MILWAUKEE -- Eight years after the Brewers snapped their long losing streak at the Pirates' expense in Pittsburgh, it was the Pirates' turn to do the same at Miller Park.
A 4-3 win against the Brewers on Tuesday was the Pirates' 81st victory, ending a record-setting streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons. Andrew McCutchen homered and scored three runs, but it took pinch-hitter Travis Snider's go-ahead home run in the ninth inning to snap the longest streak of losing seasons in North American professional sports history.
The Brewers' own skid spanned only 12 seasons, but felt just as burdensome as 2005 neared its end. On Sept. 30 of that year, at PNC Park, Damian Miller and Geoff Jenkins hit two-run home runs in the seventh inning, and the Brewers beat the Pirates, 6-5, to improve to 81-79 and ensure a non-losing season.
The only man who was in a Brewers uniform that night on Tuesday night was Marcus Hanel, Milwaukee's veteran bullpen catcher.
"I just know it was a big moment -- an 'over the hump' moment," Hanel said. "We didn't have to hear about losing anymore. It was a good sense of accomplishment for the organization. There was a ray of hope."
There is more than a ray of hope for these first-place Pirates, who are 81-57, and with a Cardinals loss in Cincinnati, opened a two-game lead in the National League Central.
McCutchen, Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd did much of the damage for the Pirates, combining to go 7-for-10 with three walks, three runs scored and three RBIs. Byrd's RBI double off Brandon Kintzler in the eighth inning gave the Pirates one lead, and after Jean Segura tied the game with a single in the bottom of the frame, Snider's homer off Brewers closer Jim Henderson in the ninth put Pittsburgh ahead again.
Mark Melancon (11th save) worked around Scooter Gennett's double with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and the Pirates' historic losing streak was, well, history.
"It was on our to-do list," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The one family I'm happy for here is the Clemente family. I had a little talk with them earlier in the season and they told me, 'We can't have 21 losing seasons. We've got to find a way to not have Roberto's number tied to that.' I told them we would do everything we could to take care of that, and it's been taken care of."
Henderson is in his first rough patch of a solid first season as Brewers closer. He allowed only two home runs in his first 48 appearances this season, but has allowed a homer in three of his last four.
"The game will mess with you," Henderson said. "I threw a few good sliders that outing, and the one bad one I threw, it gets knocked out of the park. It stinks when the team comes back and battles hard to tie it up in the eighth, and I've let them down the last two times I've been out. Those are the things I take hard."
Brewers relievers have surrendered 13 earned runs in the first five games of an 0-5 homestand that concludes Wednesday night.
Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo labored early before settling in to allow two runs in seven innings, his fourth consecutive quality start since a two-week stint on the disabled list for a strained hamstring. In those four games, Gallardo has pitched to a 1.37 ERA (four earned runs in 26 1/3 innings).
He topped 20 pitches in each of the first and third innings -- including a 23-pitch, nine-strike opening frame -- but did not top 13 pitches in any of his final four innings of work and limited the Pirates to five hits on 104 pitches.
"Very pleased," Gallardo said of his post-DL bounce back. "It's not easy -- especially when you're facing a lineup like that -- to throw that many pitches in the first inning and then keep my pitch count down after that and get into the seventh.
"Earlier in the year, it could have been the total opposite of what it was today. After the first few innings, I tried to settle down and keep the ball down in the zone, have them swing the bat. I was able to do that."
He was opposed by Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole, who allowed Jonathan Lucroy's two-run single in the first inning, but was otherwise tough. Cole surrendered only three more hits on the way to a six-inning no-decision. He limited the damage to two runs on five hits, with one walk and five strikeouts.
The Pirates' next victory will be even more significant, ensuring their first winning season since 1992. Hanel was a Pirates' farmhand then, and remembers taking a break from the instructional league to gather with his teammates for Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. He watched as the Pirates took a 2-0 lead on the Braves into the bottom of the ninth inning.
"When the Pirates lost that game, it was like a death in the family," Hanel said. "The next day at practice, we went out there to stretch, and it was morbid. Devastation. That loss, we felt it through the whole organization.
"There are still some familiar faces over there, and for that city, and it being the team that drafted you, there's always a special place in your heart."