The Pirates were probably going to blow a lead after the seventh inning at some point this season. That’s what you want to tell yourself after a game like this one; that no team can hold every slim lead after the seventh inning and that at some point, the Pirates were bound to trip up. That Jason Grilli’s home run problem — the only thing that’s keeping his fantastic season from being borderline historic — would manifest itself in a big situation or that one of Joel Hanrahan’s blown saves would go wrong at some point. Tonight, the Pirates finally gave up lead after seven innings and at the very least we can say that they did it in style, turning a 4-3 lead after seven into a 10-4 thumping after nine. And so on one hand I’m here to tell you that every team blows a late lead eventually and that I suppose I’m happy that the game didn’t end up close and that if I want to be irrational about things I’d even say that part of me wants to say that by blowing this lead in such spectacular fashion the Pirates have karmically ensured themselves that they’ll hold on to some close leads in the near future, even though I know that’s total nonsense. And on the other hand I’m here to tell you that the Pirates are in a playoff race that could come down to the wire and the Pirates lost a game in which their win expectancy was as high as 83% and was at 76% after seven innings, and so that kind of loss stings even if it ends up being by six runs.
The really unfortunate part about the Grilli/Hughes meltdown that turned this game into a blowout is that it obscures what was a pretty awesome rally that the Pirates had in the bottom of the seventh. With the D’Backs clinging to a 3-2 lead, Starling Marte lead off the inning with a frozen-rope 430+ foot home run to dead center that was breathtaking to watch. In just over a week’s worth of games, Marte’s managed to homer on the first pitch of his career, triple in two runs in a huge game against a division rival, make a great throw to snuff out a rally in the seventh inning of a 1-0 game, and hit a game-tying home run in the seventh inning of the next game. He’s been far from perfect in the early part of his Pirate career, but it’s impossible to watch him and not dream on the talent and the tools and the way that he’s thrown himself head first into this playoff race with absolutely no fear of anything. The Pirates followed his homer up with a single by Travis Snider (his third hit of the night), a double by Andrew McCutchen (his second hit of the night), an intentional walk to Garrett Jones, and a sac fly by Neil Walker to give the Pirates a 4-3 lead. With Marte and Snider and McCutchen all killing the ball all night and the nice little rally in the seventh inning, it seemed like this game was destined to go down in the books as one of those “anything is possible” wins. Instead, we can chalk it up as an “anything is possible” loss.
But of course the only thing we can tell ourselves right now is that baseball teams do in fact occasionally lose when holding a lead after seven innings and that it’s not the end of the world when that happens and that maybe the Pirates young and talented outfield combining for seven hits, including some very bit hits when the team needed them, is one of those things that portends good things to come in near future, even if this one game that we’re talking about right now was awfully disappointing.