This afternoon the Pirates clawed from behind yet again, sweeping away the Marlins in extra innings, 5-4.
The story of today's game was supposed to be the rematch between two of the more intriguing young pitchers in the majors, Gerrit Cole and Jose Fernandez. But it turned into the increasingly familiar storyline of the Pirates doing a lot of "little things" while cobbling together contributions from every corner of their roster on their way to another stirring victory.
The game got off to an inauspicious start for the Bucs, as the Marlins built up a 4-0 lead over the course of the first four and half innings. However, while the Marlins were scoring runs, the Pirates were doing a Little Thing that ended up paying off big dividends -- making Fernandez throw lots of pitches. By the third inning, the Marlins' young phenom was already 62 pitches deep. When the Bucs came to bat in the fifth, he had thrown 79 pitches and was likely pitching his last inning. The Pirates made sure of Fernandez's departure when, with one out, Starling Marte walked and Alex Presley, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez followed with three straight singles, scoring two runs. When the inning ended, Fernandez was done and the Pirates were back in the game, 4-2.
In the seventh, the Pirates tied it, scoring two runs by doubling up on a Little Thing that had eluded this team for almost a month and a half between June and July -- two sacrifice flies. Jose Tabata led off the inning with a walk, followed by back-to-back singles from Marte and Andrew McCutchen. Neil Walker then hit a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Tabata. After Alvarez walked to load the bases again, Gaby Sanchez hit another sacrifice fly to right field, bringing home Marte.
Cole only made it through five innings of work and gave up four runs, but the Pirates' bullpen provided five innings of scoreless relief, setting the stage for the 10th-inning heroics.
In the 10th, Josh Harrison (who else?!) got things started by singling into center field. Clint Barmes, who had struggled at the plate all afternoon, laid down textbook sacrifice bunt to the first base side of the pitcher's mound. With Harrison on second, Tabata grounded out and Marte was intentionally walked. Russell Martin came in to pinch hit and promptly fell behind 0-2 in the count after fouling off the first two pitches. After working the count back to full, Martin hit a single over the third base bag, scoring Harrison and setting off yet another dugout-emptying, standing-ovation-inducing, shaving-cream-pie-in-the-face celebration.
"I love those moments," Martin said after his third walk-off hit of the season. Asked about his team's knack for coming from behind and winning in dramatic fashion, Martin summed it up succinctly, "We enjoy it, man. This is your 2013 Pirates." For his part, Clint Hurdle described his team's tenacity as only he can: "They're long on guts."
-P- The Pirates won nine games in their 11-game homestand against the Cardinals, Rockies and Marlins. Since the All-Star Break the Bucs are 14-7.
-P- Andrew McCutchen was scratched from the lineup before today's game with "shoulder discomfort." He ended up entering the game as a pinch hitter in the seventh. Hurdle described his late scratch as simply "preventative maintenance."
-P- The Pirates have 3.5 lead on the Cardinals for first place in National League Central (St. Louis plays tonight), and are 11.5 games clear for the last playoff spot.