This is getting ridiculous.
From the moment that Jeff Locke took the mound on Wednesday night, it was apparent that he didn't have "it," if you define "it" as whatever it is that he has this year that's made him different from last year, despite no one being exactly sure what it is. He gave up two runs and four hits in the first inning. By the third inning the Cardinals had eight hits, which matched Locke's season high. It seemed like everything that the Cardinals hit off of Locke was both hit hard and managed to find a hole.
Somehow, though, the Pirates were only down 4-3 when Josh Harrison pinch-hit for Locke in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Cardinals got a bunch of hits and they got hits with runners on base, but they still left two runners on base in each of the first four innings. The Pirates got a run in the first on a Pedro Alvarez single, in the third on a Neil Walker homer, and in the fourth on a Clint Barmes double. When Vin Mazzaro took the mound in the fifth inning, I actually found myself thinking that if Mazzaro and the bullpen could keep the Cardinals at four runs, that the Pirates would win. Not that the Pirates could win or that that they might win — that they would win.
Mazzaro put the Cardinals down in order in the top of the fifth. In the bottom of the fifth, Starling Marte singled, stole second, moved to third on a Neil Walker groundout, and scored on an Andrew McCutchen sac fly (three days in a row!). Mazzaro gave up a leadoff single to Adam Wainwright in the sixth, then put the Cardinals top three hitters down. The Pirates went down in order. Tony Watson came in in the seventh and got himself into a two-on, one-out jam, muffed a double-play by off of Tony Cruz's bat and barely got the out at first, the struck out Pete Kozma to escape the inning unscathed. The Pirates went down in order again. Watson stayed out for the eighth and had a relatively easy inning (Jon Jay hit a one-out single, but that was it). My main thought was this: "How's it going to happen?"
Neil Walker lead off the eighth with a single. The Pirates' two best hitters this year, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, both flew out, but Walker advanced to second on Alvarez's flyout. Two pitches later, Russell Martin singled Walker home with a ground ball just out of the reach of Pete Kozma. Mark Melancon only needed 11 pitches in the bottom of the ninth to put the Cardinals down in order.
The Pirates got a really awful start from Jeff Locke tonight, but somehow hung in the game through four innings. One day after playing a 20-inning double-header, they got five relatively easy shutout innings (five strikeouts, no walks, three hits) from their bullpen. They capitalized on the opportunities that the Cardinals gave them. They won the game 5-4.
The Pirates have won four games in a row, all against the Cardinals. They are 65-42. They have the best record in baseball, and are in first place in the NL Central by 2 1/2 games. It is August 1st. This is exhilarating and terrifying all at once.