Andrew McCutchen swinging hot bat, keeping Pirates close in NL Central

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Neither the National League MVP race nor the playoff picture are sewn up yet, and the reigning award winner from last year's surprise team has a fair bit to do with that. On Wednesday night, Andrew McCutchen continued his torrid September with the first inside-the-park home run of his career, helping the Pirates to defeat the Phillies 6-3 and hold their ground in the NL Wild Card race.

McCutchen's homer off Jerome Williams came with the Pirates down 3-2 in the fifth inning. He bashed a drive off the wall of the deepest part of centerfield in Citizens Bank Park, near the 409-feet sign and above the outstretched glove of a leaping Ben Revere, who had no chance at catching it and should have played the carom. The rebound rolled all the way to right centerfield, where Grady Sizemore picked it up, by which point McCutchen, who had turned on the jets, was reaching third base. He scored easily, as you can see from the video:

The homer was McCutchen's team-high 23rd of the year and his third of the month. It was his second hit of the night, after singling in the first inning after Williams hit both Josh Harrison and Starling Marte with pitches to lead off the game. Two batters later, Russell Martin drove in Harrison and Marte with a single for an early 2-0 lead, but the Phillies struck back against Vance Worley with a run in the second via a two-out double by Cody Asche and a single by Wil Nieves. They rallied for two more in the fourth via a two-run single off the bat of Williams that scored both Ryan Howard (who had walked) and Asche (who had singled).

Two batters after McCutchen's homer tied the game, Martin struck again, this time via his ninth homer of the year. The Pirates extended their lead to 6-3 in the sixth against reliever Luis Garcia via a pair of singles, a Harrison double and a Marte single, and relievers Bobby LaFromboise, John Hodzkom, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon retired all 12 Phillies they faced to close out the victory.

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The win was the Pirates' fifth in their past six games, and it finally allowed them to gain a game on the Cardinals in the NL Central race. At 76-69, they're now in second place at 3 1/2 games back, having surpassed the sinking Brewers (75-71) on Sunday. Even better, they're now 1 1/2 games ahead of both the Brewers and Braves (also 75-71) for the second NL Wild Card spot.

As for McCutchen, the 27-year-old centerfielder and recent SI magazine cover subject is hitting .359/.419/.615 in 43 plate appearances this month, and he's at .313/.356/.550 with five homers in 87 PA since coming off the disabled list on August 19 — a bit below his full-season line (.311/.403/.539) but about as good as the Pirates could have hoped for in the aftermath of his broken rib. He's not the only Buc swinging a hot bat this month, either. Harrison (.393/.414/.536), Marte (.405/.463/.676), Martin (.273/.351/.485) and Jordy Mercer (.314/.333/.657) each lifted their September lines by collecting two hits in Wednesday's game.

Harrison's two hits came in his second game back after missing three games due to a left ankle sprain. His return is doubly important in the wake of Wednesday's news that Pedro Alvarez — whose third base job he claimed last month — is likely done for the year due to a stress reaction in the fourth metatarsal of his left foot, an injury that typically takes four to six weeks to heal. Harrison has been the team’s second-best hitter overall, batting .318/.351/.514 with 13 homers and 17 steals.