PITTSBURGH -- Sounds so easy and, often enough for the surprising San Diego Padres, it is exactly that. Get the lead early and then let the bullpen finish it late.
Aaron Cunningham's triple started San Diego on a four-run second inning and the first-place Padres again took advantage of an early lead and their strong bullpen to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 on Friday night.
Kevin Correia (7-6) gave up three runs, two earned, despite walking three in six innings to win his second in a row after going winless in seven starts. Correia also contributed a run-scoring single as the Padres jumped out to their 4-0 lead against Paul Maholm (6-8), ending the left-hander's streak of 16 consecutive scoreless innings.
Getting ahead early is a trademark of these surprising Padres, whose 56-39 record is the NL's best. They are 42-15 when scoring first but 14-24 when they don't.
Cunningham's leadoff triple was misread by center fielder Jose Tabata, who broke in initially only to watch the ball sail over his head. Tabata, normally the left fielder, started in center for the injured Andrew McCutchen, who sat out his fifth consecutive game with a sore shoulder.
Tabata, speaking through interpreter Carlos Garcia, said the ball took "a different spin" than he expected.
"It took off a little bit -- that was a break," manager Bud Black said.
The Padres took advantage after that with a walk, two singles including Correia's sharply hit RBI single into left field, Chris Denorfia's run-scoring double and the Hairston and Gonzalez sacrifice flies.
"Four runs, and I really couldn't say they hit a ball hard," said Maholm, who praised the Padres hitters' patience. "They found holes. It was the kind of an inning that happens."
The Padres loaded the bases in the seventh on three walks by reliever Brendan Donnelly, who threw only one of his 13 pitches for strikes but scored just once on Venable's sacrifice fly to make it 5-3.
Pittsburgh, losing its fourth in eight games at home since the All-Star break, had closed to within a run with the help of Lastings Milledge's two-run single in the fourth and Ronny Cedeno's leadoff double in the fifth. But a Padres bullpen that easily leads the NL with a 2.84 ERA closed it out with three scoreless innings -- one each by rookie Ernesto Frieri, Luke Gregerson and Heath Bell.
Frieri, recalled July 16, struck out the side in the seventh. He hasn't allowed a hit to the 17 batters he's faced in the majors.
"That's what we do. We feel good about the balance of our pitching staff [Nos.] 1-12," Black said. "When we've had to go to Triple-A -- which we've had to do a couple times -- we're confident."
Bell finished up in the ninth for his 28th save in 31 opportunities as San Diego improved to 5-2 since the break.
Pirates rookie Neil Walker went hitless in three at-bats with a walk following six consecutive multiple-hit games. No Pirates batter has had seven such games in a row since Barry Bonds in September 1992. Correia retired him twice.
"I was fortunate enough to get out of some innings, make some pitches to get out of some innings that could have taken a little bit longer [on a 91-degree night]," Correia said.
The Pirates thought they had a run in the first, but Tabata was called out on a delayed tag by catcher Yorvit Torrealba while trying to score on Garrett Jones' grounder. Tabata insisted his hand touched the plate.
"It cost us a run," manager John Russell said. "It was a close game, and who knows how it turns out [if the run scores]?"
Padres right-hander Mat Latos (10-4, 2.45) will come off the disabled list Saturday to make his first start since July 8. He pitched 15 scoreless innings in his two most recent starts before straining a muscle on his left side while trying to stifle a sneeze. Outfielder Luis Durango was optioned to Triple-A Portland. ... The Padres are 21-9 in PNC Park and haven't lost a series in Pittsburgh since 2000, when the Pirates played in Three Rivers Stadium. ... Gonzalez is 1-for-13 in his last four games but walked three times, scored once and drove in a run. ... Sean Gallagher, picked up by Pittsburgh from the Padres for cash on July 7, pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth innings.