When the Pirates fell behind the Phillies 4-1 in the top of the seventh, it was hard to feel that they didn’t deserve the deficit. Garrett Jones double-clutched away an inning-ending double play chance in the first inning, which left Shane Victorino on second base with two outs. James McDonald made a bad pitch, and Hunter Pence hammered it for a run-scoring double. In the fourth inning, McDonald left what appeared to be a stomach-high 79 mph changeup out over the plate to Pence, and Pence mashed it over the North Side Notch for a 2-0 Phils lead. In the seventh, Neil Walker somehow missed Jared Hughes’ throw to first on Freddy Galvis’s bunt that put runners on second and third with no outs. Hughes nearly escaped the jam, then missed badly with a two-strike pitch to Juan Pierre (so badly that Mike McKenry practically leaped out of his crouch the second Pierre made contact) that was lasered into right field for two more runs. Sloppy defense and sloppy pitching — that’s how you lose baseball games against a team that’s not playing well.
If there was a silver lining at that point, it was that the Pirates’ bats seemed to be coming around even if they only had one run to show for it. The Bucs were making good contact all day, hitting line drives that mostly seemed to end up right in the Phillies’ gloves. Things finally took a turn for the better after the Phillies got their 4-1 lead. Casey McGehee hammered a double off of the top of the right field fence to drive in Pedro Alvarez, then scored on an Alex Presley single. Andrew McCutchen singled to lead off the eighth, stole second, then Yamaico Navarro worked a walk in his pinch-hitting role and McCutchen scored when Matt Hague singled him in. Finally in the ninth, McGehee hammered another double into the notch, then pinch-runner Josh Harrison moved to third in Alex Presley’s bunt and scored when McCutchen singled off of the center field wall. After scoring three times in the season’s first 25 innings, the Bucs scored four times in the 7th, 8th, and 9th today.
Really, it’s important to note what a full effort the comeback was. Clint Hurdle emptied the bench out both last night and this afternoon and as a result he’s got two wins to show for it. Here’s what Hurdle got from his bench today:
- McGehee entered the game on a double switch in the seventh and absolutely mauled two doubles, which turned out to be the biggest non-Andrew McCutchen hits of the whole comeback.
- Navarro worked a long walk out of Kyle Kendrick in the eighth, which may not have seemed hugely meaningful (McCutchen had already stolen second and Navarro didn’t end up scoring), but it made sure that everyone got a good look at what Kendrick had to offer.
- Hurdle sent Matt Hague up to hit for Pedro Alvarez against Antonio Bastardo, which resulted in a game-tying single and Hague’s first career hit. Bastardo is a lefty and a very good reliever, but he’s not really a LOOGY; he’s equally effective against righties and lefties. That’s to say that while Alvarez might not have been a great option against Bastardo, it wasn’t immediately clear that Hague would be a much better option. He came through.
That’s not even mentioning that Harrison, a pinch-runner, scored the winning run, and that Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan turned in excellent innings of relief after Hughes struggled in the seventh.
Of course, it’s impossible to mention this game without talking about Pedro Alvarez’s homer, which shocked the offense to life a bit in the fifth, bringing the Pirates back to within a run after Pence put the Phils’ ahead 2-0. In Alvarez’s first at-bat, he got ahead 2-0 in the count, looked at a pitch on the outside corner for strike one, looked at a pitch in his wheelhouse on the inside part of the plate for strike two, and got fooled by a high slider that he tipped into Brian Schneider’s glove for strike three. The second time up, Alvarez got ahead 2-0 and Worley decided to try basically the same thing only reversing inside and outside. Alvarez fouled off the 2-0 pitch and when Worley left the 2-1 changeup up in the zone and out over the plate, he absolutely hammered it over the right-field grandstand. It was a terrible pitch by Worley, but the nice part is that Worley made an awful pitch and Alvarez was waiting for it and he destroyed it. That’s the sort of thing that Alvarez wasn’t doing last year and it’s nice to see today, even if he struck out in his other two at-bats.
The star of the game, though, was certainly Andrew McCutchen. His double early in the game was lasered into the right-center gap and his game-winning at-bat was a thing of beauty. David Herndon came into the AB with the clear intention of not giving ‘Cutch anything to hit. He got the first pitch just over the outside part of the plate, then got McCutchen to swing at a second pitch in almost the same place. After that, McCutchen worked the count full, fouled off two tough pitches in the strike zone, and Herndon finally left one of his sinkers just a little bit up in the zone. McCutchen punished him for it, which is exactly what your best player is supposed to do with the game on the line.
If last night’s comeback was a little ridiculous (wild pitch, walkoff infield single), this one was much more exciting. The Pirates needed to start stringing hits together once the Phillies went up 4-1, and they did just that. The Phillies brought a pretty bad baseball team to Pittsburgh this weekend (let’s not mince words; that lineup is barely better than the Pirates’, if at all, when Utley and Howard aren’t in it) , with the exception of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. The Pirates found a way to beat them twice. That makes it a good weekend.