Apr. 17, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker throws to first base to complete the double play after forcing out Arizona Diamondbacks base runner Lyle Overbay in the fourth inning at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
I spent the evening driving back from a gig in Wheeling and listening to the Cardinals and Reds on the radio, so I feel a little silly trying to piece together what happened here from the box score, the game thread and Twitter, but it seems that even the folks who were watching this one didn't quite understand it, so there's that.
The Pirates went up in the first on Garrett Jones' opposite-field RBI single, then gave two back in the bottom of the inning. The Bucs yanked Jeff Karstens after that due to a sore shoulder (!), and Jared Hughes came in in the second. He promptly gave up a run on a double by Willie Bloomquist, but the Pirates got two more in the top of the third to tie it, the latter coming on a double off the wall by Jones. The Bucs then went up 4-3 in the sixth thanks to a homer, also by Jones -- who, as you can see, came up big in this one.
(By the way, Pedro Alvarez got a hold of one in the fourth and was robbed of a hit by Chris Young, who made a running catch at the wall.)
In the seventh, Clint Hurdle seemed determined to small-ball his way into something, but when those strategies go wrong, as they often do ... Jose Tabata walked to lead off the inning. Then Alex Presley bunted and popped out. Then Tabata got thrown out stealing. Then Nate McLouth struck out, leaving Andrew McCutchen standing in the on-deck circle. Ugly.
Then Evan Meek came out to pitch the seventh, which seemed even weirder, given that Juan Cruz and Jason Grilli were available and should be pitching the high-leverage innings late in games. Meek got through his inning, fortunately. Grilli pitched the eighth, but gave up a game-tying homer to John McDonald. (Wait, John McDonald? Yep, John McDonald.)
In the ninth, Bryan Shaw got two quick groundball outs, but Alex Presley got an infield single. (You may be able to stop the Pirates from hitting the ball more than 100 feet, but YOU WILL NOT STOP THE INFIELD SINGLES.) Casey McGehee (wait, why didn't he hit in the eighth, when Alvarez was up against lefty Joe Paterson with two outs and two men on?) singled. And then McCutchen drove in the go-ahead run with a single to left, putting the Pirates up 5-4.
Cruz pitched the ninth and got the save because, uh, Joel Hanrahan wasn't available, for some reason. We don't know why yet. But this was, evidently, one of those games where you don't have to know.
So: four hits for McCutchen. Three for Jones, including a homer and a double. Three for Neil Walker. And a victory. Unfortunately, we're still not sure what's going on with Hanrahan, and it sounds like Karstens might be out for a while.
UPDATE: Hanrahan is day-to-day with a tight hamstring.
UPDATE FROM DAVID: As Charlie said, a weird one. First and foremost, that was a really good win against a good team and one of the best pitchers in the league. By far the most good at bats we've seen all season and a ton of balls hit hard by a bunch of guys, including Pedro Alvarez who unfortunately had nothing to show for it.
Also some very good work by the bullpen. I have yet to read up on the postgame comments, but I have to believe there was some concern about Karstens going into the game. I hate to draw parallels to Ross Ohlendorf, but he went down early in his second start last year. The Pirates and Ross the Boss himself felt like he would be back in 2-4 weeks. I guessed July, if ever. Unfortunately, depending on your view of Ohlendorf, it was essentially never. Whatever the outcome and prognosis, Kevin Correia just became a lot more valuable. I'll just take a wild guess that Karstens isn't back until June, and if that is the case he may have sealed his own fate as being a swingman/spot starter going forward. Durability is and will continue to be an issue. Let's hope I'm wrong.
The Meek/Grilli/Cruz situation now explains itself with Hanrahan's tight hamstring. Good for Meek. His best outing of the year and certainly something to build on. Maybe that was the break he needed. I haven't heard why Grilli and Cruz were flipped but their stuff was nasty again and aside from one bad pitch by Grilli another good job. Those two should make Pirates fans feel very comfortable about late inning leads. And maybe Hurdle will realize someone else can actually get three outs in the ninth. How novel.
Now, what the hell was Clint Hurdle thinking. I hated the bunt by Presley in the seventh, but I expected it. But why in Slaught's name do you not pitch hit for Garret Jones and then Pedro Alvarez when you have submarining lefty on the hill and Casey McGehee on the bench? The King of Matchups, Platoons and The Double Switch passes on that twice?!?!?!? Wow. I could rant on about this, but really that's it. I think it was the dumbest thing that I have seen Hurdle do in his tenure with the Pirates thus far (although Brian of RTJR suggested Hurdles's bullpen moves in this game were on par). I don't care if Jones had 100 straight hits, McGehee hits lefties better. I honestly don't get it.
But, let's not let any of that overshadow the best offensive performance of the year to date. Hopefully they can keep it going this afternoon.