SEATTLE -- Death, taxes and ... Jeanmar Gomez?
Who would have thought a few weeks ago that we would be mistaking a former failed Cleveland starter for one of the certainties of Pirates life?
For that matter, who would have thought even more recently that opposition managers would be envious of the Bucs' ability to get clutch two-out hits?
But both inconceivable aspects were in play Wednesday, when the Pirates again won a Gomez start, 4-2, and did so on Jordy Mercer's tiebreaking single with two outs in the ninth.
The Pirates appear done raising curiosity. They have gone straight to inspiring fear, sweeping the last six games of this trip to bring their record to 48-30. And while doggedly pursuing NL Central leader St. Louis, the Bucs are now tied for first place in the division after the Cardinals lost, 4-3, to the Astros on Wednesday.
"It's what we got to do: Follow the schedule, so we gotta go home," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It was a good trip."
"That's a pretty good hitting club over there," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. "They're aggressive. They got the two-out hit, and we didn't, game over."
To think, just a little over a week ago Hurdle was ready to swap houseguests for two-out hits (in jest, but point taken).
And, two months ago, Gomez was hidden deep in the Pittsburgh bullpen, a long man seemingly needed only when Jonathan Sanchez started something he could not see through.
Now Gomez (2-0) has made eight starts, and the Pirates have won every one of them -- although he has received credit for only one (he earned his other win in relief).
"That's not important to me," Gomez said. "I just want to make quality pitches and let the defense and offense help. And now I'll get ready for the next start -- or for any situations they want."
In his return start from three weeks on the disabled list with tightness in the forearm, Gomez made enough quality pitches to deadlock Seattle ace Felix Hernandez until the Pirates could do their usual number on the opposition bullpen.
Mercer delivered his key single immediately after Wedge had Yoervis Medina intentionally walk Travis Snider. The move raised eyebrows: Whereas Snider was 0-for-3, with two strikeouts, Mercer had singled sharply in his previous at-bats, and he is gaining a reputation for clutch hitting.
"I've been on the other end of that stick," Hurdle said. "Sometimes you get the matchup you want, but you don't get the result you want."
"I was confident after that single in my previous at-bat," Mercer said. "So I just wanted to drive the ball somewhere up the middle, and it worked out."
Seconds later, Medina unleashed a wild pitch that allowed Snider to plate an insurance run.
Mark Melancon, not Jason Grilli, handled the bottom of the ninth for the save, his second of the season.
Hurdle had made a predetermination that Grilli was not going to pitch in this two-game series, after he labored through a 28-pitch 10th inning Sunday in Anaheim.
Aces like Hernandez do not let their guard down often, or for long. The Pirates got in their one lick in the fourth, when Garrett Jones walked with one out, and another out later Neil Walker connected for his sixth homer.
That 2-0 lead could not survive Raul Ibanez, whether he was swinging and missing, or connecting.
Ibanez, Seattle's rejuvenated 41-year-old left fielder, schooled 25-year-old lefty reliever Justin Wilson with a solo homer in the sixth that tied it at 2 and removed Gomez as the pitcher of record, once again sending Gomez off with just a pat on the back.
The Mariners got a twice-wrapped gift for a fourth-inning run. Not only did Ibanez reach base when the wicked breaking ball on which Ibanez struck out eluded catcher Russell Martin for a wild pitch, but he went to third when Mercer misplayed a Gaby Sanchez throw on Justin Smoak's grounder for an error, and Ibanez scored on Michael Saunders' sacrifice fly.
"For a guy who's been away and wasn't as sharp as when he left, he gave us the innings we needed," Hurdle said of Gomez. "He got us to the part of the game we were hoping to get to, and he was effective again. A real nice job."
Hernandez kept the card-carrying, gold-shirt-wearing fans in his left-field court busy waving those "K" placards for his 11 strikeouts. Ultimately, though, they had to wave him goodbye, as he pitched Gomez to a no-decision draw.
Gomez allowed three hits and the unearned run in five innings, walking two with five strikeouts. Of Gomez's eight starts, this was the third in which he did not give up an earned run.
Hernandez outlasted Gomez by a couple of innings, allowing six hits and two runs in his seven, with two walks to accompany those 11 strikeouts.
"You have to be disciplined enough to drive up his pitch count so you get him out of there before the ninth inning," Hurdle said. "We were able to do that."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.