When a team signs a player to a six-year/$52 million contract, you hope that there are a number of reasons why they thought that player deserved the money. I spent some time this winter listing the reasons why I think Andrew McCutchen is worth that kind of money to the Pirates, but really, you’d only have to watch Wednesday night’s game to understand the sort of effect he can have when he’s playing at his best.
The Pirates lost their starter after eight pitches in this game. Even if you have a deep bullpen, that spells trouble. If you miss a playoff spot by one game, no one ever points back to the game you lost because your bullpen had to throw eight innings as the reason you missed the playoffs. When Erik Bedard left with back spasms after just one inning, though, the Pirates didn’t miss a beat. Brad Lincoln and Jared Hughes covered the next five innings, striking out eight hitters and allowing just one run. That’s more or less an approximation of a Bedard start between the two of them. That got the Pirates to the Cruz/Grilli/Hanrahan portion of the bullpen. That sort of bullpen work should be enough to win a baseball game, but with the Pirates this year getting enough runs is never a given.
That’s where Andrew McCutchen comes in. The Pirates had eight hits in this game, he had four. The Pirates scored four times and he had a huge hand in three of them. In the Pirates’ three-run third inning, he singled in a run, moved to second on a fielder’s choice, then scored on a groundball to shortstop. He scored on a routine groundball to the shorstop. When I talk about the speed that Andrew McCutchen plays baseball at and the way that it can change games and can only be appreciated when you really see it for yourself … scoring from second on a groundball is the sort of play I’m talking about. When it looked like three runs might not hold up, McCutchen added a solo homer for insurance. The Pirates didn’t have much offense, but McCutchen dragged them to four runs and that was enough to win the game.
I don’t mean to understate the bullpen’s work in this one or Yamaico Navarro’s weirdly easy home-run-stealing catch or any of those things, but the whole vibe I got from this game is that it was just one that the Pirates won because Andrew McCutchen played for them and not someone else. Hopefully, we’ve got some more of those in the pipeline.