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MIA@PIT: Karstens throws seven scoreless vs. Marlins

PITTSBURGH -- Don't yet know what to make of the wind beneath the Pirates' wings? That's fine, there is yet time to figure that out. However, there was little doubt about the air under their magic-carpet ride on Sunday.

Jeff Karstens, continuing to fulfill others' hopes and his own high expectations of himself, blanked Miami for seven innings on five hits -- three of them infield singles -- as the Bucs completed a series sweep with a 3-0 victory over the Marlins.

Securing their fifth series sweep of the season in front of 34,203 PNC Park fans, the Pirates stretched their latest winning streak to five, their longest of the season.

Sunday's crowd brought attendance for the three games of the set to 110,807, and discussing the support gave Karstens much more difficulty than Miami batters had.

Karstens is one of only two Pirates (Evan Meek being the other) on the scene since 2008. The Pirates lost 95 games that season, then 99, then 105.

"To touch on that briefly, we're nowhere near done," Karstens said after the Pirates hung within one-half game of the NL Central-leading Reds with their 16th win in 21 games. "But a lot of these guys weren't around here when we were losing all those games.

"So, to come out here and see the crowds we're getting," Karstens continued, his lips quivering with emotion, "it definitely means a lot to me and to this clubhouse. And we're showing it with the way we're playing. We love it. We're playing hard for the city of Pittsburgh. It's what we want to do."

All Karstens had to work with was a run he was given in the first. Pedro Alvarez did hit his customary daytime home run -- No. 14, in only 96 at-bats -- but his two-run shot in the seventh came after Karstens (3-2) had thrown his last pitch.

For most of the past two months, Pirates hitters have been picking up the team's pitchers. Sunday, it was time to return the favor.

Karstens had his own adventuresome first inning. Four Marlins reached base. None of them scored. The key to that was Karstens picking Jose Reyes off first base after he had led off with a single. Then, Emilio Bonifacio also singled and Carlos Lee walked and, following a force play, so did Justin Ruggiano to load the bases.

Greg Dobbs lined out to right field and Karstens walked off the mound, perhaps thinking of the Marlins, "OK, you've had your chance. Now, you're mine."

"That was huge," Karstens said of the escape. "Throughout it, I felt like I was making good pitches, yet walking guys. But it was one of those things, you've got to keep battling."

Karstens faced the minimum 15 batters the next five innings, his perfection interrupted only by a fourth-inning Ruggiano single -- infield, naturally -- that simply led to an inning-ending double play.

And when that streak was ended, it was merely an excuse for Karstens -- speaking for the entire team -- to demonstrate that the Pirates' culture had changed.

Logan Morrison led off the seventh with a single and stole second before Dobbs' liner to left initially was ruled a diving catch by Alex Presley. Miami manager Ozzie Guillen came out -- as did the contents of the Miami bullpen -- to provoke a huddle of the umpiring crew.

"I figured we'd have a change after I saw their bullpen throw out everything they had [in protest] after the call," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "The third-base umpire who had the call [Dale Scott] was blocked, but everyone behind Alex saw what happened."

The call was reversed into a single -- Presley indeed had "lobster clawed" the ball back into his upside-down glove upon hitting the turf.

Due to the play's ambiguity, Morrison had to hold at second. A big break, but longtime Pirates observers expected it to be only a reprieve. Wasn't this a situation tailor-made for the type of implosion they had witness so many years? Not this time. On the very next pitch, not allowing any negative expectations to fester, Karstens got Omar Infante to bounce into another inning-ending double play.

"Awesome. One of the biggest pitches of the game," said Hurdle, who saw Karstens take another step toward being the rotation heavyweight he'd been last June-July, going 5-1 in 11 starts, with a 1.77 ERA. "The command of all his pitches is coming together like we saw last year.

"He found his rhythm after the first inning. That and the seventh were the challenges he had to face, and he was able to navigate his way through both of them. In between, he was quick with good changes of speed. That's what Jeff does when he's on -- he reads swings well, keeps the ball down and [keeps] his fielders working."

In his seven innings, the fourth consecutive start in which he has gone at least that long, Karstens had two walks, three strikeouts and numerous highlight plays made behind him.

"That's me. That's all I try to do. I do not blow fastballs by people," Karstens said. "Like when I was a little kid playing whiffle ball, I just try to make them take unorthodox swings."

For the fourth consecutive game, Presley led off the first inning by reaching base. He singled and stole second to get into position to score on Andrew McCutchen's single to center -- the National League batting leader's first of two hits.

Presley scored a first-inning run in each game of the Miami series, the difference the first two times being that he had gotten on with a walk.

Then came the punctuation of Alvarez's 21st homer, finishing off Anibal Sanchez (5-7). El Toro finally revealed the secret to his sunshine hitting when asked whether he does anything different prior to day games.

"I wake up earlier," he said. So, there you have it.

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