MIL@PHI: Hurdle on smart play resulting in a 2-1 win

PITTSBURGH -- The big question to the Pirates continues to evolve. At the beginning of the season, it naturally was, "Can you finish over .500?" Then it became, "Can you keep this up?"

And now, it is, "Can you handle this?"

"This" being the sudden acclaim and hype being heaped on a team with the Major Leagues' best record by a nation of media and fans discovering them.

Manager Clint Hurdle's control-the-grind and one-pitch-at-a-time mantras are being put to the ultimate test. He has indeed addressed it with his players.

"I've told them, 'You can't shut it out or ignore it, but you can control where it takes you. That's up to you,'" Hurdle said. "The lessons learned the past two years will be a strength for us moving forward. We're happy with what we've done, but it's not going to change the process.

"I'm just enjoying the ride and looking forward to when this city will be rocking. Somebody's got to hold the wheel; I didn't do a good enough job with the wheel last year."

Dealing with the new distractions by eliminating them is Job No. 1, and Hurdle has been big on the elimination part. He has been inundated with requests from national media, which he has been declining with a little chip on his shoulder.

"I've turned down a lot of media," he said. "We'll talk at the end, if there's any reason to talk. I don't need to talk to everybody who now wants a thought on the Pittsburgh Pirates, because a lot of these people didn't care about the Pittsburgh Pirates the first two years [I managed them]."

Extra-innings win defining game for stellar 'pen

MIL@PIT: Hurdle discusses his bullpen's efficiency

PITTSBURGH -- A Pirates half-season difficult to define was, well, defined by Sunday's 2-1 win in 14 innings over the Brewers.

There have been two constants on their road to 51-30. One, their often-voiced daily goal to simply get one run more than the other team -- which sounds inane, until you actually see it in practice. And, of course, that bullpen; while the rotation has gone through numerous reconstructions and the offense has been mediocre, the fins haven't changed and the performances haven't ebbed in the Shark Tank.

One run more?

The Bucs began the week with a 10-inning, 10-9 win in Anaheim -- the third time they won while allowing seven-plus runs. They ended it with consecutive 2-1 wins over the Brewers -- the seventh and eighth times they won while scoring two or fewer runs.

The six relievers who combined for 12 shutout innings of two-hit ball Sunday set their already lofty bar so high, not even former Olympic pole vaulter Sergey Bubka could clear it. Vin Mazzaro, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon and Tony Watson relayed for absolutely the best extended pitching performance in club history:

• Never before had the Pirates bullpen combined for 12 shutout innings in one game.

• Mazzaro started it off with five perfect innings, the first Pirates reliever to do that since Elmer Ponder retired all 17 men he faced in a 5 2/3-inning stint on July 23, 1919.

• Combined with rain-shortened starter Charlie Morton's two innings, the Pirates went through a game of at least 14 innings without issuing a single walk for the first time since May 22, 1976, against the Cubs.

• The relievers extended their stays by remarkably obeying manager Clint Hurdle's three-pitches-or-fewer wish: 24 of the 36 outs they got followed that edict.

"It's nice how every time they go out they just shut the door," said Russell Martin, who normally catches them, but on Sunday merely came off the bench to deliver the winning hit in a pinch. "We're getting used to it. We're blessed right now."

The Brewers were only shocked to have been so shut down by so many different arms.

"It feels like they all throw 110 [mph]," outfielder Logan Schafer said. "They've all got good stuff. They know what they're doing. They're pretty effective at getting ahead in counts, and that's big on their end."

Bucs reach 50-win mark for first time in June

MIL@PIT: Pirates become first team to win 50 games

PITTSBURGH -- Much was made over the weekend of the Pirates reaching 50 wins while the Major League Baseball schedule was still in the month of June. It marked the first time the Bucs had accomplished that in their history, which dates back to 1887.

That pre-July 50-win benchmark is quite arbitrary -- since this season began on April 1, considerably more games were played through June than usually.

But this is not: The 51-30 record equals the Pirates' best at the midpoint of the 162-game season.

Only twice previously had the Bucs done this: 1971, when they went on to win the World Series; and 1972, when their hopes of a repeat ended in a last-inning NLCS loss to Cincinnati's Big Red Machine.

Worth noting

• With their win on Saturday, the Bucs became the first team to reach 50 wins since there were only 16 of them -- in 1921 and 1960.

• The Pirates have won their last four home games -- and six of the last seven -- in front of PNC Park crowds of 30,000-plus.

• Indianapolis outfielder Andrew Lambo capped off his first month of Triple-A play by earning International League Player of the Week honors after hitting .500 with three homers and eight RBIs through Sunday. Lambo is hitting .314 in his first 20 games with the Indians since his promotion from Double-A Altoona.

First number, last word

7: Wins for Francisco Liriano in his first 10 games with the Pirates, only the second Pittsburgh pitcher to do that since 1950 (Kip Wells, 2002).

"This team has fought for every inch it has gotten. Everything we've done, we've earned. So, no, I don't think it's just breaks going our way. To say that is to sell short what we've done." -- pitcher Charlie Morton, to the suggestion the Pirates have somehow been fortunate to have the Majors' best record