The pockets of rain showers that marched through Western Pennsylvania this evening missed PNC Park, but the Pirates and Gerrit Cole were almost swept away by a flash flood of Brewers' hits and runs in tonight's first inning anyways. In the end, however, the Pirates rode the storm out and then lit up the Brewers for ten unanswered runs on their way to an impressive 10-3 victory in front of a often standing, standing-room only, crowd of 36,845.
Cole was shaky out of the gate, walking lead-off hitter Nori Aoki on four pitches. Two singles later, and with still no outs recorded, the Brewers had loaded the bases. Cole jumped ahead of the next batter, Aramis Ramirez, and had him stuck in a hitter unfriendly 1-2 count, but he then lost control of a fastball and hit the former Pirates third baseman, forcing home the Brewers first run of the game. With the bases loaded the Pirates were in danger of getting buried early. Some of the pressure was relieved when Johnathon Lucroy promptly grounded into a double play, scoring a run but gaining two outs. Juan Francisco followed with a single, scoring the Brewers third and final run of the inning. After half of an inning the Pirates trailed 3-0.
"I would have liked to have seen some of those ground balls find someone a little sooner," Cole said about the first, "but, hey, that’s the game."
The Pirates thundered back in the bottom in the second. The inning opened with three sharply hit balls that had the middle of Brewers' defense in seemingly uninterrupted motion chasing down line drives that were out of their reach. Neil Walker provided the biggest spark of the rally, sending a line drive double to the right centerfield wall scoring Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones, who had opened the inning with back to back singles.
Perhaps a little gun-shy from the flurry of hits, Brewers starter Jonny Hellweg, who was making his Major League debut, then walked Travis Snider and, one out later, allowed his mound opponent to reach on a base on balls. With the bases now loaded, Starling Marte restarted the hit parade singling to right field bringing home Walker and again leaving the bases full. At this point, the Brewers defense gave way as the Brewers shortstop, Jean Segura, misplayed a pedestrian ground ball by Russell Martin allowing another Pirates run to score.
When the second inning finally came to an end, Hellweg had been replaced by Tom Gorzelanny, and the Pirates were in control 7-3.
"Every guy just took the at bat that was given to him and tried to do the most he could to move the inning along and move the chains and before you know it there’s a big number on the board" Hurdle said of the inning.
After a rocky first inning Gerrit Cole kept the Brewers off the board for the next five innings. On a night in which he did not have dominating stuff, Cole was assisted by some clean defending. In particular two plays that should not be overlooked in light of the offensive barrage occurred in the top of the second when McCutchen made a sliding catch on a blooper by Segura and Russell Martin's threw out Aoki trying to steal second. Those two plays blunted another potential Brewers rally and set the stage for the comeback.
Afterwards, Hurdle noted that the defensive plays in the top of the second played an important role in tonight’s win: "Definitely stopped some momentum right there and gave us the opportunity to go in and see what we could do on offense," the Pirates manager said, "That inning showed up big for us."
Andrew McCutchen said that he thought Travis Snider had the fly ball at first but "once I saw him go behind me I was like ‘gotta go get it.' The crowd started to kind of get into it after that and then Russell Martin did a good job throwing out Aoki… that was a momentum changer."
So, with tonight's victory this improbable first half of the season marches on, with the Pirates improving their record to a Major League best 49-30 (.5 games ahead of the Cardinals who play the Athletics later tonight).
The series continues tomorrow night as Francisco Liriano takes the hill for the Pirates.
NOTE: Travis Snider left in the 6th inning of tonight's ballgame with a "right foot contusion."