Every win the Bucs manage to get against the Reds this season is going to feel great, and this was certainly a nice way to start. Team leaders A.J. Burnett and Andrew McCutchen led the way in knocking off the NL Central favorites and starting this weekend’s series off right.
Burnett managed to meet the requirements for a quality start, but just barely (6 innings, 3 runs). This was the first game in which he finished the sixth inning this year, and he continues to strike out batters at an absurd pace – 8 tonight, good for a 14.3 K/9 in the early going. AJ grooved a fastball to Brandon Phillips in the second inning, and Phillips dispatched it over the CF fence for a bomb. That was his only big mistake, but he did give up a couple of walks (3 on the day) and some well-timed hits to let the Reds back into the game once the Bucs had built a solid lead. Not a great outing for AJ, but certainly not a bad one and good enough on this night.
But how about that Bucco offense! Seven hits in the first two innings! The Bucs were all over Mike Leake early, notching a run in the first on a Russell Martin RBI single and then a bunch more in the second. Travis Snider, Clint Barmes, Neil Walker, McCutchen, and Garrett Jones all got in on the act. Starling Marte also led off with a hit for the sixth straight game and stole second easily, although he was thrown out at home later in the inning. Still, he helped the rally in the second by getting hit by a pitch (and he probably could’ve gotten out of the way).
The Reds inched a bit closer in the middle innings, and the Bucco bats cooled off. Still, the lead felt fairly comfortable at 5-3 when AJ left after the sixth. Tony Watson came on for the seventh and became the first Pirate reliever this year to allow runs with a lead. Watson was facing the top of the Reds order and got the lefties out, but he walked righty Chris Heisey and instead of pitching around Brandon Phillips with lefty Jay Bruce on deck, he grooved a fastball and Phillips took advantage yet again. Tie game. Bad bullpen management, bad situational pitching, and an all-around depressing moment as Phillips emphatically rounded the bases.
McCutchen, however, had a quick answer for Phillips. He led off the bottom of the seventh with a line shot to the LF bleachers for his second bomb, untying the game just like that. Cutch is the man.
The Bucs had a chance at adding on later in the inning, but couldn’t do so (I’m not sure why Hurdle didn’t PH for Clint Barmes with John McDonald available to replace him at short). Anyway, it didn’t matter because the back of the bullpen was awesome yet again. Mark Melancon pitched a lightning quick 1-2-3 eighth, just as he has done in seemingly every outing so far this year. Jason Grilli had an adventurous ninth, allowing a hit to bring up Joey Votto and a walk to Votto (though it looked like he had him struck out and didn’t get the call) to bring up Phillips, who had of course homered twice earlier in the game. But it was worth it, because Grilli struck Phillips out and subsequently delivered his usual epic fist pump. Great finish.
The Bucs needed this win pretty badly with some tough pitching matchups on deck for the next two games, and after it was put in doubt it was great to see them take it back. It will take a solid all-around game to beat the Reds on most nights, and that’s what the Bucs delivered on Friday.
Pedro Alvarez showed signs of encouragement tonight. He lined an opposite-field single, drew a walk against lefty reliever Manny Parra, and didn’t strike out all game.
Every Pirate starter (minus Burnett) recorded a hit. The top four hitters in the order all had two hits.
Tony Watson, who pitched one inning and lost a two run lead by allowing the game-tying homer, got the win. Burnett is still 0-2 despite a 3.71 ERA through 3 starts.
Burnett threw 106 pitches in 6 innings. He still needs to be more efficient.
Pirates 6, Reds 5 / Box / 2013 Record: 4-6 / Next: Saturday, vs. Reds, 7:05