Game 18: Pirates 4 Braves 2

Here is Jonathan Sanchez's line from this afternoon: 

3 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 5 K

And here is Kris Medlen's line: 

6 IP, 7 H, 3R, 1 BB, 6 K

That's not a line that would seem to bear well for the Pirates, but they found a way anyway today, mostly on the bullpen and on Russell Martin. The bullpen was excellent today. Combined, they went six shutout innings, struck out eight, walked four, and gave up four hits. Jeanmar Gomez went 2 1/3 and struck out three hitters, which was nice to see after he opened the year with just one strikeout in his first seven innings. Justin Wilson relieved him in the sixth with runners on first and second and one out and immediately got BJ Upton to bounce into a double play. Wilson got the first two outs in the seventh, but came out when Evan Gattis doubled off of him to make way for Jared Hughes. Hughes struck Chris Johnson out on four pitches. Tony Watson came in in the eighth and was perfect. Jason Grilli allowed a leadoff walk in the ninth, then slammed the door shut on the Braves for his seventh save and ninth straight scoreless outing. 

Of course, the Pirates needed runs to make the bullpen's effort matter. They came from a strange place today. In the second inning, after the Braves went up 2-0, the Pirates strung three hits together; a single by Pedro Alvarez, a double into the Notch by Russell Martin, and an RBI single by Clint Barmes. That was Barmes's first RBI of 2013. His second came much sooner, breaking the 2-2 tie in the sixth inning with a tweener single that scored Neil Walker. The final run came in the seventh when Travis Snider, who had a single, a double, and a walk, scored on a wild pitch. 

I singled Russell Martin out above, and it wasn't just for his RBI double that opened the scoring or for his third two-hit game of the Atlanta series. He made a big difference in the field today, too. In the first inning he completed a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play after Jonathan Sanchez walked Ramiro Pena to end the inning, then he pulled the same feat again in the seventh (literally: Justin Upton was the strike out victim, Ramiro Pena was the baserunner) to bail Justin Wilson out of a tight spot. He's thrown out five would-be basestealers this year, which is just one less than Rod Barajas nailed in 104 games as a Pirate last year.

Finally, Martin put on an absolute pitch-framing clinic late in this game. Pitch-framing is one of those nuances in baseball that it seems like it's impossible to get a consensus on. On one hand, it does seem clear that some catchers get more strikes than others year after year after year. On the other, doesn't it seem a little crazy to think that the way that Russell Martin catches the ball as a catcher could possibly be worth two wins over the course of the season compared the way that Rod Barajas catches the ball? Because pitch-framing is something that's almost impossible to visualize, I'll point out the two pitches jumped out at me in real time during this game. Watch how Martin handles the first pitch to Chris Johnson in the seventh, which crosses the plate a little bit high and a little outside. The Pirates get the strike call anyway, and that sets Jared Hughes up with an 0-1 count and lets him keep the ball low and away from Johnson for the rest of the at-bat. Watch how he handles the 1-2 pitch to BJ Upton in the ninth inning — a pitch that obviously crossed the plate out of the strike zone but was instead called for strike three on an incredulous Upton. Both pitches were absolutely textbook receiving by Martin from his still-as-a-statue head to the ever-so-subtle glove curl. You can do what you like with this, but when people say that Martin is an excellent pitch-framer these are the pitches that they're talking about. I thought that it was something that made a noticeable difference in a couple of high-leverage situations for the Pirates today. 

We're three full weeks into the season and the Pirates are 10-8. After their 1-5 start, they're 9-3. On their nine-game homestand against some of the NL's best teams (Cincy, St. Louis, Atlanta), they were 7-2. This is all fantastic stuff, but the road doesn't get easier from here. Without the benefit of an off-day until May 2nd, the Pirates will go on the road to play four games in Philadelphia, three in St. Louis, and three in Milwaukee. 

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.