A dramatic comeback and a truly incredible effort from the bullpen saved the Pirates from a sweep on Sunday. Instead of dropping a third straight game to the Reds for a demoralizing weekend, they rallied for one of the best wins of the year.
The first inning was a disaster. Maybe the clock has finally struck midnight for Jeanmar Gomez – he quickly allowed three runs before recording an out, and the Reds finished the first with four on the board. Gomez then had to come out with “tightness in his right forearm” … which meant the heavily used bullpen needed to cover the rest of the game. (It also could mean Gomez is headed to the DL…stay tuned.) Plus, the Bucs hadn’t scored all weekend, so a 4-run hole almost felt like game over.
You can say this for almost every win this season, but the bullpen…WOW. There isn’t much more you can say about them at this point. TEN shutout innings. Vin Mazzaro and Bryan Morris were the unsung heroes, each posting three zeroes while the Bucs were still down big. Unfortunately both will likely be unavailable tomorrow and maybe even Tuesday, but the win is well worth it.
The Pirate offense finally showed some life and slooowly started the comeback off Mat Latos. Pedro Alvarez homered in the second to get the Bucs on the board for the first time in the series. They were silenced for a while after that, but Latos started to come apart in the sixth. Alex Presley reached on an infield hit and Starling Marte walked. Neil Walker struck out badly, but Andrew McCutchen rolled one through the infield for an RBI single. The rally ended there, though, and the Bucs were still down two and missed a chance to at least cut it to one. Garrett Jones and Russell Martin both came up empty with men on second and third after a wild pitch.
Jones would make up for it. After Mark Melancon worked his way through an uncharacteristically shaky eighth, Jonathon Broxton (who blew the game for the Reds last time they were in town on a Sunday afternoon) hit Starling Marte to start the inning, but Walker’s rough day continued with a double play. McCutchen singled, though, bringing Garrett to the plate as the tying run. With the Bucs down two and in need of a jolt, you know what everyone was thinking...plus it had been a while.
You know what happened next. Crushed. River. On the fly. 1002 games in to PNC Park’s lifespan, a Pirate has finally done it (Daryle Ward was the other, with the Astros in 2002). As awesome as the distance was, the bomb couldn’t have come at a better time. The Bucs had tied it up and had all the momentum in the world after coming back from a 4-0 first inning hole.
Jason Grilli built on the momentum with a dominant 1-2-3 ninth (all strikeouts), but the Bucs couldn’t walk off in the bottom of the inning. Justin Wilson – the third-to-last guy left in the pen – tossed two very strong innings to maintain the bullpen’s shutout in the 10th and 11th. The bullpen basically threw a complete game shutout – plus one more inning for good measure.
Dusty Baker didn’t use Aroldis Chapman in the 11th despite several lefties due up, and it cost him. Alfredo Simon retired Jones, but Russell Martin reached on an error and Pedro worked a walk. Jordy Mercer popped out but Travis Snider picked him up as the Bucs FINALLY got the big two-out base hit they were looking for. A short looper to right scored Martin and the Bucs walked off for the second time in the homestand. Thank goodness they did, because Mike Zagurski was warming up in the bullpen at the time.
Latos plunked Walker in the first – clearly an intentional retaliation for…something. Brandon Phillips was hit last night and had to miss today’s game as a result, but there’s no reason to think Tony Watson hit him on purpose last night late in a tight game.
Both benches were warned after that, but several more HBP’s followed and nothing happened. Marte was plunked twice.
In fact, Starling was just 0-for-1 on the day. He reached four times – twice via walk and twice via HBP.
Jones’ homer tied him with Craig Wilson for second (behind Jason Bay) on the all time PNC Park home run list.
The weekend ends with the Bucs and Reds tied for second, both 2.5 behind the Cardinals. The Bucs are 4-2 against the Reds so far, but they have yet to play in Cincinnati.
It’s just one game in early June, but the difference between getting swept and getting this win seems pretty big. Games against the Reds are more important than most others, and seeing the Pirates come back from an awful situation and pull out a thrilling victory is always awesome. The downside, of course, is the taxed bullpen. That will certainly present Clint Hurdle with a challenge during the upcoming Atlanta series, and we might see a roster move or two coming up to help address it. Regardless, the Pirates will certainly take the win despite that cost, and despite losing the series they now have some momentum heading on to the road.
Pirates 5, Reds 4 / Box / 2013 Record: 35-22 / Next: Monday, at Braves, 7:10