This is what the Pirates needed. After AJ Burnett struggled in the first inning and gave the Reds a 1-0 lead, things seemed pretty bad. Two straight losses, an early deficit, a ton of pitches for Burnett in the first … I said before the game that a sweep wouldn’t have been the end of the world and I’ll stay by that assessment, but I’ll also say that it would’ve been awfully disappointing. And so when Neil Walker stepped up and crushed a 1-0 pitch into the right field stands to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of the Pirates.
Walker’s home run was almost everything that Burnett needed. After giving up a walk and two hits in the first, he only gave the Reds Drew Stubbs’ homer between the second and eighth innings. No more walks, no other hits. Still, Stubbs homered evened things up and after last night, tied isn’t quite where I wanted to see the Pirates. It didn’t stay tied long; Starling Marte ripped a two-out, two-run triple to right field and that put the Pirates ahead for good. Burnett set down 18 in a row and Andrew McCutchen added a homer in the top of the ninth and the Pirates put a sixth run up for good measure and the Pirates get out of Cincinnati with a win.
It wasn’t really “just” a win, though; the Pirates didn’t play badly at all in this series. They certainly played well enough that they could’ve taken two out of three without much different happening this weekend. Still, it would’ve been hard to point to anything as a moral victory in the wake of a sweep. As it stands, the Pirates are further behind the Reds than they were this weekend, but at least they have another huge start from Burnett and a huge game from Walker and a home run from Andrew McCutchen as a feather to stick in their hats on their way home for an 11-game homestand.
There are six Pirates/Reds games on the schedule in September. It’s up to the Pirates now to play well enough to make those games mean as much and more than the games this weekend did.