When the Pirates decided before the game to sit Andrew McCutchen, it took a second to register that with Travis Snider still suspended, the Pirates would be headed into the game with 2+ active outfielders (Josh Harrison plays outfield from time to time, but I’d still mostly consider him an infielder). Since the Pirates didn’t make a roster move before the game (which I’d say that for now is the best indication that McCutchen is probably not too seriously hurt, since they could have demoted Morel and brought Decker up if necessary), Harrison, Marte, and Tabata would be it.
And so when Starling Marte started hopping a bit and favoring his back after a couple of plate appearances early in the game, suddenly things got serious. Gaby Sanchez hit for Marte during the Pirates’ fourth inning rally, and then trotted out to play right field in the top of the fifth. With a one-run lead, the Pirates’ outfield orientation (L-R) was Harrison, Tabata, and Gaby Sanchez. Josh Harrison out in the vast left field expanse of PNC Park. Jose Tabata playing center. Gaby Sanchez in right.
A crazy thing happened after that. Jared Hughes came into the game to get the final out of the fifth, and he got a groundout to Neil Walker. Hughes worked a perfect sixth, getting three more groundouts. Justin Wilson came in in the seventh and struck out Joey Butler and Matt Holliday, while giving up a single to Matt Carpenter and a walk to Jhonny Peralta. Bryan Morris came in and got a grounder from Allen Craig for the third out. In the eighth, Clint Barmes came in to play short and Jordy Mercer took his turn in right field (a slightly less terrifying prospect, since he did make a really nice play on a long run for a pop-up earlier in the game). Watson gave up a double to Matt Adams to left that Harrison played pretty badly, but then struck out Mark Ellis and Peter Bourjos before getting a groundout from Tony Cruz to end the inning. In the ninth, Mark Melancon gave up a single just under Neil Walker’s glove, but then got a fielder’s choice and two strikeouts to end the game (with an HBP mixed in).
To summarize, the bullpen entered the game in the fifth inning with a ridiculous outfield configuration and a one-run lead, and proceeded to only allow two balls to reach the outfield in the air over the last 4 1/3 innings. Hughes, Wilson, Morris, and Melancon combined to get six strikeouts, seven groundouts, and zero flyouts in their 4 1/3 innings of work. That’s an incredible effort from a bullpen that seemed like they couldn’t hold a lead for anything on Monday of this very same week. Not only did they shut the Cardinals down and hold a one run lead over the last 4 1/3 innings, they also kept the ball out of the outfield almost the whole time. Just an incredible effort from the bullpen tonight. I can’t say that enough.
At this point it seems fair to diagnose Edinson Volquez’s main problem as pitching from the stretch. In the first, third, and fourth innings he only faced one batter with a runner on base (with two outs in the third) and cruised through those innings, looking as good as he’s looked all year. In the second, he put the leadoff runner on and barely escaped the inning with a 3-0 deficit. In the fifth, he gave up a two-out single to Jhonny Peralta and couldn’t navigate the heart of the Cardinals’ order from there. His final line wasn’t great, but I would say that the three easy innings he had make this start and least vaguely promising. It wasn’t all bad, at least.
The Pirates’ own rally was one of the odder four-run rallies I can remember. They loaded up the bases with no outs against Lance Lynn, then scored twice on consecutive non-double-play groundouts (by Edinson Volquez and Jose Tabata). Josh Harrison tied the game by hitting another ground ball that looked like a sure out, only it ricocheted off of Lynn’s foot and up into the air, resulting in a single. Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez followed that up with singles, which brought Harrison home. Those were the only four runs the Pirates scored all night, and somehow it was enough.
The Pirates have won four straight games since Monday’s weird/terrible loss to the Giants. They’re 16-20 now. Sunday Night Baseball at PNC Park is tomorrow. I have no idea who will be in the outfield.