PITTSBURGH — The Red Sox had a five-run lead on the Pittsburgh Pirates through two innings on Tuesday night, a seemingly perfect start to their six-game road trip.
They managed to hang on for a 5-3 victory at PNC Park, which is the important part. But how they finally got there had Red Sox manager Alex Cora fuming afterward.
“We need to be better,” he said.
One problem was the offense. Three Pittsburgh relievers faced the minimum of 21 hitters over the final seven innings, holding the Sox without a hit.
The Sox hitters seemed to be in a rush to get back to the dugout.
“The quality of the at-bats got worse throughout the game,” Cora said. “I’m not saying we got lucky, because we took some good at-bats early on. We’ve got to keep going.”
After Nick Pivetta fired seven shutout innings, allowing one hit, lefthander Austin Davis came in for the eighth inning and retired the first batter he faced before putting the next three on base. That included a four-pitch walk to Tucupita Marcano, a lefthanded-hitting rookie with a .227 batting average.
“We’ve got to do a better job there. We’ve got to get people out,” Cora said. “The walk to the lefty put him in a bad spot.”
That forced Cora to use John Schreiber. The righthander struck out Bryan Reynolds before Ben Gamel slammed a three-run double into the gap in right.
The two-strike pitch was a slider right over the plate. Lefthanded hitters are 10 for 32 against Schreiber since July 14 and have a .968 OPS.
Schreiber retired pinch hitter Josh VanMeter to finally end the inning. With Garrett Whitlock unavailable, Matt Barnes was called on for the ninth and recorded his first save since May 21.
Barnes was in his All-Star form, striking out Oneil Cruz and Rodolfo Castro swinging at curveballs before getting Greg Allen to pop up a fastball to end it.
The 58-59 Sox have won four of their last five games and are now four games out of a playoff spot. The Pirates have dropped five straight.
Barnes has been perfect on his last three outings, striking out six over three innings.
After spending much of the season on the injured list, Barnes looks back to being Barnes.
“It’s awesome. It’s been a long road. It’s been a grind, frustrating, a struggle quite a bit for a while there,” he said. “Just to be in a position to contribute and help these guys win, it’s what we’ve been working for. I feel normal.”
Pirates starter Mitch Keller faced 14 hitters over two innings. Eight reached base and five scored.
The Sox played station-to-station baseball to score four runs in the first inning. Tommy Pham singled before Keller walked Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez to load the bases.
Alex Verdugo singled to right field to score Pham. Christian Arroyo singled to center field to score Devers. Eric Hosmer singled to left center and Martinez scored.
Kiké Hernández, activated off the injured list before the game, swung at the next pitch and sent a fly ball to left field, plenty deep enough to score Verdugo.
It was Hernández’s first RBI since June 7. That was the final game he played before going on the injured list with a core injury.
Pham, who has given the Sox a lift since being acquired for a player to be named Aug. 1, singled with one out in the second. Martinez walked again with two outs.
Verdugo followed with a fly call to left center that Reynolds tracked down for what should have been the third out, but the ball popped out of his glove for an error and Pham scored.
Keller left the game after two innings and 46 pitches. The Pirates later said Keller exited due to shoulder fatigue, although baserunner fatigue surely played a role.
The early lead allowed Pivetta (9-9) to challenge hitters and that led to an easy outing as he allowed just the one hit, walked three, and struck out six.
“It definitely takes the pressure off,” Pivetta said. “You can go out, be competitive in the [strike] zone and allow things to happen naturally.”
Reynolds walked with two outs in the first inning before Gamel singled. Pivetta extinguished that threat by retiring Kevin Padlo on a grounder back to the mound.
The Pirates did not advance a runner past first against him again. Pivetta dropped his earned run average from 4.51 to 4.28.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.