On a steamy night in Pittsburgh the Pirates received two consecutive innings of multiple run production from the middle of their lineup and outlasted the Phillies in a nine inning marathon, 6-5.
Early on it looked like a continuation of the script from last night. The Pirates had scoring opportunities in each of the first three innings, but went 0 for 6 with five strikeouts with runners in scoring position. The biggest missed opportunity was in the second inning when they loaded the bases with no outs. The probability of scoring at least one run in that situation is about 85%, the run expectancy is 2.24. Unfortunately for the Pirates Jeff Locke was the first hitter up and he promptly struck out. Next, Starling Marte hit a sharp grounder that Jimmy Rollins grabbed while moving to his left and turned an easy double play. The Pirates had let a good scoring opportunity slip by.
While the offense was leaving runners stranded, the Pirates defense remained sharp. In the top of the third the Pirates' executed a picture perfect relay play on a double hit by Chase Utley. With two outs and John Lannan on first, Utley hit an arcing fly ball into right center field that Jose Tabata chased and, for a second, seemed to being gaining ground on. But the ball kept floating and the Pirates' right fielder suddenly and wisely gave up the pursuit and instead chose to play the ricochet off the wall. The ball ended up taking an odd hop, however, and ended in McCutchen's possession instead. The Pirates center fielder swiftly tossed it to Pirates' second basemen, Neil Walker, who was about 30 to 40 feet deep into the outfield. Walker's pivot was quick and his throw to Russell Martin deadly accurate. Martin had established good position blocking the left side of the plate and Walker's throw allowed him to maintain his defensive posture. From my angle it looked like Lannan may have beat, or at worst tied, the ball to the plate. But it didn't matter because the combination of Walker's throw, Martin's positioning and Lannan's poor slide all added up to a close, but decisive, out being made at home.
After the Phillies scored a run in the top of the fourth, the Pirates offense broke through in the bottom of the fifth. With one out McCutchen and Sanchez hit back-to-back singles. Russell Martin, having saved a run in the third, now added one with a hard single that zipped about seven feet to the left of Jimmy Rollins, who never had a chance. Then came one of those Pedro-moments. After the first pitch to him skipped in the dirt for ball one, Pedro was thrown a fastball that had neither the speed nor movement to be left up in the zone safely. But that is where it was, and Pedro put that easy swing of his on it, which somehow packs a powder keg worth of explosiveness, and the ball soared. But this was no, no doubter. The ball had been given enough charge, but the muggy air was heavy and Ben Revere put on such a convincing display chasing after it that many in the crowd who immediately leapt to their feet with the crack of the bat stood with their arms suspended in the air ready to celebrate, but not completely sure they'd have the opportunity. When it landed, it ended up about four rows deep in the right center seats and a roar shook the park.
The Pirates added two more runs in the bottom of the sixth after McCutchen opened the inning with a triple, Gaby Sanchez walked and Russell Martin doubled, scoring McCutchen and moving Sanchez over to third. Sanchez later came home on a wild pitch and the Pirates were up 6-3. (Locke allowed two more runs, one earned, and was chased in the fifth - five and two-third innings pitched, three runs, two earned.)
The game looked safely in hand as the Pirates' bullpen began slowly closing the door on the Phillies. Jeanmar Gomez pitched a scoreless seventh and Mark Melancon went clean in the eighth. Jason Grilli came in to get the final three outs and retired the first two batters in the ninth. Jimmy Rollins then doubled and Domonic Brown followed with a rifle shot home run that ended up halfway up into the stands above the Clemente Wall. With the score 6-5 and two outs, the crowd stood with a hint of pensiveness dampening some of the energy that typically accompanies Grilli's efforts to get the 27th out. But in the end the Pirates' closer got the final out, striking out Delmon Young on four pitches.
With the win the Pirates hold onto the best record in baseball for another day and retain a two game lead over the Cardinals.
Gerrit Cole and Cole Hamels square off in the series finale Thursday afternoon.
(I'll be on my way to Chicago tomorrow to cover the Pirates v. Cubs series in Wrigley. David Todd and WTM will carry the coverage for the site.)