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Must C Clutch: Harrison gets award and then shows why

PITTSBURGH -- His shoulder wrapped in ice, Edinson Volquez was on his way to the trainer's room when he shouted a message to Josh Harrison, who was fielding questions from a group of reporters.

"M-V-P!" Volquez yelled.

Harrison was undoubtedly that on Friday night, willing the Pirates to a 2-1 win over the Reds at PNC Park. Harrison repeatedly backed Volquez with his glove at third base, so it was only appropriate that he ended up there after the biggest swing of the game. His triple in the eighth inning tied the score, and he crossed the plate with the game-winning run when Jose Tabata chopped a grounder through the left side.

But Volquez -- who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning -- wasn't talking about Harrison being the most valuable player just on Friday. Or in the Pirates' clubhouse, for that matter.

"He can do everything. To me he's the MVP of the league," Volquez said of the All-Star utility man, whose breakout season becomes more brilliant as the calendar inches closer to September.

"The way he's playing right now is unbelievable."

The victory, the Pirates' fifth in their past seven games against divisional opponents, moved them within three games of the National League Central-leading Brewers and 1 1/2 behind the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot.

Harrison was the recipient of Pittsburgh's Heart and Hustle Award before the game. It was an honor that made the rest of his night seem scripted.

With the leather, Harrison saved multiple runs with diving stops on three occasions. With the bat he went 3-for-4, came within a homer of the cycle, and his triple off reliever Jonathan Broxton caromed off the right-field wall to score Friday callup Andrew Lambo.

The offensive performance raised Harrison's average to .308 and finally got the Pirates on the board after seven frustrating innings against starter Mike Leake.

"You can watch a lot of Major League baseball games, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better all-around game than Josh had tonight on both sides of the ball," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Fantastic on defense, and every time he came to the plate, he put the barrel on the ball."

Said Harrison: "I'm trying to help any way possible, and I got presented with a lot of opportunities tonight. That's just how baseball is."

The rare times Volquez was in trouble, Harrison's defensive intuition got his starter out of the tough spots.

In the sixth inning, with speedster Billy Hamilton 90 feet from home, Brandon Phillips shot a line drive down the third-base line. Harrison slid to his right and snagged the ball before it hit the ground.

An inning later, Volquez's no-hitter was broken up when Devin Mesoraco snuck a ground ball between the shifting middle-infield combo of Neil Walker and Jordy Mercer. That hit was followed by Jay Bruce's single, putting two on with no outs. The next batter, Kristopher Negron, made the mistake of grounding a ball near Harrison.

The 27-year-old Harrison, who only recently became an everyday third baseman, dived to his right, fielding the grounder and slapping third base with his hand for the first out. He threw across the diamond for out No. 2, and Volquez ended the frame two batters later.

"As I dove -- and I knew I was getting [the out at third] -- it was just instincts," Harrison said. "My right hand was closer, and I knew it would have taken me a lot to turn around, step on the bag or hit it with my glove."

Volquez, who dueled all night with Leake, enjoyed the competition and the back-and-forth zeros on the scoreboard. Volquez didn't get the win, as the Reds' lone run in the eighth was charged to him after he exited with 114 pitches, three hits, three walks and six strikeouts on his line. But the 31-year-old, acquired for $5 million in the offseason, has a 1.65 ERA in his last five starts.

Volquez's previous start against the Reds -- his former team -- was a disaster, as he gave up eight runs in just 2 1/3 innings. He credited Friday's performance to a sharper focus.

"I was more concentrated on what I was doing," Volquez said. "I was able to get to that tonight and got pitches in their strike zone. The whole game I didn't even look in their dugout -- I don't want to get funny over there. I was really serious about what I was doing."

Volquez left with two runners on base with two outs in the eighth, but Mesoraco hit a bloop single off reliever Tony Watson to give the Reds the lead.

The play could have resulted in another run, as Phillips tried to take advantage of a Starling Marte error in left-center and a bobbled relay throw. But as Phillips broke for home with the ball bouncing away from Mercer, it was picked up and thrown home to cut down a run at the plate and end the inning.

Who made that play? Harrison. Of course.

Harrison backed Volquez one last time in the bottom of the eighth inning by getting him out of the loss column. And as he celebrated the game-tying hit, some in the crowd broke into a chant -- the same one Volquez cried out after the game.

Those three letters are nothing new to PNC Park. But this time they weren't directed at Andrew McCutchen, the current owner of that title.

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