When you have a hitter like Pedro Alvarez playing for your favorite baseball team, it’s almost impossible to keep your mind from the automatic, “A home run here would sure be nice” reaction in close games with runners on base. That’s still true for me with Alvarez up even though he’s gone most of the month of June without putting a ball over the fence. That was my immediate thought when Alvarez stepped up with two on and two out in the third inning with the Pirates holding a 3-1 lead against the Rays. My brain tried to correct itself and re-adjust expectations for Alvarez’s recent power outage, but while I was doing that Alvarez mauled an Alex Cobb fastball over the center field fence to give the Pirates a 6-1 lead.
As it turned out, that was more than enough for Edinson Volquez to work with. Volquez only struck one Ray out tonight, but he held Tampa Bay to just five hits in eight innings of work, walking two and getting 10 groundouts. He threw 68 of his 110 pitches for strikes. The low strikeout count will keep my praise from being effusive, but I certainly was not counting on the Pirates getting many one-run-over-eight-innings starts from Volquez this year. After his rough outing against the Reds last week, it’s nice to see him at least somewhat back on track.
The only other thing worth mentioning from this one is that Andrew McCutchen had three hits and was, in fact, the only Pirate with multiple hits in the game. Those three hits drove in two runs and resulted in him scoring twice, though, so his three hits and Alvarez’s home run were the two main drivers to the Pirates’ offense getting to eight runs.
This win was the Pirates’ third in a row, and it gets them back to .500. Unfortunately for them, the Cardinals and Reds both won their third in a row tonight, too, and the Brewers’ loss tonight was their first in five games, so the Pirates are still eight games out of first place in the NL Central and three behind the Dodgers in the wild card race. That puts the Pirates in ninth place in a nine-team pack for this year’s playoff spots, but I suppose for now it’s good enough that they’ve righted the ship enough to still be considered part of that pack after the ugly way that they started last week. They’re 3-1 to start this 16-game stretch against bad teams, which means that they now only need to go 8-4 to meet my goal of 11-5. It’s a start.