones

PITTSBURGH -- Just as the Pirates were approaching possibly their darkest 2012 hour, a ray of sunshine cut through their gloom -- and directly into Carlos Gonzalez's eyes.

When the Colorado left fielder was blinded on Nate McLouth's line drive in the fifth inning of the nightcap of Wednesday's doubleheader, the Bucs had a run, and a sudden insatiable hunger for more.

After the feeding was over, the Pirates had their biggest offensive inning of the season on the way to a 5-1 victory and a split of the twin-bill with the Rockies.

"We had opportunities presented to us before, and haven't been able to move on them," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We moved this time -- dramatically."

A five-run outburst in that fifth benefited Charlie Morton, who showed his gratitude for the support by going seven innings and holding the Rockies to six hits -- including Ramon Hernandez's solo homer with two outs in the seventh.

In the opener, James McDonald lost a no-hit bid on Troy Tulowitzki's infield single with none out in the seventh, and the Pirates ultimately lost a 2-1 decision on Tyler Colvin's tie-breaking sacrifice fly in the eighth.

The Bucs thus added two more pearls to their season-opening string of neither scoring nor allowing more than five runs in any game, now at 18. That's a new Major League record, eclipsing the 17 of the 1943 wartime Detroit Tigers.

"I guess that's one of those good-news, bad-news records," said Neil Walker, after a nightcap in which all the news turned good.

At 8-10, the Pirates hit the road for series in Atlanta and St. Louis still within quick strike of the .500 mark, despite an offense that has dragged through the first three weeks of the season -- and thanks to a pitching staff that through the 18 games has allowed a total of 51 runs.

How impressive is that? While taking into the account that eras differ, the 1968 St. Louis Cardinals, whose pitching staff -- paced by Bob Gibson and his 1.12 ERA -- was so dominant it was influential in getting mounds lowered to 10 inches, had allowed 52 runs through their first 18 games.

If their hitting begins to pull astride of their pitching, the Bucs feel they will be very dangerous.

"It felt good to score big like that in one inning," said Garrett Jones, whose two-run homer was the inning's centerpiece. "Our pitching has been outstanding, and if we can keep hitting more consistently, we'll really take off. We definitely have the offense to score a bunch of runs."

It had been a very quiet day for the Bucs, one run in 13 innings, until McLouth's liner went through Gonzalez and ushered Alex Presley home from second with the tying run.

"The sun's in your face out there. You've got to try to play it to the side, try something different," said Presley, the Bucs' left fielder who also got a perfect look at that play from second base.

""You can't catch something you can't see," Gonzalez said. "I didn't see the ball at all. The sun was right in my face. It seemed like every time we were going to hit, the clouds covered the sun for the other team. Bad luck."

The Pirates quickly drove a bulldozer through that opening: Andrew McCutchen delivered an RBI single, Jones crushed a two-run homer -- snapping the team's string of 10 straight solo homers since last Sept. 23 -- and Pedro Alvarez followed with his second homer of the day.

Reggie Jackson, in the days he would interrupt strings of strikeouts with an occasional home run, was fond of saying the sun sometimes shone even on the unluckiest mutt.

Or, in the Pirates' case, in the eyes of its opponent. But it remained up to the Pirates to take advantage of that break, which they did with a tenacity that has been uncommon this season, much to Colorado starter Jhoulys Chacin's chagrin.

The opener featured arguably the finest game of McDonald's still-budding career. In seven innings, he fanned eight and allowed only the infield single by Tulowitzki that led to Colorado's first run.

Gonzalez was aboard with a leadoff walk when Tulowitzki's hard-hit ball into the hole could be only deflected by Alvarez. Gonzalez reached second on that infield single, moved to third on a wild pitch, and a little later scored on Jason Giambi's sacrifice fly.

McDonald at least was spared a harsh loss when Alvarez -- off whose glove Tulowitzki had singled minutes earlier -- led off the bottom of the seventh with a tying, solo homer off Juan Nicasio.

"I'd rather have the win than throw a no-hitter," McDonald said between games. "The confidence I felt helped a lot. I was just going aggressively at guys, whatever the count was.

"When I was out there, I didn't think about a no-hitter; that just isn't something you think about pitch-to-pitch. My main concern was to keep the team in the game. The main goal was to win the game."

Despite another starter's excellence, it didn't happen, and that frustration continued to grip the Bucs midway through the nightcap.

The fate of a second-inning charge at Chacin captured the Pirates' offensive frustrations -- and of manager Clint Hurdle's challenge to assemble a lineup that offers some continuity.

Yamaico Navarro led off with a walk, and when Clint Barmes followed with a double, the Bucs seemed to be poised for a breakthrough. But after No. 8 hitter Rod Barajas (average: .108) popped out and Morton fanned, Presley's fly to medium-deep center could do no good.

Two at-bats later, Presley triggered the Bucs' rally with a double to extended his hitting streak to 11 games. Comments