I thought that this game was going to be all about Edinson Volquez. His breaking ball looked as good tonight as it has at any point in 2014, and he had the Reds flailing like crazy at it. He took a no-hitter through six innings and into the seventh before Devin Mesoraco’s single spoiled the party. He nearly made it through eight innings unscathed, but 114 pitches and a questionable Brandon Phillips HBP ended his night.
Somehow, though, this game turned into the story of Josh Harrison. That’s not to suggest that Harrison wasn’t already present while Volquez was on the mound, spinning his gem. His no-hitter only made it into the seventh because of some spectacular defense from Harrison; he nabbed a Todd Frazier grounder towards the whole in the fourth to save a hit, he speared a Brandon Phillips line drive in the sixth with Billy Hamilton on third base and two outs, and he turned an absolutely crazy 5-3 double play with runners on first and second with nobody out in the seventh inning. After Volquez left, though, Harrison took over.
Tony Watson came in to relieve Volquez, and he gave up a single to left field that easily scored Billy Hamilton. Both Starling Marte and Jordy Mercer booted the ball, though, and so Phillips decided to try and score from third. Harrison was on the spot, picking the ball up and gunning Phillips down at the plate.
In the bottom of the inning, Andrew Lambo made his 2014 debut pinch-hitting for Watson with one out. He laced a ground ball off of Frazier’s glove at first for a “single.” Harrison then stepped up and rocketed a ball off of the upper half of the Clemente Wall in right field, causing a ricochet past Jay Bruce that allowed Lambo to score easily and put Harrison on third. Two pitches later, Jose Tabata singled Harrison in to provide the winning run.
What can I say about Harrison that hasn’t been said at this point? Even his biggest fans probably thought of him as a bit of a fluke when he was named to the All-Star team in July, but since then he’s leading all of baseball in extra base hits (he had a double in addition to his game-changing triple tonight). His defense was always questionable, but he’s been the primary third baseman for a while now, and since settling in there, his defense has looked pretty good. We’re to the point where he is almost unquestionably the team’s starting third baseman heading into 2015. That’s not a scenario I could have fathomed even a few months ago.
What’s most important, though, is that he’s ensured that the Pirates are more than just the Andrew McCutchen show. I hate manufactured “team MVP” debates (Andrew McCutchen is unquestionably the best player on the Pirates and he’s having the best season of any Pirate) and I refuse to really get into that here. What I will say is that McCutchen’s rib injury could have devastated the Pirates; not only did it keep him out of action for two weeks, but he’s been back for a week and a half and he’s only looked like himself in flashes. Since aggravating the injury on Tuesday, he hasn’t looked very good at all. That sort of thing could have tanked the Pirates’ season and it would have tanked other Pirate teams, but this 2014 team has soldiered on. I don’t want to assign 100% of the credit for that to Josh Harrison (that wouldn’t be fair to Starling Marte or Travis Snider or Ike Davis or Pedro Alvarez), but the existence of Josh Harrison is a big part of why this Pirate offense is as dynamic as it is, even without Andrew McCutchen and on nights like tonight, it feels like he single-handedly drags them to victory.
The Giants and Brewers are starting just about now, so Josh Harrison’s huge night will give the Pirates a game in the standings on someone. That makes this a huge win for the Pirates. The 2014 season might not look quite like anyone thought it would a few months ago, but at this point the only feature that really matters is that it’s not over yet.