When discussing Erik Bedard at various points over the last eight months, every conversation always comes back to his raw talent level. When the Pirates signed him this winter it was important because the rotation that they had last year was adequate, but it very rarely dominated a game from start to finish. When discussing whether to remove him or Kevin Correia from the rotation after trading for Wandy Rodriguez, most people defaulted to Bedard because his best games are simply better than the best that someone like Kevin Correia can muster.
The problem is that we, as Pirate fans, haven’t seen the best of Bedard very often this year. He started out 2012 on a bit of a tear and he’s turned in the odd strong start here or there, but more often than not he struggles with pitch count or the strike zone or home runs. Tonight, though, Bedard was on and it was the type of start that reminds you of just why the Pirates think it’s worthwhile to give him the ball every fifth day. He set down the D’Backs in order in the first and gave up a Paul Goldschmidt double in the top of the second inning, and that was it until Gooldschimdt came back up in the top of the seventh. He put down seventeen hitters in a row, he struck out five and walked none, he only needed 84 pitches to get through seven innings. This is the sort of tantalizing Erik Bedard start that he’s been making just often enough since 2007 that teams keep giving him chances. I’d sure like to see a whole lot more of this Erik Bedard down the stretch.
Beyond Bedard, there were a few other things in this game worth talking about. For eight innings, the only run that the Pirates had to hold up Bedard’s lead came after Andrew McCutchen hit a pop-up that dropped in front of Chris Young, which young briefly lost in front of him, which caused ‘Cutch to (ill-advisedly) break for second, which forced a bad throw from Young, which instead of nailing McCutchen by ten feet at second instead skipped past Aaron Hill, which allowed ‘Cutch to break for third. He scored immediately on a Gaby Sanchez groundout. If I’m being perfectly honest, that kind of calculated reckless abandon on the basepaths was pretty reminiscent of Jason Kendall (I still remember the night Kendall scored from second on a sac fly to Ray Lankford in deep left-center); ‘Cutch isn’t a great base-stealer but he’s fast and he’s usually pretty heads up on the bases. He took a big risk going for second when Young briefly lost the ball and event hough it could’ve played out poorly, it ended up paying huge dividends for the Pirates.
(Here I’m going to take a brief parenthetical paragraph to mention that Rod Barajas lead off the fifth with a single to Jason Kubel that Kubel slipped and fell while playing, which caused Barajas to go halfway to second, change his mind, and bellyflop back into first. This lead to a hilarious ROOT Sports split-screen with him and McCutchen rounding the bases on similar players. Barajas later chugged into third on a Clint Barmes double to deep left-center, failed to score on a wild pitch with Starling Marte at the plate, and was stranded at third when Josh Harrison hit into a double play. Now that the Pirates have won, I can safely say that the entire sequence was hilarious and that occasionally I’m happy for the reminder that it’s OK to laugh at baseball games, because sometimes they are ridiculous.)
The second big play that’s worth mentioning from this one is the second hit that Bedard gave up in the top of the seventh. Paul Goldschmidt hit a dying liner down the left field line and thought that he would stretch it into a double. Paul Goldschmidt did not read his scouting report on Starling Marte. Marte flew down the line and figured that it was the sort of ball that a hitter might try to stretch, so he slightly angled his route to the ball to allow him to intercept it at a throwing angle. When he saw Goldschmidt was in fact going for two he came up firing and sent a laser beam directly into Neil Walker’s glove that beat Goldschmidt by so much that he’s barely even in the picture on the replay when the ball gets there. It shouldn’t be an impressive play when a left-fielder throws out a runner at second base, but Marte did so many things perfectly on the play that it gets even more impressive every time you watch the replay.
Once you take all of these things and add in a nice little three-run rally to give some insurance padding in the top of the ninth, this whole game was a pretty solid way to start off an 11-game homestand. The Reds lost tonight, so the Pirates are right back where they were before last weekend’s series started.