Andrew McCutchen produced a fine performance in his final weekend before the All-Star Game. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
For all of Pedro Alvarez’s 500-foot home runs, Jason Grilli’s thrilling 1-2-3 saves, A.J. Burnett’s shutdown starts, Starling Marte’s stand-up doubles and rocket throws…
Let no one forget that Andrew McCutchen is the Pirates’ star. The celebrated center fielder collected the game-tying home run and go-ahead RBI in Pittsburgh’s 4-2 win over the New York Mets. In front of a packed PNC Park, the FOX cameras and a New York audience, McCutchen sparked the offense to victory in a prelude to his NYC All-Star Game, the outfielder’s third straight.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle agrees that McCutchen is a fine team cornerstone because of:
“The person” (The next bad thing we hear about McCutchen will be the first)
“The player” (A center fielder owning a career AVG/OBP/SLG line of .292/.374/.481)
“His age” (At 26, McCutchen may not be in his prime years yet)
“The youthful experience” (Saturday was career game No. 666 as the longest-tenured Pirate)
“All-Star Games, there’s hardware behind it” (Like a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award)
McCutchen stepped in to start the 6th inning to face Mets reliever David Aardsma after two empty at-bats against fill-in starter Carlos Torres. Aardsma buzzed McCutchen on a first-pitch fastball near his head. McCutchen said he tried to “bear down” and mauled Aardsma’s next fastball for a home run to right-center, his 10th homer of the season. Tie game and a sound explosion from the season-high 39,173 fans.
McCutchen remains one of baseball’s best outfielders this year: .303/.378/.471 and 20 stolen bases. (Photo by: David Hague)
“When he got his tower buzzed, he kind of looked at us,” Hurdle said. “Almost like ‘I got this.’”
McCutchen got his follow-up at-bat next inning with two runners on base. Unorthodox right-hander Greg Burke pitched away, but McCutchen smacked a ground ball off third baseman David Wright’s glove and into the left field grass to score Travis Snider. The Pirates grabbed their first lead and the fans rejoiced again.
“I was just trying to bear-down on the submarine right-hander,” McCutchen said. “That kind of stuff you don’t see every day.”
Franchise players can wipe away others’ mistakes en route to victory, and multiple Pirates erred Saturday Night. Torres carved up the Bucs in his first 2013 start, replacing Cy Young Award candidate Matt Harvey in the rotation. The substitute struck out five Pirates hitters in his first four innings, giving up only two ground-ball singles.
“We weren’t really able to draw a beat on Torres,” Hurdle said. “He kept us off-balance… had an opportunity to bust him and didn’t.”
The Pittsburgh manager has some blame to take for that missed opportunity in the Bottom 5th. Garrett Jones led off the inning by smashing a double to left-center, followed by Jordy Mercer’s RBI single and Clint Barmes’ line-drive single. Instead of pinch-hitting starter A.J. Burnett (82 pitches in his 2nd start back from injury, 4 on an intentional walk), Hurdle had Burnett bunt to move his runners over for the first out. Two batters later, Jose Tabata grounded into an inning-ending double play.
“You’ve got your big boy back in play, you’re gonna yank him after five?” Hurdle said. “I wanted him to pitch. He needed to pitch.”
Burnett’s eight strikeouts were his most since May 8, but he is unsatisfied. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Burnett did not pitch much longer, throwing only 14 more before being removed in the 6th inning despite wanting to go deeper. The veteran was one out away from a quality start, though, keeping the score close by allowing only two runs over 5.2 innings and getting eight strikeouts. Burnett was not pleased that the Mets knocked seven hits and three unintentional walks off him.
“I think I was a little sharper at times, lost it a few times,” Burnett said after giving up an RBI double to Kirk Nieuwenhuis and RBI infield single to Marlon Byrd. “I didn’t have the front-hip sinker to lefties that I’ve had… Second one back, I’m not content with it. We’ll get better each time out.”
Bullpen “Does Its Thing”
Burnett feels no issue regarding his previously-injured right calf and certainly had no issue with the work of his bullpen shutting down the Mets the rest of the way.
“You got guys coming in and throwing the ball the way they throw it,” Burnett said. “You never want to come out of a game but you feel pretty good with these guys behind you.”
Justin Wilson notched a critical strikeout to strand Burnett’s two baserunners in the 6th then pitched a scoreless 7th. Mark Melancon generated three ground-ball outs over his three batters, then Jason Grilli went 1-2-3 for his National League-leading 29th save.
Those three have been the dominant triumvirate of a bullpen that has baseball’s 2nd-best ERA at 2.79 this season.
“It’s been like that since Game 1 for them. Nothing’s changed,” McCutchen said. “They’ve been consistent this whole year.”
Pittsburgh’s franchise cornerstone praises the team’s breakthrough bullpen for helping the Pirates back into a first-place tie alongside the St. Louis Cardinals, now having the chance to be all alone in charge of the NL’s best record through the All-Star Break.
Seems the stars are aligning for a pennant-race summer along the Allegheny River.