You can take pretty much any old baseball adage about gutting out a win on a night when you don't play your best game and apply it to this 5-4 Pirate win against the Cubs right here, but it doesn't mean that the win counts any less. Wandy Rodriguez didn't quite have his best stuff tonight, which got the Pirates in a 3-0 hole in the second inning after Matt Garza hit a two-run double. The Pirates couldn't figure Garza out in his 2013 debut, either, which was really frustrating to watch. On the other end of it, Jason Grilli re-enacted all sorts of Bad Closer memories in the ninth inning by white-knuckling his way to a terrifying save, saving his first and only swing-and-miss for his 35th pitch of the ninth inning, slipping a slider past Anthony Rizzo to somehow close out a closer-than-it-should've-been-win.
Buried in the middle of all of that, the Pirates snuck in one good inning. Garza was on a strict pitch count, so he came out of the game after the fifth inning. Hector Rondon came in and served up an immediate double to Neil Walker, then after Andrew McCutchen grounded out he gave up a single to Garrett Jones and walked Russell Martin. Dale Sveum had seen enough, so he brought James Russell in to face Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez has had plate discipline issues all year (that's even if he's being judged on the Pedro Alvarez Sliding Scale of Plate Discipline Issues and not the plate discipline scale we'd apply to most human beings), but he laid off of some very close pitches from Russell and somehow checked his swing on a 3-2 pitch in the dirt to draw a walk and bring home the Pirates' first run.
Sveum came out to get Russell and brought Shawn Camp in, and after Gaby Sanchez flew out to shallow left field for the second out, Clint Hurdle decided to pull some stops out of his own. I'm not sure if the uncertainty of a looming rain storm made Hurdle and Sveum treat the bottom of the sixth inning like it was the bottom of the ninth, but it was pretty great to see. One thing that managers do that never fails to get on my nerves is to save the "big" pinch-hitting bats for later in the game, even when an opportunity exists for them to make an impact early. Hurdle didn't fall into that trap tonight; with Sveum more or less committed to Camp as the third pitcher of the sixth inning, Hurdle sent Travis Snider out a batter early to pinch hit for Clint Barmes to ensure that a big bat would get to the plate with runners on. Snider paid that gamble back in spades by driving Camp's 2-1 pitch just over the right-center fence for a grand slam and the difference in the game.
This is the exact sort of game that cropped up a few times last summer and a few more times early this year I have a little bit of difficulty processing. The Pirates didn't really play badly tonight by any stretch. Wandy Rodriguez was pretty good and Justin Wilson and Mark Melancon were excellent and Pedro Alvarez made an incredible play at third base. It's just that they weren't necessarily better than the Cubs and that for most of the night, it seemed like one of those games where the door was just going to be closed for the Pirates. Then, the door opened up for just a split second in the fifth inning and the Pirates jumped all over that one opportunity (to be fair, they had another opportunity later in the fifth when the loaded the bases up for Andrew McCutchen and he lashed a hard fly ball to left field, but it was hit right at Alfonso Soriano) and their manager put the right players in the right places at the right time and they got a win. Sneaking out a win in a game like this, even when it's against the Cubs, is a good feeling.