PITTSBURGH -- Situational hitting, consistent pitching and good defense breeds success. The Pirates have had all three this season.
On Friday night, Pittsburgh got 4 1/3 shutout innings from its bullpen, a timely two-run homer from Pedro Alvarez to tie the game in the eighth and a good piece of situational hitting in the ninth.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen singled to the opposite field in the game's final inning with Travis Snider on first, allowing him to reach third with ease. It was just his fifth hit to the right half of the outfield at PNC Park this season.
And while it may not have wound up being all that important after the Astros' error with the bases loaded ended the game, it's a step in the right direction for McCutchen, who is hitting .276 after ending 2012 with a .327 mark.
"It's usually a sign of him getting to a good place," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of the opposite-field stroke. "That was good to see, there's no doubt."
But McCutchen insists he never changes his approach, and there's no single thing that clicks in his head when he's about to start heating up at the plate. It's just baseball, and the peaks and valleys that come with it.
"You can't focus on the results. All you can do is control your effort," said McCutchen, who has gone through 1-for-28 and 2-for-19 slumps this season. "Once you swing the bat, there's nothing you can do after that. You can't control where the ball goes. That's all I'm trying to do."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.