When you watch enough baseball, there’s an easy rhythym to most games and the way they flow from beginning to end. If you watch one team enough, it’s even easier to fall into the ebb and flow of the games. Every once in a while, though, you sit down and watch a game from beginning to end and the only thing that you can think the entire time is, “Man, this game is weird.”
This game was weird.
The weirdness started early when Jeff Karstens batted in the top of the second, but then didn’t take the mound in the bottom half. He didn’t injure himself hitting, he didn’t look uncomfortable on the mound (though he did get hit hard in the first), nothing. One second he was in the game, the next he wasn’t. Within a matter of 20 minutes, the Pirates went from having a 1-0 lead to being behind 2-1, facing eight innings of bullpen work ahead. Not a pretty sight.
Jared Hughes and Tony Watson combined to give the Pirates five good innings, though, which helped things get back on track. The middle of the Pirates’ lineup was pretty fantastic tonight; Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker and Garrett Jones strang three hits together to get the Pirates their 1-0 lead in the first, then they did it again in the third inning to push across two runs and tie the game at 3-3. In the sixth, Garrett Jones blasted a solo homer to put the Pirates up 4-3. Once that inning ended, the Pirates had gotten four runs out of the heart of their lineup, plus five bullpen innings, and it was already creeping towards midnight on the east coast.
The strangeness continued in the seventh. First, Jose Tabata drew a walk to lead off the inning, then Alex Presley bunted into a pop-out, then Tabata got thrown out stealing second. The Pirates started the inning with a walk and had two outs before anyone was even allowed to swing a bat. Pretty preposterously bad, even for a team that likes to give outs away. The bottom of the inning was also off-kilter hen Evan Meek took the mound instead of the expected and available Juan Cruz. Meek has obviously had some struggles in the early part of this year, so he was an odd choice in a close game even though he got the job done.
In the eighth, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker lead off with back-to-back singles, but got stranded there partially because Clint Hudle let both Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez face Joe Patterson, despite not letting either get near a lefty this season (the strategic merits of this move can be debated with Jones on fire tonight and the pitcher coming up three hitters after Alvarez, but it was out of line with how Hurdle’s been managing this year). In the bottom of the inning, Jason Grilli served up a home run to John McDonald to tie the game. Yes, the veteran utility infielder with a .326 SLG and 21 homers in 2282 plate appearances before tonight.
Luckily for the Pirates and Grilli, Andrew McCutchen came through huge in the clutch again after Alex Presley hit his 1000th infield single of the year and Casey McGehee pinch hit with a laser-beam single that advanced Presley to third. ‘Cutch fouled off a tough 2-2 pitch from Bryan Shaw, then got just enough of his next slider to drop it over the infield and in front of Willie Bloomquist to put the Pirates ahead 5-4. Everyone rejoiced and got ready for Joel Hanrahan to nail the save down … until Juan Cruz came in to do so.
As it turns out, Karstens’ shoulder was bugging him and Hanrahan’s been dealing with hamstring problems since San Francisco, but in the moment neither thing was immediately apparent. Watching the game, all you saw was a parade of Pirate relievers, a barrage of Pirate hits from the heart of their lineup (10 total from Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Garrett Jones), and a Pirate team that kept scoring runs all night as was required of them to win the game. If Monday’s game made it seem like the whole season was settling into one boring, sad pattern, this game was about as different as it possibly could’ve been.