PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 24: Jose Tabata #31 of the Pittsburgh Pirates slides into home plate to score the tying run in the 7th inning against the Colorado Rockies during the game on April 24, 2012 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
16 games into the season and neither the Pirates nor their opponents have scored more than five runs one time. That tties the NL record to start the season, set by the 1965 Pirates. The major-league record is 17 set by the Detroit Tigers in 1943.
But this game was different from the 15 that started that streak. It felt like an offensive explosion, as the Bucs were able tie their season high with five runs on 11 hits, and they came from behind on two separate occasions to get the win and raise their record to 7-9.
One thing that wasn't different was the Pirates falling behind early. Kevin Correia got the start at home, where his troubles have been well-documented. After a one-out single by Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez hit a 3-2 fastball into the left-field stands, and the Rockies were up 2-0. Correia threw 28 pitches that first inning and it appeared that he and the bullpen might be in for a long night. But the Bucs came right back in the bottom half of the first against 49-year old Jamie Moyer. Alex Presley doubled, Jose Tabata bunted him to third and he scored on an Andrew McCutchen groundout.
Let's take a minute here now to talk about Clint Hurdle and bunting. Those of you who listened to me on the pre- and post-game shows last year or have frequented this site know that I think Hurdle's bunting strategy leaves a ton to be desired. Here is a table that evaluates bunt situations and how it effects win-probability (h/t @FromUpperDeck). (There is also an expected runs table ERT, here.) Of course, not every decision should always be reduced down to straight mathematical probability, but I certainly wouldn't want my manager consistently lessening my team's chances to win by employing improper strategies, which is what Hurdle has consistently done. Bunting down 2-0 in the bottom of the first after a leadoff double seems to me to be insane. A team's most valuable asset is its 27 outs. If that team is going to give away multiple outs by sacrificing, it is likely to diminish its chances of winning. In this case the table suggests win probability was reduced 1.5 percent by having Tabata bunt with a man on second, no outs and down two runs in the bottom of the first.
Back to the action. Correia really settled down after the first and was able to give the PIrates six solid innings while holding the Rockies in check, retiring the last ten batters he faced. In the bottom of the sixth, Casey McGehee led off with a walk (he ended up with three free passes on the evening, the same number Josh Harrison has in 221 career PAs) and Hurdle (I'm assuming it was Hurdle's call and not Walker's) had Neil Walker bunt him over (-3.0% W-P), which he did successfully. Unfortunately, McGehee couldn't score on Yamaico Navarro's first hit as a Pirate, a sharp single to left, nor on Barajas' short fly to right. After a Clint Barmes walk loaded the bases, Harrison, pinch-hitting for Correia grounded out to third and the Pirates were still down 2-1.
Juan Cruz pitched a routine seventh and the Pirates took the lead in the bottom half of the inning. With Rex Brothers on to pitch for Moyer, Alex Presley again doubled (and again showed his baserunning skills hustling into second). Tabata went up to bunt again (-3.7% W-P) but ended up eventually swinging away and singling to right. With runners at the corners Andrew McCutchen doubled high off the center field wall, giving the Pirates a 3-2 lead (just the team's second multi-RBI hit of the season) and giving Cutch three RBI on the night. After a McGehee walk and pitching change, Neil Walker came to the dish with runners on first and second. Here is where you would bunt men over (+0.5% W-P), but the PIrates chose not to, and Walker lined out and Navarro and Barajas flew out to end the threat.
The Pirates turned to Jason Grilli in the eighth, and he struck out Eric Young and Dexter Fowler (LHB) around a Marco Scutaro double. With Carlos Gonzalez coming up, Hurdle decided to call on Tony Watson for a lefty-lefty matchup. I tweeted that I would probably have stayed with Grilli after striking out the lefty Fowler, but I didn't hate the move. Unfortunately, Watson left a 1-1, 84-MPH slider up, and it was 4-3 Rockies as Cargo hit his second two-run homer of the night.
The Rockies' lead didn't last long. Clint Barmes drilled Matt Belisle's third pitch in the bottom of the eighth into the left field stands to tie it at 4-4. Barmes had by far his most productive day with the Bucs, going 3-for-3 with two doubles and a walk. After pinch hitter Garrett Jones walked, Alex Presley bunted him over (+0.1% W-P), but Belisle misplayed it and the Bucs had runners on first and second. Tabata tried to move both runners over (+1.8% W-P) but popped out. Cutch grounded back sharply to the pitcher but a good hard slide by Presley prevented the Rox from turning two, and that was the difference. Casey McGehee followed with a single to right, reaching base for the fourth time on the night and driving in what proved to be the winning run. Joel Hanrahan came on and had a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out Ramon Hernandez to end it.
A good win for the Pirates as the bats finally picked up the pitching for a change. Only Neil Walker failed to record a hit as the team got contributions from players up and down the lineup. The manager didn't have his best night, but tonight it didn't matter. The doubleheader starts at 12:30 tomorrow.
-P- Indy won 5-3 behind a good start from Jeff Locke. Starling Marte had two hits and drew two walks, doubling his season total. Altoona lost 5-1. Bradenton lost 7-1, but Jameson Taillon was outstanding again. West Virginia lost 14-5 and Josh Bell left early with an apparent injury to his left leg. We'll have updates on that as they come in.