That’s what I told myself when the Padres took their 4-0 lead in the first inning today. As I wrote earlier today, the Pirates are playing badly. I’m trying to take the long view of the season here, but they’re not making it super-easy. A sweep to the Padres with Ross Ohlendorf on the mound? That’d be tough to stomach, wild card lead or no.
I was driving around town early this afternoon while Erik Bedard struggled and the defense melted down behind him, telling myself that if someone got on base for Pedro Alvarez or Andrew McCutchen or Neil Walker that maybe something good would happen. I was hoping for one of those signature moments, when a team’s key player gets a huge hit when they need it the most and as fans we can sit back and say, “Maybe this really IS happening.” If only things were so easy.
It was one thing to re-assure myself during the marathon first; I was in my car driving around town, listening to Erik Bedard labor and his defense break down behind him. I got home just in time for the top of the second, with Logan Forsythe already standing on second and Chase Headley at the plate. Headley hit a little spinner down the first base line that looked like a certain foul ball, only to have it hop back into fair territory almost halfway down the baseline. Mike McKenry was forced to make a lunging, shuffling throw to Gaby Sanchez at first, while Forsythe recognized the extra time given to him by the spinning ball and barely slowed down at third. Pedro Alvarez was caught flat-footed and never had a chance (Bob Walk was adamant that Pedro should’ve been covering and he’s right, but to be honest the way the ball started foul and took forever to hop down the line with Pedro starting deep in the hole probably meant that he wouldn’t have beaten Forsythe to the plate).
Two innings, bad defense, bad luck, laboring Bedard, and a five-run deficit. Not exactly how I had things drawn up in my mind when I wrote my big “Don’t Panic” post this morning.
When Neil Walker singled in a run in the third, I figured that was a good sign. Chip away. It was obviously going to take more than one swing to erase the deficit the Padres had built, but every rally starts with one run in the same way that every hot streak starts with one win. Ohlendorf was clearly flagging in the fourth; the Pirates’ broadcasters could see it and as someone that watched plenty of Ross Ohlendorf, I could see it too.
The Pirates loaded the bases in the fourth inning. Mike McKenry stepped up to the plate. 5-1 Padres. McKenry, the guy that always seems to comes through with big hits, down by four with the bases loaded and no outs. He drew a walk. Clint Barmes came up, fell behind in the count with a struggling Ohlendorf on the mound, and hit a grand slam. Not McCutchen or Alvarez or Walker. Not Jones, not McKenry, not even Marte or Snider. Clint Barmes, who’s gone basically 0-for-2012, who’s hit countless balls that have died in deep left-center at PNC Park, came up and wrapped a ball around the left-field foul pole.
The Pirates kept rallying, taking the score from 6-5 to 10-5. Suddenly, the Padres were the team misplaying balls in the outfield and making bad throws in and looking hopeless. When it was all said and done, somehow Erik Bedard ended up with a win and Neil Walker had five hits (he added a solo homer later in the game) and Andrew McCutchen had two hits after being previously hitless in the series and Garrett Jones had a kind-of triple (Cameron Maybin misplayed the ball badly) and CLINT BARMES HIT A GRAND SLAM.
Everything about this series was difficult to watch for the first 21 innings, but it’s pretty hard to be mopey after a nine run inning. The Reds won today, but the Cardinals lost and so even after everything that happened this weekend, the Pirates go into their four-game series against the Dodgers with a 2 1/2 game lead on both them and the Cardinals for the final wild card spot. The Pirates’ next seven games are against the Dodgers and Cardinals. The Pirates were in a funk this weekend; hopefully they woke up out of it in the fourth inning today, because this week is even more important than the Reds’ series was.