Pirates reliever Mark Melancon, a former Arizona Wildcat, has a 2-1 record with a 0.89 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings.


PITTSBURGH - The Pirates are the toast of baseball, owners of the majors' best record (51-30) at the midpoint of their season.

Should they maintain that pace over the next three months, they would win 102 games just three years after the 2010 Pirates lost 105. Pittsburgh's last winning season was 1992.

The Pirates' Garrett Jones believes new faces and a new attitude have been "a huge difference in confidence."

"When you're losing ... it gets ingrained in your head and sometimes it's tough to get it out. Now, everything and everybody is positive," Jones says. "We just focus on, 'We're going to win, we can win, we will win.' We just had to change that mind-set around and be confident in ourselves."

The additions of pitchers A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and Mark Melancon, a former UA Wildcat, and catcher Russell Martin have helped. Martin left the New York Yankees to sign a two-year deal in the winter.

The Pirates hold a two-game lead over St. Louis not only in the National League Central, but also in the race for the best record in baseball. Saturday, they became the first team to reach 50 wins - doing it before July 1 for the first time in the 127-year history of the franchise.

That's heady stuff for an organization - and a fan base - that has suffered through 20 consecutive losing seasons, a record for any North American major professional sports league.

"We're over it. We don't want to hear any more of that," said Burnett, a former starter with the Yankees, Blue Jays and Marlins.

In 2011, the Pirates were 53-47 after 100 games - until they swent 19-43 to end with 90 losses. Last year, they topped out at 16 games over .500 as late as 110 games in - only to limp to the finish at 16-36.

Inside pitch

• Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is set to play Tuesday night for Class A Charleston in his first minor league game on a rehabilitation assignment.

• Andy Pettitte broke Whitey Ford's record for career strikeouts by a Yankees pitcher. He struck out Justin Morneau in the fifth inning against Minnesota on Mondayto give him 1,958 for his career.

• Darren Daulton's surgeon says the former Philadelphia Phillies All-Star catcher, 51, has successfully had two brain tumors removed.