Friday afternoon, Clint Hurdle said that he doubted there were any circumstances that would lead to Jason Grilli closing the night's game. But when Justin Wilson got himself in a tight spot in the eighth, Hurdle decided to bring in Bryan Morris to end the inning. Morris was not very sharp, and the Nationals ended up scoring twice, pulling them within one run, 4-3. With three of their relievers unavailable, the Pirates were left with the option of either sending Morris back out in the ninth, or choosing between Jeanmar Gomez and Grilli.
As the Pirates were getting ready to bat ninth, Hurdle called down to the Pirates' bullpen. Before Euclides Rojas had even answered the phone, Grilli was beginning to take off his jacket.
"The game played out so that I had one available arm after Jason," Hurdle said. "If he was going to have to give us an inning tonight, I wanted to give him an inning he was comfortable with. I know that might sound funny, but that's been his inning."
Grilli said that he knew the call was for him as soon as the phone rang.
"Oh yeah, I left a few quarters down in the dugout so that they'd remember that I was down there," Grilli said. "Glad they dialed me up and allowed me to earn my pay today."
Grilli got through the ninth, but not easily. Looking very much like a pitcher who had not pitched in a game for a while (Grilli declined a minor league rehab assignment), he walked the first batter he faced. He came back and struck out Jayson Werth on seven pitches, and retired the final two batters on deep fly outs. He threw 22 pitches, 13 strikes.
"It felt great," Grill said of getting the save. "Nothing like getting in a one-run game right off the bat. I'm ready to do it again."
Obligatory Harrison note
Another Pirates' win, another night that Josh Harrison played an important role in the victory.
With two outs in the ninth, and the tying run on base, Ian Desmond hit a deep drive to right field that backed Harrison up to the Clemente Wall, where he made a jumping catch. It was another fine defensive play from a player who has provided more than just a spark this month for the Pirates. He's making pivotal plays in the field, and getting on base at a fairly consistent clip from the leadoff spot.
"Just happened to be at the right spot, at the right time," Harrison said. "I had it the whole time, off the bat I was already playing deep, I got to the warning track and kind of found my way. It was just a matter of the time and jump."
"Our right fielder is just tall enough to make that catch to win the game," Hurdle said.
Second win in a row for Pirates' starter
Heading into the game, Pirates starters were tied for the second-fewest winning decisions (six) through 46 games in history. With Edinson Volquez's win last night and Morton's tonight, Bucs starters now have consecutive wins for the first time since last September.
Morton's start was neither efficient nor dominating, as he had to deal with plenty of baserunners, and threw 107 pitches in 5.2 innings. For the night, his line reads: 5.2 innings pitched, five hits, one run, four walks, four strikeouts. It was Morton's first win in his last 14 starts, dating back September 2, 2013.
"I don't really think I pitched great tonight," Morton said. "I limited the guys I allowed on from scoring, and we won."
"He was a little over-amped coming in," Hurdle said of Morton. "I was hoping the 114 pitches he threw in New York and going on regular rest would take some of the starch out of him, but it didn't. But after the third inning I think he got in a much better rhythm."
Hurdle moves Alvarez to sixth spot, Alvarez homers
Pedro Alvarez was hitting .204/.278/204 with no home runs and only three RBIs in his last 14 games. Hurdle moved him down to the sixth spot for tonight's game, citing a lack of production and Alvarez's career numbers in that lineup spot. Ike Davis was moved to cleanup.
Hurdle's move worked, as Ike Davis went 2-4 and Alvarez hit a two-run homer, which ended up providing the game-winning run. It was his first home run since May 5,
"A manager likes to feel like he has a good feel for his guys," Hurdle said about making the lineup change. "Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't. But I believed in the moves we made ... The lineup looks good and it was nice to get that lineup on the field."
This was the Pirates' 13th one-run victory of the season. 24 of their 47 games have now been decided by one run.
The average leverage that Pirates pitchers have faced is 1.20, highest in the Major Leagues. (1.50 is considered high leverage; league average is 1.04.)
Tonight was Clint Hurdle's 800th win as a manager.
"Just means you've managed for a lengthy period of time," Hurdle said. "I'm humbled that I get the opportunity to do what I do."