PITTSBURGH — Josh Harrison knew the hits would start falling sooner or later.
A big one fell for him Sunday.
The utility player singled in the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning as the Pirates rallied from a five-run deficit to beat the Milwaukee Brewers 7-6 at PNC Park.
The win kept the Pirates 2 ½ games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central and widened their lead to four games over the Chicago Cubs for the first NL wild card. The Cubs visit PNC Park for a four-game series that begins Tuesday with a day-night doubleheader.
Harrison was on the disabled list from July 6-Aug. 20 after tearing a ligament in his left thumb and undergoing surgery. Prior to the start of the four-game series with the Brewers on Thursday, Harrison was hitting just .179 in 17 games since being activated.
Against the Brewers, Harrison went 9-for-19 as the Pirates won three times. He looked more like the guy who finished second in the NL batting race last season when he hit .317 to finish four points behind Colorado Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau, which helped prompt the Pirates to sign Harrison to a four-year, $27.3-million contract extension on opening day this year.
“I don’t let results get to me,” Harrison said. “I know the results weren’t there for me when I first came back but I also knew it was going to be a process. It took a few games to get acclimated to the speed of the game again. I knew once I got some games under my belt that we’d be OK and everything would come back.”
Harrison’s season average is .278 with four home runs and 25 RBIs in 96 games. He showed he still has the flair for the dramatic Sunday when he had the fifth walk-off hit of his five-year career.
“Josh, he does a lot of things to help us win games,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He brings energy, edge and attitude.”
Harrison, playing left field while Starling Marte missed a second straight game because of stomach flu, nearly was the goat in the top of the 11th inning when he misplayed Jean Segura’s one-out fly ball to left-center into a single that enabled Adam Lind to move from first base to third.
However, reliever Jared Hughes got Scooter Gennett to hit into an inning-ending double play.
“I thought he hit it harder than it was and my first step was back,” Harrison said. “I couldn’t recover in time and there was no way I could risk diving in that situation and possibly letting the ball get by me. Thank God Jared made a great pitch and the guys turned a great double play.”
Harrison then won it in the bottom of the 11th.
Pinch hitter Travis Ishikawa started the rally with a single and continued to second on an error. Pinch runner Pedro Florimon moved to third on Jordy Mercer’s groundout and, after Sean Rodriguez was hit by a pitch, Harrison lined a single into left field to score Florimon.
That capped the Pirates’ big rally as they trailed 6-1 in the middle of the fourth inning on a day when left-hander Francisco Liriano was tagged for five runs — four earned — and seven hits in 2 1/3 innings.
“That’s what makes it so good — we pick each other up,” Harrison said. “Ishikawa hit that ball down the line and that’s all it takes, one man to get on base and then keep him moving.”
–Liriano was taken off the hook for the loss by the Pirates’ rally. The Pirates have won each of Liriano’s last 10 home starts while scoring 6.9 runs a game.
“He gave what he had and that’s all there was,” Hurdle said.
–The bullpen also bailed Liriano out as seven relievers combined to allow only one run in 8 2/3 innings. Joe Blanton gave up the run in his 1 2/3-inning stint but the rest put up zeroes as Arqumedes Caminero worked two innings and Antonio Bastardo, Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, Joakim Soria and Hughes pitched one inning apiece.
“The relievers stepped up,” Hurdle said. “All year, they’ve been feeding off one another. They all made their pitches and ownership of their efforts.”