It’s fitting that the Pirates played a game that’s emblematic of their entire 2011 season in their national TV debut against the Braves tonight. They beat the Braves tonight with pitching, defense, and by taking advantage of some poor play in the field by the Braves. That’s how the Pirates win most of their games, really, and it was particularly fitting to do it on ESPN tonight.
James McDonald was just excellent. He didn’t last long (I’d guess that’s partially due to the rainout, which often keeps starters warming up through the entire delay), but in 5 1/3 he struck out nine and walked none, which helped mediate his eight hits allowed. The Braves never really threatened until the sixth, though, and whenever the Braves put someone on he had the ability to reach down into his reserves and get a strikeout. The durability’s obviously still a concern with him, but I think this was a heck of an effort for a rain delay game.
When he did get into trouble, loading the bases in the sixth in part because of a flukey catcher’s interference call, Chris Resop came in and slammed the door on the Braves with two easy outs. And when Dan McCutchen got into trouble two innings later with a Chipper Jones homer followed by a walk, Jose Veras came in and slammed the door shut again. It’s impossible to overstate how much Veras and Resop have meant to this club this year: they’ve had their ups and downs, but both of them have gotten some huge, huge outs during this team’s hot stretch since mid-May and tonight was just another example of it.
The Pirates didn’t get much offense tonight, but the Braves made one big mistake on the defensive side and the Pirates capitalized on it. Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez drew walks to open up the second inning, then Lyle Overbay hit a fly to shallowish left-center. Nate McLouth lined up like he was planning to gun down McCutchen at third (yeah, right), and Pedro Alvarez read the play perfectly and tagged up to move to second. As a result, Ronny Cedeno’s ground ball to short resulted in a run and not an inning-ending double play, and Mike McKenry’s double resulted in a second run.
I said before the game that I thought the Pirates had to get a win with JMac on the mound. They got it. At the 100-game mark in 2011, they’re just four wins behind last year’s 162-game total. What else even needs to be said? This is fun.