The Pirates certainly made things interesting the last two days, but managed to get the two wins they were looking for and head to St. Louis with a 2-2 record on this seven-game road trip.
The term "stopper" has meant different things in different eras, but the original meaning was a starting pitcher who could go out and stop a losing streak. As the season has progressed, the Pirates' starting pitching has pretty clearly delineated itself. It's JMac/A.J., and the rest of the guys. Last night JMac didn't have his best stuff, but the offense staked him to a big lead and he battled through it. The bullpen had some trouble but Brad Lincoln got the big outs and Cutch and the offense put it out of reach for an 11-7 win.
Today it was A.J. Burnett's turn as he looked for a win in his eighth consecutive start, which would tie Dock Ellis' record set in 1974.
Once again the offense gave the Pirates a big early lead, this time in the first inning. Drew Sutton, in the leadoff spot, opened with an infield single, and Neil Walker followed with a four-pitch walk. If I told you the Pirates scored five in the first, I'm guessing you'd think Andrew McCutchen was right in the middle of it. Not today. Cutch flew out to right, but Garrett Jones singled to make it 1-0. Casey McGehee then bombed a hanging 1-2 sinker from Kyle Kendrick into the left field stands for his second homer in two days and fifth on the season, giving the Bucs a 4-0 lead. (McGehee finished the game with an OPS of .911 in June.) Pedro Alvarez followed with his 14th, a shot to right on an 80 mph change that he stayed back on nicely. Going to the bottom of the first: Pirates 5, Phillies 0.
And that was it for the offense. They would manage only three more hits the rest of the way.
The Phils got on the board in the second, and it was former Pirate Erik Kratz who did the damage. With two outs and a man on first, Kratz deposited a belt-high 0-2 fastball out over the plate into the stands just right of the 409-foot sign in center. 5-2.
Both starters rolled through the middle innings, with the Phils adding one in the sixth on two singles and a groundout. Burnett opened the seventh striking out Kratz before Chase Utley came on to pinch-hit. In one of the more interesting strikeouts you'll see, Utley swung at an 0-2 curve that actually ended up hitting him on the back foot. Being a heady player, Utley immediately broke for first knowing the ball had taken a crazy hop, but Michael McKenry, the star of the series, made an excellent play to chase it down and throw him out by a step. Burnett followed that with a walk to Jimmy Rollins and was done for the day, having thrown 101 pitches.
In the top of the eighth, the Pirates did threaten when Garrett Jones hit a ball off the top of the railing (or possibly the plastic behind it) that bounced back into the field of play. The umps reviewed it and ruled it a double, which I think was probably the correct call, but where is the yellow line that is supposed to delineate home runs? Typical Philly. Casey McGehee followed with another shot to left-center, but this one stayed in the park and Jones was left on third when Clint Barmes struck out swinging, ending another miserable 0-for-4, three-strikeout day.
On to Grilli and Hanrahan. Grilli opened the eighth by giving up a long home run to Hunter Pence to make it 5-4 and then promptly hit Placido Polanco. However, the thing that makes the Pirates' bullpen so good is that its pitchers can get strikeouts when they need them, and Grilli did, striking out Ty Wigginton. The next batter was Mike Fontenot, who bounced what probably would have been a double play ball over the mound, but Grilli deflected it and runners were safe at first and second. Jim Thome came on to pinch-hit for Kratz and, after Kratz hit a first-pitch fastball 400 miles foul down the right field line, Grilli came back with 95 and 96 mph heat and struck him out swinging. In the last two games, Thome saw six pitches, five of which were 95 or 96 mph fastballs from Brad Lincoln and Grilli. Three-pitch Ks each time. Go sit down! Grilli got out of the inning when Casey McGehee made a fantastic catch falling into the stands in foul territory, sealing the game's BD Number One Star (trademark pending).
The ninth was only slightly less eventful/stressful. Jimmy Rollins opened with a single and Juan Pierre sacrificed him over. But Hanrahan came back with that ever-important strikeout of Victorino on a slider down and in, and then got Pence to fly out to Cutch to seal the victory. The win raised the Pirates record to 40-35, and they are now 1.5 games behind the division-leading Cincinnati Reds.
-P- If you missed it in the pregame notes, it's probably worth nothing that Clint Hurdle had an unusually candid assessment of Jose Tabata's performance of late and suggested he might have to get it straightened out in AAA. Rarely do you hear Clint speak like that about players.
-P- Here is the link to the podcast that Charlie and I did this morning, which also includes a preview of the Cards with one of their bloggers. We had a lot of fun with this one.