ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 30: Pedro Alvarez #24 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a grand slam against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on June 30, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Ho-hum. Score lots of runs early, get good pitching, cruise to victory. The Pirates won 7-3 and raised their record to 42-35 with eight games left before the all-star break. The win also means the Bucs are 9-1-1 in their last 11 series. Break 'em up!
Again the Pirates got off to a fast start in the 100 degree heat in St. Louis. Lance Lynn retired the first two batters, but the offense followed with three very good at bats to set the table for Pedro Alvarez. Andrew McCutchen blooped a single on a 2-2 curveball after fouling off a couple pitches. Garrett Jones stroked a single the other way to put runners on first and third for Neil Walker. Walker worked a full count and Lynn came with an 84-mph change that missed badly outside. Bases loaded. Bad decision there by Lynn not to challenge Walker, and he'd pay for it.
#Daydro came to the plate and Lynn fell behind 2-1. He then came inside with a fastball. It seems like Pedro never gets a break on ball/strike calls, but he got one here as the count went to 3-1. After fouling off a fastball to go full, Pete got a 94-mph heater middle-middle and did what every good hitter does in that situation. He gave to a fan 432 feet away. It was his second career grand slam and the Pirates' first since Derrek Lee hit one last September. 4-0 Pirates, who have now scored 11 first-inning runs in their last three games.
Jeff Karstens made his second start since returning from the disabled list and cruised through the first two innings before running into trouble in the third. Tony Cruz led off with a drive to deep center that Andrew McCutchen misjudged and played into a double off the wall. After a sac bunt and walk John Jay hit a grounder that looked like it might get through the right side before Neil Walker made a great grab and spinning throw to second to get one out and just missed turning two. Jay stole second and Matt Holliday drove him in with a shot to center to make it 4-2.
The most important play of the day though might have been the next. Carlos Beltran hit a looping fly to shallow center and Cutch made a excellent diving catch but appeared to hurt his wrist. He stayed in the game and in his next at bat checked a swing and grimaced in pain. He continued and did manage to hit a hard grounder on the next pitch but was removed in the seventh with a "sore wrist." More on that below.
The Pirates were able to get the two runs back in the fifth. Jose Tabata opened with a double and Garrett Jones walked after the Cutch groundout. Neil Walker followed with a softly hit double just inside the third base line that plated Tabata and move Jones to third. If you play with El Toro you get the horns, so he was intentionally walked to get to Clint Barmes who hit a slow grounder to short and beat the DP throw to make it 6-2. That continued the Pirates streak of scoring more than one run in every inning that they scored since Wednesday's game.
Jeff Karstens went seven very strong innings: 7IP, 4H, 2R, 2BB, 7K on 95 pitches. He breezed through the sixth and seventh on only 18 pitches and will be a huge plus if he returns to the form he showed much of last year. There was only one game last year where Karstens had more than six strikeouts (9 vs. SF on Aug. 10) so that is something to watch in his next start. It's also amazing that he was able to pitch in the oppressive heat with a raccoon on his head.
In the eighth I would have gone to Jason Grilli, but Clint Hurdle went to Tony Watson, who gave up a run on a pair of doubles before Jared Hughes had to come in and get the third out. The Pirates got the run back in the ninth which meant it wasn't a save situation for Joel Hanrahan, who had been up warming. Hurdle elected to stay with Hughes, who was eligible for the save, and he got three routine grounders to get save number one of his career.
The win pushed the Pirates' record to 42-35, seven games over .500 which matches their high watermark from last season. The offensive turnaround has been nothing short of spectacular. Tomorrow the Bucs go for the sweep, which would be their first three-game sweep in St. Louis since May 27-29, 1991.
UPDATE 2: And from The Man himself. Love the hashtag. #WhyNotNow