More than anything, this was a James McDonald Game. McDonald had a 1-0 lead when he took the mound in the first inning. He walked two of the first three hitters, then gave up a double, then a home run. It looked like the Pirates were going to be stuck with J-Mac at his worst. Instead, McDonald set down nine of the ten hitters he faced in the second, third, and fourth innings, only allowing a walk to Gerardo Parra in the second. He got into a bit of trouble in the fifth when he gave up a Parra double and hit Aaron Hill with a pitch, but Garrett Jones bailed him out of trouble with a 3-6-3 double play.
To top it all off, McDonald came up with a huge hit in the fourth inning that helped key the Pirates' five-run rally that inning. When McDonald came up to the plate with runners on first and second in the second inning, Kirk Gibson put a wheel play on that resulted in McDonald bunting into a fielder's choice. When McDonald came up in the same situation in the fourth, Gibson made the same decision and McDonald pulled the bat back and slapped a single up the middle. McDonald, for reference, only had 13 hits in 135 big league plate appearances before tonight.
After McDonald's slap single the Pirates had the bases loaded for Starling Marte, but were still down 4-1. Marte quickly fell behind in the count 0-2, which is a dangerous place for a young and somewhat undisciplined hitter to be in a big situation. Brandon McCarthy (who had pretty much nothing on the ball all night) apparently tried to finish Marte off with a high fastball (or maybe a cutter, if you believe Gameday) on the outside part of the plate. Marte inside-out-ed the ball down the first base line for a two run double. Neil Walker followed that up with a two-run single, finally getting a hard-hit ball to drop in somewhere. Garrett Jones added an RBI single for good measure.
Of course, McDonald's ugly first inning limited his shelf life tonight and after walking Paul Goldschmidt to start the sixth, McDonald was done. That left four innings for a bullpen that went more than six last night. Except for one harrowing stretch in the seventh inning (Jared Hughes replaced Tony Watson with a runner on second and one out, then immediately walked two hitters, then gave up a screaming line drive to center that Andrew McCutchen initially misjudged and nearly turned into a three-run triple, but managed to recover and turn it into a harmless sac fly), everyone was up to the task. Tony Watson got a double play to clean up the small mess McDonald left him. Mark Melancon was absolutely nasty, throwing heavy 93 mph cutters that were dropping like medicine balls. He left Jason Kubel swearing at himself on a strikeout, then got Eric Chavez and Cliff Pennington to hammer grounders into the turf. Jason Grilli closed out the ninth for his second save in as many days.
Two hits for Marte, three for Garrett Jones, two hits and a walk for Travis Snider, eleven hits and six runs total, a nice recovery by James McDonald after an ugly start, and some nice work by the bullpen. This is a little bit more like the Pirate team I was hoping to see in 2013.