I got in the car this afternoon in Rockville, Maryland at just a little after 1 PM. Since three of us were driving from Maryland back to Chapel Hill, I didn’t figure that I’d be able to get to even listen to much of the Pirates’ game; the Google Map outlook showed bad traffic almost all the way from the DC area to Richmond and since I wasn’t driving I didn’t want to put things on the radio that my friends didn’t want to hear. Indeed, the traffic was pretty bad for a huge chunk of our drive and since I was in the navigator seat with the GPS, I didn’t have much of a chance to even check the score for the early part of the game. I knew the Pirates were down 2-0 early on and that it seemed like Jaime Garcia was on. I worried that that 2-0 deficit would be insurmountable.
We finally got clear of the traffic just a little north of Richmond and I checked the score again; 2-2 in the ninth inning with … Kevin Correia on the mound? We rotated seats and I went to the back of the car and started paying closer attention to the game as the innings passed; nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Finally at some point around the 13th inning, we all agreed that it was time to put the Pirates on the radio. We crossed the Virginia/North Carolina border and joked that the game would still be going when we got back to Chapel Hill. I marveled that Joel Hanrahan was going to pitch in the 14th in a tie game and worried about Jared Hughes taking the mound after throwing 2 1/3 last night. We got back to Chapel Hill.
Between the time that it took to get my bags into my apartment and turn the game on, plus the slight delay with the internet broadcast compared to MLB.tv, I missed all of the weird shenanigans in the top of the 16th. I stayed glued to the computer; the Pirates took the lead, but I knew Juan Cruz was waiting. He did what I was worried he was going to do. The eighteenth inning came. Wandy Rodriguez took the mound. The nineteenth started. I thought about The Game from last year; I worried that I was going to have to write a post talking people down off of the ledge, explaining that last year’s team didn’t collapse because of the Jerry Meals game. I thought about having to fly from St. Louis to San Diego after a game like this. I tried to figure out who might start tomorrow with Kevin Correia and Wandy Rodriguez both pitching in relief this afternoon/evening.
Then I watched Pedro Alvarez, 0-for-6 on the afternoon, crush a line-drive home run to right center field. I watched the Pirates load the bases up so that Andrew McCutchen, 1-for-7 with four strikeouts and a terrible play in the outfield that helped the Cardinals tie the game in the 16th, could lace a single up the middle to give the Pirates two more runs to put things out of reach. I watched Wandy Rodriguez, who’s been much-maligned in his short Pirate career, somehow pick up a win in relief in the nineteenth inning a day before his scheduled start.
There are so many things to unpack in a game like this that I’m not really even sure where to start. Every reliever that pitched today that deserves a mention. Kevin Correia and Chris Resop were both great, scattering just four hits and no walks over their combined five innings. For two guys that can occasionally have trouble getting outs, their work to get this game into the 14th inning was huge. Jared Hughes was great, too, on short rest and obviously the rest that his demotion got him did him some good. It’s also hard to say enough about Wandy Rodriguez’s in this game; he started warming up in the seventeenth inning, came in in the eighteenth and got a huge strikeout of Skip Schumaker after walking Adam Wainwright and letting Carlos Beltran get to third, and he put the Cardinals down in order in the 19th. He hasn’t really pitched all that well for the Pirates and it’s not at all easy for a starter to come in a day early, warm up like a reliever, and throw two innings, but the Pirates needed Rodriguez today and he gave them exactly what they needed.
We can also flip the script here and talk about the two guys that came through with the big hits in the 19th inning. It’s impossible to quantify something like this, but since the start of the Reds’ series the Pirates have looked to me like a young team that’s suddenly realized that they’re in a playoff race. Andrew McCutchen hasn’t been terrible, but he’s sure looked like a guy that’s pressing a little harder than he did earlier in the year. The same goes for Alvarez; he looks disjointed in the field and he’s not quite flailing like he occasionally does, but at the same time he’s struggled enough that Clint Hurdle’s taken to platooning him against tough lefties. The Pirates have been keeping their head barely above water the last couple of weeks and they’ve mostly done it on the backs of guys like Garrett Jones and Neil Walker. It’s been frustrating to watch Alvarez and McCutchen struggle when the Pirates have really needed them to step up. When the Cardinals finally broke down and put Barrett Browning in in the ninteenth, it was Alvarez and McCutchen that stepped up with the big hits that doubled the Pirates’ run total and sealed the deal.
I’m not sure what the Pirates will do to get the roster into shape for the San Diego series (I’d guess that either Kyle McPherson or Justin Wilson will be making their big league debut tomorrow night to start in place of Rodriguez, that Chad Qualls will be back off of bereavement, and that roster space will be created by either re-demoting Hughes/DFAing Cruz, and putting Travis Snider on the DL with his recurring hamstring problem) and I’m not even really thinking about that sort of thing right now. On Thursday afternoon, the Pirates had lost five of six games to the Dodgers and Padres. They were staring a four-game sweep at home in the face, they had watched their wild card lead evaporate to nothing, and they were facing a weekend trip to St. Louis that could’ve put them way behind in the wild card race. Over four days, they had an offensive explosion, they got a great start from James McDonald, and they won a 19-inning marathon. Three wins in four games and a series win in St. Louis makes last weeks’ struggles seem pretty far back into the rear view mirror.
They’re still not playing great baseball, but they’re shoring things up and putting tallies in the win column and that’s what’s most important. As bad as the Pirates have been at points over the last 2 1/2 weeks, two wins against San Diego puts them at 9-11 in their vital 20-games-in-20-days stretch, which is respectable if not ideal. We can worry about the bullpen and tomorrow’s starter tomorrow; for now let’s just sit back and savor a special win and a Pirate team that looks like it’s starting to bounce back from some of their worst baseball of 2012.