March 24, 2012; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher James McDonald (53) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Houston Astros at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
It's a good thing this afternoon's game didn't happen in the regular season, or we'd all be moaning about it for weeks. As it stands, though, the Pirates lost a second straight game when a late-inning implosion by a pitcher who probably won't even make the team undid the strong work of a starting pitcher who will.
I was glad when Garrett Jones hit a two-run homer in the eighth to make it 4-1, because the 2-1 score to that point didn't really explain how badly the Pirates were beating the Astros. I'm not sure how hard McDonald was throwing, and it looks like his fastball command isn't totally there. And I would have liked to see him pitch the way he did against a team that can actually hit. But for the most part, he made the Astros look silly, and his curveball looked great. Through the first five innings, he only allowed one batter to reach, and that was on an error by Josh Harrison. McDonald got an out in the sixth when Andrew McCutchen made a great catch on a well-hit ball, but lost his no-hitter with one out when Travis Buck hit a weak single to center.
The Pirates, meanwhile, put a bunch of runners on base, but other than a couple first-inning runs, didn't have much to show for them until Jones' eighth-inning blast. Not that it mattered, with McDonald pitching well and with Chris Resop striking out two batters in a scoreless inning after him.
... And, you know, that should have been it. But then Igarashi came on in the ninth and walked Marwin Gonzalez and Brian Bixler. And then Scott Moore hit a wind-aided three-run homer to tie the game. Whoops.
The Bucs nearly won the game in the bottom of the ninth when Jake Fox came up with two outs and a man on and smashed a ball to left, only to have it go just foul. Fox is a fun player to have up in that sort of situation, because he's so obviously trying to hit home runs a lot of the time. Anyway, he ended up walking, but Jose Tabata struck out to end the threat.
The Pirates called on minor-leaguer Kris Johnson to pitch the 10th, and Johnson was probably even worse than Igarashi was, throwing eight straight balls to begin his outing. Josh Rodriguez then missed a ball at shortstop, and the Astros scored the go-ahead run. Johnson somehow got out of the inning without any further damage, but the Pirates couldn't score in the bottom of the inning.
Anyway, none of what happened in those last couple innings is especially important. Igarashi isn't going to make the team now, but he wasn't going to before, either. The story of this game was James McDonald's excellent performance. He's had troubles this spring, but the fact that he worked seven innings today (that's something he does about twice a year) is great to see.