It looks like the roller-coaster ride is going to start a little early this season. In a game that twisted and turned, with surprises around every corner, the Pirates held on for a 4-2 win against the Atlanta Braves. The win completed an impressive nine-home stand in which the Bucs won seven games against three teams that played in last year's postseason.
To say that this contest lacked symmetry would be to speak literally. In the second inning, the game was delayed for four minutes because home plate was misaligned. Actually, I just misspoke. According to the MLB rulebook, and the official scorer at PNC Park, plate realignment is not officially a delay, it is something else, but I'm not sure what that something else is called.
Pirates' starter Johnathan Sanchez labored through only three innings of work, allowing both of the runs that the Braves would score in the game. He was wobbly out of the gate, throwing a lot of pitches and working out of trouble for most of his brief stint.
Sanchez was assisted in his escape from the first inning by a sequence that was almost unimaginable a year ago: a strikeout-throw-out double play. And it gets better. The Pirates turned the same trick in the seventh inning, this time with Justin Wilson on the mound. There is certainly no need for me to report that the Pirates did not turn such a double play in 2012. The last time it happened was July 28, 2011.
Trailing 2-0 after one and half innings, the Pirates battled right back to score two runs in their half of the frame. But here again, events played out in an unexpected fashion. With Russell Martin on second after hitting a double that scored Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes singled, scoring Martin. With the way the Pirates' shortstop has struggled offensively, Barmes' single would be worth mentioning on its own merits. However, the single was also hit no. 800 on his career, and his first RBI of the season.
The game then crawled along until the sixth inning when the Pirates and Barmes struck again. (One is not given have many opportunities include the clause "Barmes struck again.") After Neil Walker singled to open the inning and then advanced to third on two consecutive outs, Barmes hit an almost perfectly placed, and paced, groundball that Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons fielded but could not throw over in time to get Barmes.
The Pirates tacked on another run in the bottom of the seventh and headed into the eighth with a narrow 4-2 lead.
In the top of the eighth Hurdle tapped Tony Watson to provide the bridge to closer Jason Grilli. Why no Mark Melancon? "Melancon is six in nine days [appearances], so he wasn't going to pitch today," Hurdle said, "I didn't say that before the game, but he wasn't going to pitch today." Of course one of those appearances was Friday night in the eighth inning of a game the Pirates were leading 6-0.
Watson came through for the Pirates, pitching a clean inning. Hurdle then handed the ball to his closer Jason Grilli, who ended the game, notching two strikeouts along the way.
So, with today's victory the Pirates have now won nine of their last 12 games and are two games over .500. They head to Philadelphia for a four-game set starting tomorrow night.
Baseball is a slow-paced game, but with this Pirates team so far this season, the storylines keep changing quickly, and unexpectedly.
In the last six games, Russell Martin has only made eight outs. In 23 plate appearances he has got on base 15 times, with three doubles, one home run, and two HBP.
The Upton brothers finished the series with a combined 34 plate appearances, 6 hits, 1 double, 2 home runs, 10 strikeouts and 2 RBI.
Travis Snider's OPS is .973 following today's game.
Melancon and Grilli have combined for 19 IP, 7 Hits, 1 run allowed, 4 walks, 23 strikeouts, and a 0.47 ERA.
The 2012 Pirates did not get to two games over .500 until June 5.
As Dejan Kovacevic first tweeted, with the credit for the win today, Justin Wilson is the first Neal Huntington drafted player to earn a win for the Pirates.