Walker: Frustration-to-triumph in 30 seconds
With one out, runners on second and third, and the Bucs trailing 4-3 in the seventh inning, Neil Walker stepped to the plate. He quickly jumped ahead 2-and-0 in the count on Carlos Martinez. The 2-0 pitch was a 100 MPH fastball, which Walker fouled off. Then, Martinez followed with a slider, which Walker again fouled off.
After the 2-1 slider, and almost before the ball landed behind him, Walker stepped across home plate, swung the barrel of his bat into the ground in frustration, and swiftly turned on a dime and marched back to the left-side of the batter's box to collect himself.
He embodied the frustrated countenance of a hitter who knew he had just let the pitcher off the hook.
For a split second, as the slider was on the way to the plate, Walker must have felt like he was in complete control. He wasn't fooled, he wasn't off balance, he was completely on top of the pitch. When the ball went foul, the frustration came from wasting one of those rare opportunities that batters are always waiting for.
"I know that he knows that we're going to sell out on the fastball, and if you can show that you're on his fastball, he's going to try to go to something different," Walker said. "My focus was just to shorten up and sit fastball and adjust accordingly."
With the count now even, Martinez surprisingly came back at Walker with another slider. Perhaps Martinez thought Walker would not expect him to throw the same pitch that he had just jumped all over and barely missed. Maybe he thought Walker would be protecting against another 100 MPH fastball and, even if he did make contact, he'd probably simply roll it over.
But Walker was balanced and, like he said, ready to adjust accordingly.
"His slider wasn't what you've seen before, it was kind of spinning (tonight)," Walker said.
The second slider came in, this one even slower than the one before, and it was spinning, not biting. Walker held back, adjusted from his fastball approach, and pounced. When the ball finally landed, this time deep into the right field seats, Walker was already jogging the down the first base line with another big, ultimately game-winning, home run.
"I don't know, when you have these bullpen guys coming in throwing 98-100 (laughs), you never know what they're going to do," Walker said. "He kind of left one up on the second pitch and I was able to do what I did."
Another day, another big game from the newly-spawned. three-headed leadoff monster of Harrison-Tabata-Snider. Tonight, Jose Tabata carried on the May uprising from the unlikely trio of leadoff hitters by going 2-for-3, scoring twice, and executing a perfect sacrifice bunt in the eighth.
In April, Harrison-Tabata-Snider batted a combined .240/.301/.340 in 163 plate appearances. In May, they're hitting .307/.372/.564 in 43 plate appearance from the leadoff position.
"Everybody's offense is effective when you get the leadoff hitter on, in any inning," Hurdle said. "Tabata gave us everything we needed up top today,"
Then the rains came
Francisco Liriano was cruising nicely through three innings tonight, peaking in the third by striking out the side. But then a sudden blast of wind blew through PNC Park, followed by an increasingly heavy downpour of rain. While the first smattering of fans began to move for cover, with the rest of them increasingly more interested in the changing weather than in what was happening on the field below, Liriano started to miss his spots, and the Cardinals started putting men on base.
Then, almost inevitably, with two outs, Allen Craig connected for a three-run home run that landed in the bullpens in left-center field.
Liriano only made it through one more inning, finishing after having pitched five innings, allowing three runs, and four walks, and striking out five.
For the season, Liriano's ERA is now 4.64, with a 4.43 BB/9, and 1.05 HR/9. While still early, these numbers are much more reminiscent of the Liriano of 2011 and 2012 (5.23 ERA, 5.0 BB/9 and 1.0 HR/9) than of 2013 (3.02 ERA, 3.5 BB/9, and 0.50 HR/9).
-P- The Bucs go for the series win tomorrow with Edinson Volquez facing Lance Lynn.