Despite my obvious devotion to Andy Van Slyke as a kid, the iconic early 1990s Pittsburgh Pirate memory for me has always been Barry Bonds’s walkoff home run off of Lee Smith. I’m sure that almost every Pirate fan that remember 1991 remembers that home run; Bonds crushes a ball to right center and throws his arms in celebration before slowing starting his trot to first base. In looking at the circumstances at the time, it was a big home run. The Cardinals were one of a couple of teams with a reasonable chance of catching the Pirates as the trade deadline in 1991 approached, and on the first three days of August, they beat the Pirates three games in a row to drive the Pirates into an eight-game losing streak. That cut the Bucs’ lead in the old NL East to 4 1/2 games. The Bucs and Cards played another series in Three Rivers less than a week later, and when the Cardinals won the first game of that series, they cut the Pirates’ division lead down to just four games. The Pirates won the next two games, though, and then Bonds’s homer off of Smith came in the fourth game of the series, which pushed the Pirates’ division lead to seven games. Essentially, it punctuated the club waking up out of their worst slump of the season and re-established them as the division favorites.
Anyway, it’s not a perfect comparison, but when Ike Davis launched a terrible Seth Maness changeup deep into the right-center field at PNC Park to give the Pirates a 5-2 lead and took a nice long look at it before heading to first base, it reminded me an awful lot of that Bonds home run from 23 years ago. I guess we’ll know in five weeks or so whether Davis’s blast is worth remembering the same way, but inside of the moment, it’s a huge lift to the Pirates.
Until Davis launched that pitch into the right-center grandstand, the Pirates looked an awful lot like they were headed for another nameless, faceless, numberless divisional loss in which the bullpen had wasted a lead and a good start. For the second straight start, Gerrit Cole was really excellent for an extended stretch before running out of gas a bit as his pitch count went up. Tonight, he held the Cardinals hitless for 5 2/3, but gave up three hits to the last four batters he faced and came out of the game pretty quickly in the seventh with a 2-0 lead. It was Tony Watson that couldn’t hold onto the lead tonight; he inherited runners on first and third with no outs and let both of them score, despite not really giving up many hard-hit balls. It all seemed like doom-and-gloom from there until Davis stepped up with runners on first and second with two outs, and Mike Matheny declined to put a lefty on the mound to face him. Thanks to Davis, now the Pirates have a close late inning win in a key game against a divisional rival.
There’s more work to do, obviously, and there are some real concerns about Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez both leaving this game with “discomfort” (in the ribs and foot, respectively), though neither injury seems serious right now. You can only ever win one game at a time, though, and so at the least it seems like we can say that the Pirates have put that seven game losing streak well behind them. They’re even with the Braves in the standings again and depending on the outcome of tonight’s Giants/Rockies game, they might be within a half game of a playoff spot when they play the Cardinals tomorrow afternoon. Certainly, that’s better than where they were at this time last Tuesday.