PIT@CHC: Alvarez opens scoring with double into ivy

CHICAGO -- Pedro Alvarez formed two impressions in Tuesday night's game here:

One, he would already be considerably over the 100-RBI mark if it were not for ground-rule doubles. In the last month alone, the Bucs' third baseman has lost ribbies to about a half-dozen of them -- including Tuesday's second-inning liner into Wrigley Field's right-field ivy with a pair of runners on base.

Two, Alvarez is no longer patsy to opposition managers' reflexive reach for southpaw relievers when he comes up in a late key situation, having made the necessary adjustments to hurt them -- he's produced 13 RBIs off lefty relievers this season.

"That has been an automatic move for managers, and he'll often see two [lefty relievers] in one game," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "So you have to take into consideration the opportunities. But he is showing very good signs of being more consistent in his approach against left-handers."

The most obvious sign is Alvarez's willingness to cut down on his swing, especially with a two-strike count, and hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite, left field. His two-run double in the fifth inning Tuesday was rocketed down the left-field line.

"Repetition helps, and his game-planning has improved as well," Hurdle said. "He's covering [pitches] away and reacting [when pitches come] in. We saw a sequence [Tuesday] night where he saw a lot of [breaking balls] away, then got one fastball -- and he took a very aggressive swing at it."

Alvarez, who took up residence in the lineup's six-hole with the arrival of Justin Morneau, normally is the only left-handed hitter amid three righty swingers. Having him neutralize the moves to those lefty relievers can build big innings.

First number, last word

41-36: Pirates' road record entering Wednesday afternoon's game, the first of four remaining -- assuring the club of its first winning record away from home since the '92 team went 43-38.

"I've believed in momentum since I was six years old. And we're trying to get some more momentum now -- it would be significant." -- Hurdle, on the Pirates trying to generate some steam approaching the final weekend in Cincinnati

Worth noting

• Hurdle always talks about "Free 90s," then there are the "Three 90s:" The Cardinals, Pirates and Reds have each already surpassed 90 wins, making the Central the National League's first division with triple 90-game winners since the 2002 West included the D-backs (98), Giants (95) and Dodgers (92).

• The Bucs are assured of finishing the season with no losing streak longer than four games, a testament, according to Hurdle, "to their consistency and resiliency, and the ability to leave yesterday's game behind."

Starling Marte's 138 hits from the leadoff spot -- including his single to open Wednesday's game -- are the Pirates' most from the one-hole since 2004, when Jason Kendall had 155.