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Must C Crushed: Alvarez hits pair of blasts vs. Tribe

CLEVELAND -- To the admitted puzzlement and curiosity of fans and impartial observers, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has continually extended Pedro Alvarez's rope. He has repeatedly criss-crossed the Mendoza Line alongside his third baseman.

The manager's office, the coaches' room and the club's front office have all been joined in their avowed patience with Alvarez, their prodigal power hitter.

The payoff for that patience? Long term, only time will tell.

But Alvarez just finished making two quick deposits, in less than 24 hours knocking four balls out of Progressive Field to drive in nine runs and help power the Bucs to a pair of victories and their first Interleague Series win in Cleveland since 1998.

Alvarez's encore consisted of a pair of three-run homers in Sunday's 9-5 victory over the Tribe in front of 27,388.

This triumph sent the Pirates onto the turnpike toward Pittsburgh in a far better mood than they had been on the approach to Cleveland.

"This was a good finish for us," Hurdle said, "after being 0-4 [on a road trip that had begun with a sweep in Baltimore] coming away with a series victory and heading back home."

Alvarez is too temperate to ever wear his emotions on his sleeve. Most assuredly, though, he was one of the happiest.

"It's a lot of fun winning a ballgame," Alvarez said. "We did a great job putting some pressure on them, and taking advantage of some mistakes."

Alvarez specifically was referring to three errors by All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, including a double-miscue that opened the floodgates for the put-away six-run fifth. But he could just as well have been referring to the pair of 1-and-0 pitches he'd buried in the stands.

His first shot, off Cleveland starter Jeanmar Gomez, gave the Bucs a 3-2 lead in the top of the fourth. His second blow of the day and 12th of the season, off reliever Esmil Rogers, capped the six-run fifth.

As such, Alvarez furnished dramatic evidence of his importance to this team's offense and to its hopes: In consecutive innings he produced more runs than the total the Pirates had managed in 54 of their preceding 64 games.

"Pretty impressive," said Hurdle, slowly nodding. "We were talking about that in the dugout. And that jumped him how many RBIs behind [Andrew] McCutchen, hitting barely .200?"

McCutchen, the Pirates' leading hitter with a .325 average, also still leads the club with 37 RBIs. However, Alvarez now has 34 RBIs -- on 35 fewer hits that compute to an average 128 points lower (.207). That was the point Hurdle wanted to make.

"[That's] why we keep running him out there," the manager said. "A very good day at the plate for Pedro; a very good day."

The personal career-best was the first six-RBI day for a Pirates player since Andy LaRoche drove in six runs against the Dodgers on Sept. 28, 2009.

Alvarez did not stop with the homers. He added a seventh-inning opposite-field double high off the left-field wall for his first career game with three extra-base hits.

Perhaps most interesting about his big day, apart from the production itself, was the total number of pitches he saw in four at-bats: Six. If that doesn't speak volumes about the plate aggressiveness that can be his "on" switch, nothing would.

"I like him swinging the bat. I've encouraged him to do that from the beginning," Hurdle said. "It's easier said than done sometimes, but he seems to be finding his way. He sure shrinks the ballpark when he puts the barrel on the ball. Time will tell."

"I'd never beat myself up for being aggressive," Alvarez said, "for being ready to hit. If I get a pitch to hit early in the at-bat, I'll most likely swing. I'm feeling good, comfortable. I'm going up there relaxed, ready to compete."

Alex Presley added a solo homer to the welcomed offense on what unwittingly became a bullpen day with another brief, ineffective start by Brad Lincoln.

Left-hander Tony Watson (4-0) earned the win as the first man out of the 'pen after Lincoln's 3 1/3-innings stint, during which he allowed four runs on eight hits. Jared Hughes (two innings) and Jason Grilli (one) took it down to Joel Hanrahan, who worked the ninth in a non-save situation to keep him from rustiness, since he had not pitched since Wednesday.

Lincoln's most significant pitch was his final one of the third inning. The Indians already led 2-0 -- on Jason Kipnis' homer in the first and Casey Kotchman's RBI single into the shift in the second -- and had two more runners in scoring position with two outs for Jack Hannahan.

When Lincoln's 1-and-0 pitch was bounced harmlessly to first, you could sense the Pirates heaving sighs of relief as they trotted off the field. Indeed, that escape enabled Alvarez's first homer to put the Bucs in the lead.

But if all of that was expected to lift Lincoln back on track, it didn't happen. Lincoln couldn't make his way through the fourth. On his first pitch following a mound visit by pitching coach Ray Searage, he gave up Shin-Soo Choo's go-ahead two-run double. That immediately led to another mound visit, this time by Hurdle, who brought the hook for Lincoln.

"We wanted to see him let the ball go and compete, and he did," Hurdle said of Lincoln, whose place in the rotation may have been brought into question by his third consecutive short, permissive start. "At the end of the day, they still put the barrel on the ball more than you'd expect with the stuff he had."

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