PITTSBURGH -- Those tuning in after the first inning Wednesday saw a nice pitching performance from Tom Koehler. What they missed -- the four-run, first-inning hole Koehler dug -- proved paramount to the outcome.
The Marlins came within one before the Pirates pulled away late for a series-evening 7-3 victory. In beat the Marlins for the 11th time in the last 16 meetings, the Pirates denied them the chance to come with 1 1/2 games of the second-place Braves in the National League East.
After going scoreless for five straight innings, the Pirates gave themselves a comfortable cushion in the seventh off the Marlins' bullpen. Chris Hatcher and Mike Dunn combined to allow three runs on four hits.
The inning should have been over without a run coming across. Dunn had Russell Martin struck out on a check swing at a 1-2 fastball, but first-base umpire Chad Fairchild did not ring him up on the appeal. Martin went on to single home a run and ex-Marlin Gaby Sanchez followed with a pinch-hit, two-run double.
"I still was ahead in the count and had many opportunities after the fact to put him away," Dunn said. "I wasn't able to execute any pitches after the fact. It's frustrating."
The only other noise the Pirates made came during Koehler's nightmarish first. He walked two of the first three batters he faced to load the bases with no out. Unable to spot his fastball, Koehler got one over to Ike Davis, who drilled the 1-0 pitch the opposite way for a two-run, automatic double. A Travis Snider groundout and Jordy Mercer single accounted for the other two runs Koehler allowed during the 33-pitch, 17-strike first.
Half of Koehler's 20 first-inning fastballs missed, forcing him to throw eight curveballs.
"I didn't really put our team in a good position to win that ballgame," Koehler said. "All you can do is keep going out there and try to execute the game plan. You try to clear your mind and almost pretend it didn't happen. While it's nice to still go six innings in a game like that, it's unfortunate you put your team behind the eight-ball as soon as the game starts."
Koehler hadn't experienced many slow starts this season. His 2.45 first-inning ERA entering the game was second only to a 0.82 mark in the third. He's now allowed 21 hits and walked 12 in the first inning.
Christian Yelich helped take some of the sting off losing a 1-0, first-inning lead. His two-out, two-run homer off Jeff Locke cut the Pirates' lead to one. For the left-handed hitting Yelich, his ninth homer also was his second in 182 career at-bats off a left-hander. Last season, one of his four was against Cubs' lefty Travis Wood.
With the Yelich blast, the Marlins snapped a major league-record matching run of seven straight games scoring fewer than two runs off opposing starters. With runners at the corners and two out, Jeff Baker's RBI-single made it 1-0 in the first.
Since July 1, Baker is 16 for his last 38 (.421), raising his average 55 points to .253. He's also knocked in eight runs over that span.
Locke settled after the Yelich homer, retiring 16 of the next 17 batters he faced, including the last 13 in a row with four strikeouts. The Marlins' last hit off Locke, who held them to two runs over eight innings in a June 13 no-decision at Marlins Park, was a Baker single with two out in the fourth.
Limited to seven hits, the Marlins have gone a season-high eight straight without a double-digit total.
"(Locke) made some pitches, but the momentum shifted for me in the first," manager Mike Redmond said. "We had our chances, but just couldn't get anything going after that second."
Koehler after spotting the Pirates a four-spot threw up five zeroes, allowing just two hits through the remainder of his 99-pitch outing. The second of those was a Starling Marte bunt single that put runners on first and second with no out in the sixth.
Turner got out of it with a pair of 0-1 breaking balls. Snider turned a slider into a 1-6-3 double play and Mercer grounded out on a curve to end the inning.
Koehler's curve and slider carried him through the night. Of his 99 pitches, 57 were fastballs and 25 of those (43.8 percent) were out of the zone. Conversely, he threw 69 percent of 42 non-fastballs for strikes.
"As far as pitches go, it's all hands on deck," Koehler said. "You're almost pitching like a reliever where every pitch you're trying to get an out."
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