SAN FRANCISCO — Forget baseball. Few organizations anywhere will be as happy to see the calendar flip ahead to June as the Pirates, who dropped 18 of their first 24 games this month to effectively toss buckets of water on their red-hot start, trading newfound hope and optimism for plenty of questions and fan frustration.
Give them credit: They finished the month markedly better than they started it after finally doing enough to win a series on Wednesday in San Francisco, dispatching of the Giants, 9-4, at Oracle Park. It’s the Pirates’ first series win since April 29-30 at Washington.
Pittsburgh finished May with an 8-18 record after going 20-9 through March and April. Should the Brewers lose later on Wednesday, the Pirates (28-27) could be tied for first place.
What happened over the past three days likely won’t make everyone feel a ton better about the Pirates’ prospects entering June. Entering June at .500 or above for the seventh time in the past 11 seasons, they still need to string wins together. But manager Derek Shelton’s team should be able to use this as momentum going into a nine-game homestand.
Only twice this month did the Pirates score more runs than they did against the Giants and starting pitcher Alex Wood, who struggled with his command. Bryan Reynolds collected a team-high three RBIs. Andrew McCutchen and Connor Joe each had three hits and scored twice.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, hitting just .111 over his previous nine, had a pair of hits, including a triple, and racked up two RBIs. Rodolfo Castro and Ji Hwan Bae also had multiple hits for the Pirates, who used a four-run third to break this one open. Pittsburgh then plated two runs in the fourth and another pair in the sixth in support of Mitch Keller.
That first rally started when McCutchen clobbered a first-pitch change-up into left field for the 399th double of his career. McCutchen now sits at 1,995 hits for his career, meaning there’s a solid chance he’ll reach 2,000 on the homestand.
Castro extended Pittsburgh’s advantage to 2-1 by bouncing a sinker through the left side in that third frame. Hayes also got a change-up from Wood, this time in a 2-0 count, and tucked it just inside the third-base bag, allowing two more Pirates runs to score. It gave Pittsburgh a 4-1 lead and represented the team-high fourth three-bagger for Hayes this season.
After catcher Patrick Bailey smacked a Keller fastball the opposite way through the shift to get San Francisco on the board in the first, designated hitter Wilmer Flores lucked his way into a run-scoring single, blooping a down-and-away sweeper from Keller into shallow center field in the bottom half of the third.
Pretty much the opposite as their previous May games, the Pirates had an answer. This time, it came in the form of Bryan Reynolds’ bouncing single up the middle, which came with two strikes and two outs and scored a pair of runs to up Pittsburgh’s lead to 6-2.
Center fielder Mike Yastrzemski tripled and scored on a wild pitch in the fifth. Shortstop Casey Schmitt added a sacrifice fly that involved a circus catch by Reynolds in the sixth. Neither ultimately matter because of more clutch hitting from the Pirates.
In the sixth, Bae and McCutchen singled before it looked like Reynolds might’ve hit into an inning-ending double play. But second baseman Brett Wisely’s throw to first was wild, allowing Bae to score. Joe laced an inside heater down the left-field line to give the Pirates an 8-4 lead.
Wednesday didn’t feature the ace version of Keller, but he was still very good, working six innings and allowing four earned runs. The 10 hits allowed represented a season-high, while Keller notched eight strikeouts.
Wednesday marked seven consecutive outings with that many strikeouts or more for Keller, the longest streak by a Pirates pitcher in the modern era and the longest active one in MLB.
Furthermore, Keller now has 93 strikeouts on the season. That makes him the first pitcher in franchise history to surpass 90-plus strikeouts prior to June 1. The previous high had been AJ Burnett (89) in 2013.
The performance upped Keller’s record to 7-1, making him the sixth Pirates pitcher in the past 30 years to accumulate seven wins before June 1.
AROUND THE HORN
Travis Swaggerty (illness) rejoined Triple-A Indianapolis. … The Pirates released Blake Cederlind, a hard-throwing reliever who couldn’t stay healthy. … Speaking before the game, Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk offered a couple medical updates:
— Oneil Cruz will transition out of his walking boot and into a normal shoe next week.
— Wil Crowe began a throwing program on flat ground out to 75 feet.
— Vince Velasquez is continuing to be evaluated. There’s not yet anything conclusive, and Tomczyk was noncommittal on whether Velasquez will pitch again this season.
— Ji-Man Choi is basically doing everything baseball-wise. After some live at-bats, expect him to head out on a rehab assignment.
The Pirates are off before starting a series against the Cardinals at PNC Park on Friday. Although it’s not yet official, it’ll likely be Roansy Contreras starting Game 1 against St. Louis.