Coming off a road trip where runs where hard to come by and his bullpen was nearly lights out, Marlins manager Mike Redmond decided to gamble a little in the sixth inning Friday night.
With the bases loaded and one out in a scoreless tie, he lifted pitcher Henderson Alvarez, who has thrown 13 consecutive scoreless innings since the All-Star Break, for pinch-hitter Placido Polanco.
It paid off.
Polanco plated a run on a slow roller down the third-base line and the bullpen picked up where Henderson left off as the Marlins beat the high-flying Pirates 2-0 in front of an announced crowd of 18,718 at Marlins Park.
“It’s always a tough decision when someone was pitching as well as Alvarez was, but this is the best pitching staff in the National League we’re going against, and I wasn’t sure if we were going to get another chance,” Redmond said. “We went for it. It worked out.”
Once an awful 7-20 through the first two months of the season at home, the Marlins (39-62) won for the 15th time in their past 22 games at home.
Slugger Giancarlo Stanton padded the Marlins’ lead with a towering solo home run in the seventh inning off Pirates starter Jeff Locke (9-3). The 397-foot blast was Stanton’s 12th home run of the season and ninth at home.
“Kind of got the sense they were thinking ‘He hasn’t seen anything all day let’s see what he can do,’ ” Stanton said of crushing the 3-1 pitch. “I just wanted to take advantage of that.”
The Pirates, who have the second-best record in baseball behind the St. Louis Cardinals, produced five hits in their first shutout loss since June 13.
Pittsburgh (60-41) couldn’t figure out Alvarez, who gave up two hits, one walk and struck out five on 72 pitches (51 strikes) before being pulled for Polanco.
“I’m happy about the win, thankful for my teammates who picked me up,” said Alvarez who hit 98 mph on the radar gun and picked up his first win since being acquired from Toronto last winter.
“I felt good today. I was throwing hard in the bullpen. I was a little surprised to hit 98. I haven’t thrown that hard yet.”
Although the Marlins couldn’t add to their lead — Adeiny Hechavarria lined out to first and Christian Yelich grounded out to second to end threat in the sixth, the bullpen did its job protecting the lead.
A.J. Ramos struck out the side in the seventh and after Mike Dunn gave up a broken-bat double down the left-field line to former Marlin Gaby Sanchez, Chad Qualls came in and retired Jordy Mercer on a groundout to second before striking out pinch-hitter Michael McKenry swinging. Qualls has not allowed a run in his past 10 outings — a span of 10 2/3 innings.
Steve Cishek, who picked up three saves in Colorado this week, notched No. 21 of the season by handling the ninth. He struck out the first two batters before Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez singled to put runners on the corners. Cishek ended the drama though when he got pinch-hitter Jose Tabata to ground out to second.
“I felt comfortable with our bullpen if we could score that we could lock down that seventh, eighth and ninth,” Redmond said. “That’s a good offense over there. But we executed our pitches, played good defense and won.”
The stellar start by Alvarez continued a theme for the Marlins’ rotation. Since June16, Miami’s starters have allowed three runs or less in 30 of 33 games and two-or-fewer runs in 23 games.
Since getting tagged for four earned runs in his second start of the season July 9 against the Braves, Alvarez has now given up two combined earned runs over his past 19 2/3 innings.
After being shutout three times in Milwaukee and held to 13 runs on their seven-game road trip to open the second half, the Marlins had a run cut down at the plate in the second inning when catcher Jeff Mathis couldn’t beat the throw home on Alvarez’s double to the wall in left.
After a one-out walk by Donovan Solano to start the sixth inning, rookie center fielder Jake Marisnick ended a 0-for-14 start at the plate with a bouncer into center. Jeff Mathis then drew his second walk of the game — Locke threw six in all — to load the bases. That set the stage for Polanco.
But it was Marisnick’s hit that got the most attention afterward.
“I think he’s going to be able to sleep tonight. Me too,” Redmond joked. “Everybody wants to go out there — especially young guys — and show what they can do right away. Nobody wants to be the guy three or four days without a hit. That pressure keeps mounting and mounting. I know it was a big relief. And it was a big hit at the time. He’s got that ball now. He’s official. I’m happy for him. He’s a great kid.”