PITTSBURGH -- The big idea is to sweep two years of bad memories under the rug. Small steps: The Pirates swept the Marlins out of town, dusting off the three-game cleanup Thursday afternoon on Russell Martin's pinch-hit single with two outs in the 10th inning for a 5-4 triumph.
The Pirates and the Marlins didn't really play three games: They just played the same game three times. In each, the Marlins did all their scoring with a "0" on the Pirates' side, and once the Bucs scored, their bullpen wouldn't let Miami make another move.
"That's how our team is. Guys who contribute at key moments. And it will be someone different every day," said Martin, who has been the guy every time he has been called on.
As the team's regular catcher, Martin gets few opportunities to help in a pinch, but he has excelled as Clint Hurdle's "last man in" -- his designation Thursday.
A hearty PNC Park crowd of 33,646 -- the second-largest crowd for a 12:35 p.m. ET weekday start in the ballpark's 13-year history -- saw the Jolly Roger get raised for the 70th time in 114 games. That's a lot of banner days for the Bucs, who improved their NL Central lead to 3 1/2 games pending the outcome of the Cardinals' night game with the Dodgers.
Josh Harrison triggered the winning rally with a single off Steve Ames, making his third career appearance as Miami's sixth pitcher of the day. Clint Barmes' sacrifice bunt advanced Harrison, and Starling Marte drew a two-out intentional walk before Martin improved to 4-for-4 as a pinch-hitter this season with a hard smash into the left-field corner.
"Tie score ... guy in scoring position ... I love those moments," Martin said, "and luckily today I came through."
"He has responded tremendously in that role," Hurdle said. "It's a street fight, and he has a slow heartbeat after playing through Los Angeles and New York. When push comes to shove, he's able to just drop anchor in the batter's box and just battle and compete."
Martin was batting for Jared Hughes, who had retired the Marlins in the 10th to be in position for his second win of the season.
On their way out of town, to Denver and then to St. Louis, the Bucs completed a 9-2 homestand, their first nine-win stand since May 30-June 12, 2005. Five of the wins were by one run, three of them of the walk-off variety.
"It's just our midset," Hurdle said of this habit to pull off comeback after unlikely comeback. "We're long on guts, and will play to the end and grind out at-bats the best we can. We've shown some resolve when we've been down."
The Bucs did not beat Jose Fernandez, the Marlins' pitching wunderkind. They did wait him out, however, ultimately holding him to a five-inning standoff with Gerrit Cole.
Cole trailed 4-0 when his shift ended in the fifth, but the Bucs' ensuing rally into a tie removed him from the hook and resulted in the first no-decision of his 11 Major League starts.
"His pace was a little slow," Hurdle noted of his rookie righty, "and the fastball command was not as good as it has been. He had shots to put hitters away, and he wasn't able to do it. He just went out and competed with what he had. He wasn't sharp, then we threw it to 'The Tank.'"
That would be "The Shark Tank." The relievers in that pool combined to blank the Marlins for 10 1/3 innings during this series, setting up one win after another.
Fernandez got a jumpstart in the first inning with a little help from the Pirates, and Cole was not exempt. He walked the game's first batter, Christian Yelich, on four pitches, and matters became complicated after Ed Lucas' grounder moved him to second.
Giancarlo Stanton hit a hooking soft liner to right, where Harrison came up empty on his dive attempt, the ball getting behind him for an RBI double. With two away, Placido Polanco sent a single to center; running on contact with two outs, Stanton figured to score anyway, but it became a certainty when Marte let the ball through him for a fielding error.
The Marlins doubled the score in the fifth all on their own: Jeff Mathis led off with a single to deep short, and an out later, Yelich clocked his first Major League homer, making it 4-0.
Cole departed for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of that inning, having allowed six hits and four runs -- a new high in his fledgling big league career -- with one walk and four strikeouts.
Being down by four runs and facing Fernandez put the Pirates' one-more-run-than-them agenda to a major test. After 4-3 and 4-2 victories the past two nights, they would have to reach a new level against one of the Majors' best young studs.
Fernandez, the rookie All-Star, did present some intriguing home-road splits. He is 5-0 with a 1.39 ERA at Marlins Park -- but came into this game a very pedestrian 3-5 with a 3.91 ERA away from it.
The Bucs took two comeback steps in the fifth. Neil Walker's bloop RBI single and Pedro Alvarez's lined RBI single got two of the runs back. And their patience helped oust Fernandez by the end of that inning, four walks having hiked his pitch count to 101.
"Sure, being patient to run up the pitch count was our midset, but really, our objective every game is to push the starter," Hurdle noted. "Sometimes the pitcher cooperates. This probably wasn't Fernandez's best command game. We elevated the pitch count with some lengthy at-bats and scoring some runs in the middle of the game to get us in their bullpen."
In his own five innings, Fernandez gave up five hits and two runs, with five strikeouts next to those four walks.
"It was a tough one, for sure," Fernandez said. "I threw a lot of pitches. I had to do a lot of work out there. I'm trying to be perfect every time out there. I'm trying to. We played a good game. They came out on top, but our team had a chance to win."
Limiting Fernandez to his shortest start since late June paid off two innings later, when the Pirates drew even against a relay of Miami relievers with that seventh-inning rally on ... wait for it ... a pair of sacrifice flies, by Walker and by pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez.
The Pirates recently went through a two-month stretch without one sacrifice fly. And now they are getting two sacrifice flies in one inning.
It's just surprising that neither of those balls hit a flying pig.
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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.