Winnin' ain't easy
This year's Pirates team just doesn't seem able to get easy victories. Tonight, the Bucs won their 12th one-run victory of the season after blowing two leads and having to come from behind once
23 of their 45 games have now been decided by one run, placing them well ahead of the rest of the league in that category.
"I'm a little worn out, quite frankly," Clint Hurdle said after this one.
Wandy Rodriguez struggles again
When Nelson Cruz led off the top the second inning with a home run off of Wandy Rodriguez, cutting the Pirates' lead to 4-1, a palpable sense of almost giddy anxiety over took the crowd at PNC Park. The mood was a strange and contradictory mixture of certainty of impending doom, disbelief that Rodriguez actually would give back all four runs (plus more), anger at the Pirates' front office for allowing the possibility of that absurdity, and a perverse hope that Rodriguez would, in fact, blow the lead, since it would likely hasten Brandon Cumpton's inevitable arrival.
I'm sure there is a German word that succinctly captures the peculiar type of angst Pirates' fans felt in that moment.
The absurdly-certain outcome did happen, as the Orioles scored six runs, and Rodriguez was chased from the game before the inning ended. The sequence of events that led to the six runs were, appropriately, an odd combination of the expected (loud line drives, walks and a throwing error) and the unexpected (a couple of infield hits, and a chopped ground ball that hit third base and bounded over Pedro Alvarez's outstretched glove).
"I don't know how the inning turns out if we execute, if we get an out on the bunt play," Clint Hurdle said. "There was some bad luck involved ... You hoped he'd be sharper, but that's what we got tonight."
When Hurdle finally came out to remove Rodriguez, it was difficult to watch. With the boos from the crowd growing louder as his manager approached the mound, Rodriguez stood with is arms to his side, the ball in his left hand, looking both embarrassed and shell-shocked. After he handed Hurdle the ball, Rodriguez took off in a semi-sprint to the Pirates' dugout, his head down, seemingly to block out the crowd and the memory of the night. Or, perhaps, the memory of the last year.
"I know a handful of the guys had a sidebar chat with him tonight, he stayed in the dugout probably until the middle of the game," Hurdle said. "We always try to pick each other up and share something that might be meaningful and make some sense. Sometimes it's more meaningful coming from a teammate."
When asked about what happened in the second inning, Rodriguez just shook his head and let out a exasperated sigh before responding.
"I used all my pitches, just nothing worked well that inning," Rodriguez said.
Reflecting on the past year, Rodriguez said, "Last year I couldn't pitch because I was on the disabled list. This is [the] year the knee gave me [trouble]. Now, today, I feel frustrated."
Hurdle was in no mood to discuss Rodriguez's future spot in the rotation after the game, responding tersely that it was something that would be discussed tomorrow.
"We'll talk about a lot of things when we get back in there," Hurdle said
Tony Sanchez hits game-winning single and walks ... twice!!
Tony Sanchez had an active night at the plate, going 1-for-2 with two walks. His walks came in the first and the fifth inning and, although neither of them directly contributed to any runs, his walk in the first inning did clear the pitcher's spot, allowing Josh Harrison to lead off the second. The Pirates went on to score four runs that inning, thanks in part to Harrison's lead-off walk.
Heading into the game, Sanchez had drawn only one walk this season, four for his career.
Sanchez contributed the game-winning hit in the eighth, driving home Starling Marte, and putting the Bucs up for good, 9-8. Sanchez, as always, is the best one to describe his at bats:
He started me off with a first-pitch slider which, thank God, I laid off. We all know my plate discipline isn't that good, but then he tried to go with the backdoor two-seamer and it was the perfect pitch for me to drive to right field. And it kind of worked out exactly because I had been replaying that kind of swing the entire batting practice. I spent the whole batting practice trying to hit the four-hole and stay through the ball and let the ball get deep and he threw that backdoor two-seamer and I was able to do that with that pitch.
The Legend of Josh Harrison grows
Josh Harrison continues to provide a much-needed spark to the Pirates offense. Although he went 0-for-3, he got on base twice via walks, and eventually came around to score both times.
He also contributed in the field, throwing out J.J. Hardy at home in the seventh, helping to keep the game tied at eight.
"I'm doing what always been capable of," Harrison said of his recent performance.