It’s amazing how quickly the Pirates have settled into a nice little daily pattern: for the fifth straight game, their starter gave up an early lead, but limited the damage and settled down quickly, their offense erase that lead bit by bit, and the bullpen absolutely shut down the second half of the game for a win. Tonight’s win gives the Pirates six in a row, nine of eleven, and puts the Pirates to within a half-game of the Cardinals and 2 1/2 of the Mets, the NL’s current second wild card.
The particulars change from night-to-night, of course. Tonight, Steven Brault made his big league debut and flashed some impressive stuff. He got 10 swings and misses on his fastball (53 of his 82 pitches), and used that to hold the Cardinals to one earned run in his four innings of work (the second run came on a really bad Gregory Polanco error). His slider and changeup didn’t necessarily fool a ton of Cardinal hitters, but he threw them for strikes and he used them effectively enough to off-set the fastball. It was a short debut for Brault, but it was effective enough that I’m interested to see more from him.
On offense, tonight’s unlikely hero was Eric Fryer. Fryer was, of course, just claimed from the Cardinals over the weekend and last played for the Pirates in 2011 and 2012 (he was acquired the first time in the Eric Hinske trade, if that helps you orient him in Pirate history). In those two seasons, he batted 34 times for the Pirates and had eight singles, no extra base hits, and no RBIs. Tonight, he had the single that tied the game at 2-2 after the Cardinals took their early lead, and the double that broke it open to 5-2 after the Pirates inched ahead.
The stars of the game were probably Juan Nicasio and Arquimedes Caminero for the second straight night, though. Nicasio returned after his 1 1/3 innings last night and threw two more scoreless innings in this one. Caminero also threw 1 1/3 last night and went for a perfect one tonight, which bridged the gap to Tony Watson and Mark Melancon in the eighth and ninth.
It’s amazing what a difference a couple of weeks makes for this bullpen; with Caminero back on track and Nicasio looking comfortable, they don’t even feel like the same team, and the offense is taking advantage of the opportunities that they weren’t afforded in June.
There is, of course, work left for this team to do, but it’s awfully hard to complain about winning back-to-back games in St. Louis started by Steven Brault and Jon Niese. The Pirates have two shots to get a series win, now; let’s hope they capitalize.
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