PITTSBURGH – Omar Infante had three hits, Derek Lowe beat Pittsburgh for the 10th straight time and the Atlanta Braves got the breakout victory they badly needed, beating the Pirates 9-3 on Wednesday night.
The Braves opened leads of 3-0 in the first and 8-0 in the third after being held to two runs or fewer in five of their previous six games. They had lost three in a row to fall out of the NL East lead for the first time since May 31, dropping a half-game behind Philadelphia.
That margin held when the Phillies beat Florida 10-6 on Wednesday night, but the Braves lead the wild-card race by 1½ games over San Francisco, which played at Arizona.
After his Braves lost twice in as many days to the team with the majors' worst record, manager Bobby Cox said the solution to the slide was simple: Score more runs. This is apparently what he was seeking.
Pirates starter Zach Duke (7-13) retired only three of 11 batters, giving up six hits and walking two in one-plus inning. Alex Gonzalez's two-run single finished off a three-run first, and Duke was lifted after Lowe doubled, Infante singled and Jason Heyward walked to start the second.
Reliever Daniel McCutchen wasn't much better, walking Derrek Lee to force in a run in the second before giving up four runs, three earned, in the third. McCutchen's own throwing error on Lowe's sacrifice scored a run, Infante singled in another and Martin Prado had a two-run single.
Lowe (12-12) is 10-0 in as many starts against Pittsburgh, the best such record by any major league pitcher. He cruised through six innings before being lifted in his first start since Aug. 29. He skipped a start due to a sore right elbow that may require offseason surgery to remove bone chips.
The right-hander gave up eight hits that Pittsburgh didn't do much with in being denied its third consecutive victory, which would have matched its season high. Lowe has a 2.64 career ERA against the Pirates and is 3-0 against them this season.
Pittsburgh is 47-92 with 23 games remaining and is on pace to lose 107 games.
With both teams' rosters bulked up, the final three innings resembled a spring training game. The Pirates used 22 players but still had 13 left on the bench, and Cox lifted five of his position players — including Infante. He went 3 for 5 to raise his average to .342, which would lead the NL if he had enough plate appearances.
The Pirates tied a club record by using eight pitchers in a nine-inning game, reaching the total for the fourth time and first since 2007.
NOTES: Atlanta had 14 hits and left 13 on base. ... Cox managed for the last time in Pittsburgh, which was eliminated in the 1991 and 1992 NL playoffs by Atlanta. The Pirates haven't had a winning season since. ... The Pirates presented Cox with a $5,000 check for charity. He is retiring after this season. ... Cox went 125-93 vs. Pittsburgh. ... To honor Roberto Clemente Day, the Pirates wore the beltless-style knit uniforms, with gold caps, like those they first wore when Three Rivers Stadium opened in 1970. ... 2B Neil Walker singled in the first to extend his hitting streak to 15 games (25 for 65, .385), the longest by a Pirates rookie since Rennie Stennett's 18-game streak in 1971. ... Pittsburgh hasn't swept a three-game series from Atlanta since April 29-May 1, 1994. ... Pittsburgh's Pedro Ciriaco had an RBI double in the ninth in his first major league at-bat. Alex Presley singled later in the inning for his first hit.