The countdown now is reduced to eight. Eight more victories and you can call the Pirates something you haven't been able to since 1992.

Adorable. Winners.

A couple of more Pedro Alvarez swings ought to move that needle.

“Obviously it's always a work in progress” Pittsburgh's slugging third baseman says. “Anytime you can see some positive results it's a huge accomplishment and it makes people happy.”

After the way this guy has worked … and worked … and worked … the happiness is spreading. Both from within and without.

After coming into his own with 30 homers last season Alvarez now is tied with Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt for the National League lead with 31 homers this season.

He's deposited baseballs over fences twice in his past five games and he's collected the highest homer total by a Pirates' lefty in more than a decade. Brian Giles had 38 in 2002.

He's also only two RBI short of equaling last year's career-high 85 after driving in seven runs over his past six games.

“This year has been a lot of fun” he says. “Playing with these guys winning some games.”

This guy ought to be able to readily identify “fun” because his first few steps in the majors were the complete opposite of it. Take 2011: .191 batting average .289 slugging percentage and just four measly homers over 74 games.

They were trying times in Pittsburgh: Alvarez tried and tried and nothing worked. But here's the thing when you sign a major-league contract right out of the draft: You usually land in the majors before you're ready plopped down in a package marked “Express.”