When, exactly, does a game go from “easy win” to “nerve-wracking rollercoaster?” The only people that can answer this sort of question are the people that have bridged the gap, and by the time that it happens no one’s ever in any shape to answer.
I should’ve known from the beginning that this one was going to be rough on the nerves. By the time I got it turned on, the Pirates were already behind 2-0 and I was grumbling to myself about James McDonald’s pitch count in his complete game and wondering if I was going to write a fire and brimstone blogpost about the end of the season and the terrible things that this three-game stretch in Philly was going to mean, etc. etc.
This was a foolish line of thought, because by the time I got into my apartment and got the game on my TV, Mike McKenry was batting with two runners on base and he was seconds away from making a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 Pirate lead. On Tuesday afternoon I was honestly trying to determine if Eric Fryer and his .439 Triple-A OPS were being called up to replace McKenry on the Pirates’ roster in the long-term (Conclusion: I was overthinking things. Shocking, I know.; within like 11 innings McKenry had homered twice established himself as having the second highest OPS on the entire roster.
So the Pirates went ahead 3-2 on McKenry’s homer. I was pretty busy this evening with a number of various things that at you almost certainly don’t care about, but by the time I left my apartment and fired my phone up with the radio broadcast Casey McGehee was homering and runs were trickling across the plate before long, the Pirates were up 8-2. That should’ve been a safe lead with James McDonald on the mound, but as I finished up my lab work for the evening and discussed Prometheus with my dad, the Phillies began to creep back into the game.
Huge meltdowns never happen all at once, of course. An 8-2 lead in the sixth inning is safe. An 8-4 lead isn’t ideal. An 8-5 lead in the seventh is tenuous. An 8-7 lead with two runners on base an no one out in the bottom of the seventh is terrifying. I know that to get from Point A to Point D, we must’ve gone through B and C, but at the time it all seemed very sudden. A huge lead became a tiny one and Clint Hurdle turned to Brad Lincoln to preserve it.
Lincoln did, of course, by striking out Hunter Pence, getting Shane Victorino to pop out, and striking out Jim Thome and reminding everyone why they think that maybe it’d be OK if he became a really good reliever instead of a mediocre starter (this is the basis for another conversation on another night, of course).
Still, that 8-7 lead seemed awfully tenuous and I was frankly on my way out the door to weekly trivia planning to just drop the game where it was in its tracks on the assumption that either the Pirates would barely preserve a six-run lead or that they’d blow it and being a party to such a complete collapse wouldn’t be worth watching at all. And then Alex Presley drew a walk and Drew Sutton doubled him in and Andrew McCutchen stepped up in his role as The Man with a two-run homer to right-center to put things out of reach once and for all.
There are a number of ways to consider this game. If you think of ways to win games in which you’ve taken an 8-2 lead, the Pirates didn’t really take the best path. There must be better ways to break a three-game losing streak. But if you think of the Pirates managing to win a game while avoiding falling into the Same Old Pirates trap, well, then maybe this one earns a few style points.