MIAMI -- After being shut out for two straight days, the Pirates finally scored, but their pitching could not slow a hot Marlins offense.
Florida jumped on James McDonald early and the Pirates offense could not make up the difference as the Marlins won, 9-5, on Thursday night to complete the series sweep before 12,308 fans at Sun Life Stadium.
"This is not a league where you try hard. This is a league where you do good," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Three days in a row we dug big holes off the mound early so we've got to tighten that up."
Pedro Alvarez, who was a triple short of the cycle, snapped a 19-inning scoreless streak against the Marlins with a solo homer in the second. The blast gave the Bucs an early lead but McDonald did not protect it for very long.
McDonald had been working since his last start to correct a mechanical issue that was causing him to leave the ball up. The right-hander's efforts were futile as he put himself in a tough situation in the bottom of the second and the Marlins made him pay for it.
The 26-year-old loaded the bases twice in the inning. Scott Cousins smashed a fastball left up in the zone deep into the right-field seats for his first career grand slam. Florida tacked on another run on a Hanley Ramirez fielder's choice before McDonald could get out of the jam.
"It was basically right down the middle," McDonald said of the pitch to Cousins. "I'm not saying he wouldn't have done the same thing but if I would have thrown a quality pitch down and away I would have had a better shot of getting a ground ball and reducing damage than I would have by throwing a belt-high fastball down the middle."
An inning later, the Marlins got to McDonald again. Cousins smacked a one-out double to put runners on second and third. Marlins catcher Brett Hayes followed with a three-run shot to left that put his team up, 8-1, and had McDonald visibly frustrated on the mound.
"It's hard but I've been in that situation before," McDonald said. "I've been in bad situations like that when things are down but I've got to remember that I have a team out there that I still need to compete for. I can't just put my head between my legs and feel sorry for myself because the bases are loaded. They still want to win the ballgame and I need to at least get them out of the inning and give them a chance to compete."
Hurdle had seen enough, lifting McDonald after allowing eight runs on six hits over three innings. McDonald's command was not sharp, walking three Marlins and hitting another, but he still managed to pick up three strikeouts.
"A swinging bat is a dangerous bat," Hurdle said. "And pitches, when they're not located where they're supposed to be, guys hit them. We had three first home runs of the year. We gave up eight out of nine runs on home runs."
Once past Alvarez's homer, Marlins starter Chris Volstad cruised through the first five innings. But the right-hander gave Pittsburgh a glimmer of hope when he loaded the bases and was lifted with one out in the sixth.
Alvarez drove in a run on a dribbler to third off lefty Randy Choate and Chris Snyder followed with an RBI single of his own. Ryan Webb then hit Josh Rodriguez to push home Pittsburgh's third run of the inning and officially end Volstad's night. The 24-year-old gave up five runs on four hits, including Rodriguez's first big league hit, over 5 1/3 innings.
The Pirates rally in the sixth rejuvenated them for a bit, but all that momentum was lost when Ramirez made a diving play to catch a hard hit grounder up the middle by pinch-hitter Matt Diaz. Florida's shortstop flipped to second to start an inning-ending double play that deflated the Pirates hopes.
"We always try to play hard for nine and any opportunity we can get we try to capitalize on it," Alvarez said. "Obviously it was a key part of the game. If Hanley doesn't make that play it might be a different story. He made a great play up the middle. We've just got to keep battling."
The Bucs' bullpen kept their team in the game, allowing just one run on a Mike Stanton homer in the fifth, but the Pirates' offense could not come back from the early deficit.
"It's never good to lose three games in a row," Alvarez said. "But the beauty of it is, tomorrow we get to go out again and try to win a ballgame."
David Villavicencio is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.