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PIT@COL: McCutchen crushes a tape-measure home run

DENVER -- Andrew McCutchen remained stuck in his own Groundhog Day reel, with two hits, one of which went very far. Erik Bedard, on the other hand, for a change didn't see a shadow of himself.

Add it up, and the Pirates continued to shadow the National League Central-leading Reds with a 6-2 victory on Tuesday night over the Rockies.

The Bucs' 50th win of the season had both McCutchen and Neil Walker reach yet another level with their two hits. McCutchen lifted his average to .374 -- at the moment above the .372 mark Nomar Garciaparra posted in 2000 as the highest by a right-handed batter since 1937. And in extending his hitting streak to 17 games, Walker lifted his average over the .300 mark.

Yet the night rightly belonged to the lefty Bedard (5-10), who willed his way through numerous jams to snap a personal five-start losing streak.

"I'm very happy with his performance," manager Clint Hurdle said after Bedard had emerged from his 11-day laboratory resembling the pitcher who had paced the staff in April. "He's happy. A lot of hard work went into it, just an experienced guy trying to tighten some things up."

Pushed to the back-burner after lasting only 3 2/3 innings on July 6 -- the fourth time in seven starts he hadn't made it through five -- Bedard tamed a pitchers' monster in his return start.

"Starting the second half in Colorado is not what I wanted," Bedard said. "But the results came out good, and we'll build on that."

Bedard high-wired his way through 6 2/3 innings before bequeathing a big mess for Jared Hughes, who came on with the bases loaded to retire potential go-ahead run Michael Cuddyer on a full-count fly to center.

Remarkably, that was not the final time a Pittsburgh reliever had to contend with a potentially game-changing bases-loaded situation. Entering in the ninth with a four-run lead, Juan Cruz retired the first two men he faced, then issued consecutive walks. Enter Joel Hanrahan, who proceded to walk the first man he faced before fanning pinch-hitter Tyler Colvin to register the third one-out save of his career.

Hanrahan's 25th save preserved Bedard's second win since May 27. On Tuesday, he allowed one earned run while surviving eight hits and four walks.

"But I was very encouraged with the way he pitched," Hurdle said. "He's got the slow heartbeat. Runners on base really don't bother him. That's what we saw the first five, six weeks out of Erik. So good for him. Good for us."

Bedard had a major letdown in the third when, with runners on first and second and none out, he appeared to snuff a budding rally by inducing the dangerous Carlos Gonzalez to bounce into a double play. But when Cuddyer followed with a fly to left that clanged off lights-blinded Alex Presley's glove for an error, the Rockies had a run after all, and a 1-0 lead.

The Rockies regained the lead in a bottom of the fourth that nonetheless turned into a strong statement from Bedard. After walking Wilin Rosario to open the inning and serving up a go-ahead triple to Josh Rutledge, Bedard appeared to be on the ledge.

However, Rutledge never budged from third. Bedard got both his mound foe and Eric Young Jr. to look at called third strikes, then retired Marco Scutaro on a harmless fly to center.

"They had the right part of the lineup up. I got them out and got out of the inning," Bedard said modestly.

Responding to Bedard's escape, the Pirates gained control of the game with a reassuring fifth-inning burst. After a pair of soft games, the relentless attack of June was back.

Protecting the 2-1 lead, Colorado left-hander Christian Friedrich walked both Michael McKenry and Clint Barmes to begin the inning; both advanced on Bedard's sacrifice bunt.

Alex Presley's innocent ground out tied it at 2. The Pirates then took the lead with consecutive singles by Drew Sutton, McCutchen and Casey McGehee.

After Friedrich gave way to reliever Matt Reynolds, Walker got into the act with a fourth consecutive single, extending the National League's longest active hitting streak and puffing his average to .300, his first time at that magic number since April 30, 2011.

The Pirates had tied it at 1 on a fourth-inning McCutchen home run that showed up on flight controllers' radar at nearby Denver International Airport. The 442-foot drive over the left-field bleachers was McCutchen's 22nd of the season, within one of the career high he reached last season in 158 games.

"He left a slider up and I put a pretty good swing on it," said McCutchen, conceding that the shot was "one of my better ones."

It is becoming increasingly hard for him, or anyone watching, to choose. Every swing produces something impressive. All the swings have added up to the .374 average, with 22 homers and 65 RBIs.

"He's doing things that are impressive. He's found a stroke with which he is in a good place. It's been fun to watch," said Hurdle, his current manager.

"I knew he would be a very special player," said Jim Tracy, the Pirates manager in 2006-07, when the young McCutchen began making noise in the team's organization. "Can I sit here and say that when I saw him at 18 or 19 years of age he would hit with this kind of power? Maybe that was hanging in the balance. But all the other things that you see, there was no question that this guy was going to be a very talented player."

McCutchen's blow elicited loud cheers from the Coors Field crowd. Yes, there were some Pirates fans among the 42,574, but the ovation was a spontaneous confirmation of his rising stardom.

The most amazing of McCutchen's many amazing statistics could be this: Although Pittsburgh's cleanup batters are hitting a collective .238, the No. 3 hitter has received only seven intentional walks.

Hurdle often attributes that to stubborn pitchers who "think they can get anybody out." Time for them to think again.

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