The Pirates skidded into PNC Park early Monday morning after a tough road trip through New York and Chicago. Having lost five straight and 17 of its last 22 games, Pittsburgh was in desperate need of a complete game -- not the type Jeff Locke threw in Miami three weeks ago, but the kind of all-around performance he led in the Bucs' 1-0 win over Madison Bumgarner and the Giants.
After a loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday night, the Pirates fell three games below .500 and 15 behind in the National League Central. Manager Clint Hurdle said the best thing Pittsburgh could do to "shake things up" amid the rough stretch was to put together a game like Monday's -- and it would have to start on the mound. Locke took care of that, firing 6 2/3 innings without allowing a walk, an increasingly rare quality start in a struggling Pirates rotation.
"Hopefully tonight's game can be one of those games we remember for a little while," Locke said. "I thought it was so well-played."
The erratic lefty had allowed 18 runs over his last two starts on the heels of one of the better four-outing stretches of his career. The turnaround was representative of the Pirates' sudden nosedive in the standings, from nine games above .500 to three under.
"You pull tighter together," Hurdle said. "I shared with the guys: Do you want to believe the first eight weeks of the season or do you want to believe the last three? We can't control what other people believe. I know what we need to believe."
In that spirit, following a players-only meeting Monday afternoon, Locke went out and defeated Bumgarner and the streaking Giants. Locke scattered five hits and struck out three, benefitting from 12 ground-ball outs.
"He was hitting his spots, [changing] speeds," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's been really good at times and he was tonight. We didn't muster a lot of good swings off him."
San Francisco had won 27 of its last 35 games and eight in a row entering the series opener at PNC Park, and Bumgarner had not been charged with a loss since April 20 -- a 10-start undefeated streak in which he logged a 1.27 ERA. Bumgarner did not make many mistakes, holding Pittsburgh to five hits over eight innings, but an unlikely candidate capitalized on one miss. Pirates catcher Erik Kratz launched a fifth-inning fastball just over the left-field wall for his first homer of the year and the game's lone run.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Whenever you need me: Given the Pirates rotation's season-long struggles, Hurdle has often been forced to abandon one of his guiding managerial philosophies: Use the bullpen when you want to, not when you have to. That wasn't the case Monday, when Locke's long outing and a one-run lead allowed Hurdle to call upon setup man Neftali Feliz with two outs in the seventh, the tying run on second base and Bumgarner -- who homered off Locke last season -- at the plate. Feliz retired Bumgarner, Tony Watson pitched the eighth and closerMark Melancon picked up his 20th save.
"Not a complete game from the pitcher, but a complete game from the team," Hurdle said. "Your starter gets where you want to get; relievers get the job done and take it from there."
Wall-scraper: Kratz's drive nearly became a home run that wasn't. Left fielder Angel Paganleaped and extended his gloved left hand into the stands in an effort to snare the ball. He appeared to catch it but couldn't hold on. After Pagan hurled his glove to the warning track in frustration, television cameras caught a subdued yet smiling teenager holding the home run ball.
Bumgarner praised Pagan's effort: "That's about as tough a play as an outfielder can make."
Blundering or bold? After singling to open the ninth inning, Brandon Belt soon was doubled off first base, ending San Francisco's rally before it started. Following Belt's hit,Buster Posey sliced a drive to right that Gregory Polanco caught on the run. When Polanco grabbed the ball, Belt already had reached second base, which sealed his fate.
"I truly thought that [ball] was going to get down," Belt said. "I didn't think there was any way he was catching that ball."
Posey believed Belt made a defensible gamble.
"It's not a bad play to take chances off an elite closer," Posey said.
QUOTABLE "That's what everybody's looking for." -- Hurdle on Locke's start
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS The Pirates are now 12-5 against the NL West this season, with a 6-1 record at home. Since the start of last season, Pittsburgh is 19-4 against the NL West at PNC Park, with a chance to make it eight straight series victories along the North Shore.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW After drawing a one-out walk in the seventh, Polanco tried to swipe second base against Bumgarner. But Bumgarner picked off Polanco, and first baseman Belt teamed up with second baseman Joe Panik to tag out Polanco as he slid into second. The Pirates challenged the out call, but replay officials ruled the play would stand after a one-minute, 40-second review.
WHAT'S NEXT Giants: San Francisco's lineup could look much different in Tuesday's rematch against the Pirates on Tuesday at 4:05 p.m. PT. Center fielder Denard Span should be back in the lineup. Conor Gillaspie likely will be the third baseman for the day, after Matt Duffy went on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left Achilles.
Pirates: Pittsburgh will line up against Johnny Cueto, a familiar foe in a new uniform, at 7:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday night at PNC Park. Cueto is 18-4 with a 2.18 ERA in 28 career starts against the Pirates, though Andrew McCutchen (.302/.389/.587 in 72 plate appearances) has hit him well. The Bucs have not announced their starting pitcher, but it's expected to be Triple-A callup Wilfredo Boscan.