Sometimes, when a game is on a moment feels like a defining moment. It’s never actually easy to diagnose these sorts of moments while in the moment and maybe in the long run they don’t mean much, but they feel huge when they happen. Today’s ninth inning rally was certainly one of those things that seemed like a huge event for this team when it happened. Time will tell if it means anything more than a tally in the win column, but for now it’s a sweet win to savor.
It started with Andrew McCutchen. I’m not sure if I remember a rookie with the Pirates ever looking more immediately in place than ‘Cutch does. Even on the nights that he struggles, he just looks like he belongs in the big leagues. This afternoon, he lead off the ninth inning with an 0-for-3, two strikeout day weighing down on him with a lights-out right-handed reliever (Rafael Soriano) on the mound. After taking two strikes, he fouled a pitch off and then took a slider in to right field for a leadoff single. I couldn’t see, but from listening on the radio it sounded like a great piece of hitting for anyone, not just a guy that’s been in the big leagues for a week. As soon as he got on first, I thought to myself, “He’s scoring.” After a sac bunt by Nyjer Morgan moved him to second and a groundout by Freddy Sanchez moved him to third, the Braves chose to walk Adam LaRoche to get to Andy. Can you imagine a more motivating situation? Ninth inning, tie game, go-ahead run on third, and if that weren’t enough, they intentionally walk your brother to put you in position to win the game.
The younger LaRoche fell behind 0-2 as well, but managed to work the count full before getting fooled on a 3-2 slider and somehow still getting his bat on the ball to flip the ball right up the middle and score both runners. Suddenly, the Bucs were in position to split the series and when Matt Capps closed things down in the ninth, they did. But the important thing was that the two biggest hits in the game for the Pirates were two great pieces of hitting by two young guys that are going to form the core of this team for the forseeable future.
It’s also amazing what a ninth inning rally like that can do. It ensured that Paul Maholm’s eight-strikeout start didn’t come in vain. It erased the frustration created by watching guys in black and gold flail at Javier Vazquez all day. It got the split with the Braves, which feels like a big deal because of the McLouth situation.