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By Chad Carlson
Photo Credit: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Tonight’s game against the Atlanta Braves marked the beginning of the Pirates’ most brutal road trip of the season thus far.  As Clint Hurdle has said on numerous occasions, the Pirates need to take the season one game at a time, and tonight was the first test for the Buccos, who took the field in Atlanta tied for first in the N.L. Central.  The team also welcomed back Pedro Alvarez tonight, who was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis, and was immediately put into the starting lineup, while Alex Presley was placed on the 15-day DL.
The pitching staff was the story of the game tonight for Pittsburgh, in this the 100th game of the 2011 season, as it has been much of the season thus far, holding the Braves in check as the Buccos took the first game of the four-game set, 3-1 at Turner Field.
James McDonald started for Pittsburgh, giving up eight hits and striking out a career-high nine batters through 5.1 innings, while Chris Resop, Daniel McCutchen, and Jose Veras combined to set the table for Joel Hanrahan to close the door on the Braves to secure his 29th save of the season.  
While McDonald earned his seventh victory of the season, Braves’ starter Tim Hudson, despite a strong performance, lost his seventh game of the year.  Hudson gave up just five hits and struck out eight batters, but his three walks proved to be detrimental to the Pirates’ success, as all three runners that reached base on a walk scored.
The Pirates jumped on Hudson early this evening.  After Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez led off the 2nd inning with walks, Lyle Overbay hit a fly ball to center field, deep enough to move runners over to second and third base.  Ronny Cedeno’s ground out to Chipper Jones scored Cutch, and Michael McKenry’s broken-bat bloop single to left field scored Alvarez.  The Bucs occupied a 2-0 lead.
Pittsburgh tacked on a run in the sixth inning, much to the dismay of the Braves’ fans in attendance who actually began booing their hometown team.  Garrett Jones drew a one out walk, and moved over to second on Neil Walker’s ground out.  McCutchen then hammered a single straight up the middle, scoring Jones and pushing the lead to 3-0.  Cutch advanced to second on Nate McClouth’s fielding error, stole third base, but was stranded as Alvarez struck out to end the frame.
While McDonald struck out a lot of batters, he also had to work his way out of a few jams throughout the night.  In fact, the Braves left a total of eight men on base through the first six innings, including squandering a huge opportunity in the sixth.  With the bases loaded and one out, Hurdle pulled McDonald for Chris Resop, who got McClouth to pop out to McKenry and struck out Alex Gonzalez to end the inning.
Chipper Jones finally broke the silence of the Braves’ offense with a solo HR to right field to lead off the eighth inning.  After D-Cutch gave up the homerun and a walk to Freddie Freeman, Hurdle made the call to the bullpen, bringing in Jose Veras. Despite his recent struggles in his last few appearances, Veras responded well, setting the Braves down in order, including a strikeout of pinch-hitting Brian McCann.
This was a perfect start to a very difficult road trip for the Pirates tonight.  After losing three games in a row, the Buccos have responded the past two days by winning close games against very good teams.  Again, these are the types of games they’re going to have to win if they plan to keep pace with the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers in the N.L. Central division.
Despite the victory, the Pirates’ offense continued to struggle tonight.  While they faced a very tough pitcher in Hudson, this, as we all know, has been an ongoing trend for the club, and something that continues to raise concerns.  Not a single Pirate have a multi-hit game, and as a club, the team managed just five hits total.  Neil Walker went 0-3 and Lyle Overbay went 1-4, lowering their averages to .267 and .234 respectively.
In his first game since mid-May, Pedro Alvarez went 1-3 with a walk and a run scored, while Andrew McCutchen 1-2 with two walks, an RBI and a run scored.
Still, this was yet another game that the Pirates found a way to win.  It’s extremely inspiring to see the team continue to win games when the offense is lacking as much as it is currently.  With the win tonight, the Buccos improve to six games over .500 and, with the Cardinals’ win, remain tied for the first place in the N.L. Central.  Jeff Karstens will make the start tomorrow night against the Braves’ Tommy Hanson.
Record Vs. Braves: 1-2
Record Vs. N.L. East: 11-14
Record On The Road: 27-22
Overall Record: 53-47
And…
As Always…
Let’s Go Bucs!