PITTSBURGH (AP) — As Gaby Sanchez “trucked” around third some 6 1/2 hours after the game began, one thought went through his head.
“‘This is enough,’” the 216-pound first baseman said after the game. “‘I’m tired. It’s been a long day.’”
Then Sanchez laughed. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been doing an awful lot of that lately.
Pinch-hitter Russell Martin singled home Sanchez for the winning run in the 14th inning and the Pirates earned their ninth straight victory, defeating the Milwaukee Brewers 2-1 Sunday.
The Pirates extended their longest winning streak since 2004, when they took 10 in a row. Pittsburgh reached the midpoint of its season with the best record in the majors at 51-30.
“It’s fun right now,” said Martin, who played a key role in an extra-inning victory he did not start for the second straight Sunday. “Obviously, winning is fun, but just being on a team with a bunch of guys who play with their hearts out there and enjoy the game, it’s definitely been a pleasure.”
Teammates were having fun with Sanchez, a slugger not known for his speed. Sanchez led off the 14th with an infield single. With one out, he stole second for his first steal in more than a year. After a walk, Martin hit a soft liner to center off Francisco Rodriguez (1-1).
Sanchez chugged around third and slid home ahead of the throw by Carlos Gomez.
“I guess he felt fresh today for some reason,” Martin said with a wry smile. “We’re just grinding; he’s out there grinding and made it happen and I think everybody is enjoying it.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle gave the sign for Sanchez to make an attempt for his first stolen base as a Pirate and first overall since May 6, 2012. Sanchez has 10 steals and 30 infield hits in 513 career games according to STATS.
“Once it gets late like that, you’ve got to take some chances,” Hurdle said. “Gaby’s always heads-up.”
Sanchez validated the efforts of Pittsburgh’s stingy bullpen, one that refers to itself as “The Shark Tank.” Vin Mazzaro pitched five perfect innings. He was among six Pirates relievers who combined for 11 scoreless innings after Charlie Morton was pulled following a rain delay of 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon each pitched a scoreless inning following Mazzaro — allowing a total of two hits and no walks.
Tony Watson (2-1) struck out four in three hitless innings.
“A truly incredible job from everybody out there,” Hurdle said.
“It feels like they all throw 110 mph, and they’ve all got good stuff,” Brewers outfielder Logan Schafer said. “They know what they’re doing. They locate their pitches for the most part and they get ahead early in the count. Those guys are very good.”
Andrew McCutchen hit a tying single in the Pittsburgh eighth.
Bidding for the franchise’s first winning season or playoff berth in 21 years, surprising Pittsburgh enters July with the most wins in the majors. The crowd of 35,351 was about three 3,000 shy of capacity, snapping the PNC Park-record sellout streak of five games.
The vast majority of those on hand waited out a downpour not long after Milwaukee scored an unearned run in the second inning off of Morton, making his fourth start since returning from 2012 elbow surgery.
The Pirates trailed for roughly the next four hours — after the delay Tyler Thornburg and Mazzaro traded shutout innings — until tying it in the eighth against Jim Henderson. Starling Marte walked with one out, advanced on a groundout and came home on McCutchen’s single.
Martin Maldonado had three hits for Milwaukee, which got its only run when Yuniesky Betancourt came home on Schafer’s bunt in the second.
“It’s tough right now,” Schafer said. “We’re not getting a whole lot of breaks. But things will turn. They always do in this game.”
NOTES: LF Schafer robbed Sanchez of a home run by reaching over the left-center field wall for a catch in the seventh. … After a team off-day Monday, Pittsburgh opens a three-game series against visiting Philadelphia. LHP Jeff Locke, who has a personal seven-winning streak, was in line to start that game but Hurdle said he was been scratched because Locke was forced to throw in the bullpen during the 14th inning Sunday. Locke would have entered the game had it been extended any longer. Hurdle said no determination had been made on who would start Tuesday. … After the Brewers begin a four-game series in Washington on Monday, the lone NL team they will have yet to face will be the New York Mets.