Two big wins and shades of 2013
After limping home from a difficult road trip and a brutal 19-game stretch, in which they went 4-15, the Pirates have snatched dramatic victories on consecutive nights.
Imagine if they had lost both games. They probably should have lost them both. They would be 10 games below .500, with the season slipping away.
But this team's poor record has a lot of misfortune, or bad luck, baked into it - i.e. a low BABIP, a perfect storm of slumps, and a couple blown saves. So, maybe in a strange way, they were owed these two nights by the balancing forces of baseball.
Or not. Maybe it's as simple as what Neil Walker said after the game.
"Well, it's resiliency," Walker said. "Tonight was one of those night we didn't play real great defense, we didn't pitch real well, but somehow we found a way to win in the end."
Clint Hurdle, who has talked about the human element and things that can't be measured all season, explained the events of last two night succinctly, "You sometimes gotta believe in the things that people don't see."
Whatever it is that explains the last 48 hours of baseball, what we do know is that the Pirates really need to have a successful homestand, and they couldn't have asked for a better start.
Two Unlikely Heroes
Looking to "put a little charge in the lineup," Hurdle entrusted the leadoff position to Josh Harrison tonight. In the late innings, Harrison provided exactly the offensive spark that his manager was looking for.
Harrison contributed to the game-tying rally in the seventh by hitting a RBI double, and later scoring. Then, in the eighth, he singled Ike Davis over to third, and scored on Neil Walker's one-out, two-run double, which provided the winning margin.
"He's shown the ability to do it. It's not an easy job, it's very unique" Hurdle said afterwards about Harrison's versatility and ability to contribute in spot starts.
"It felt good to be in the lineup, you want to take advantage of any opportunity you can," Harrison said. "I was put in a couple situations and I just tried to help the team anyway possible."
Carrying the lowest OPS in baseball into tonight's ballgame (70-plus PA), Jordy Mercer pinch hit in the seventh inning, with the tying runs on second and third. Facing Aaron Loup, who had not allowed a hit to right-handed batters coming into the game, Mercer quickly fell behind, 0-and-2, on two pitches. Then, on the third pitch, Mercer drove a deep fly ball over the Blue Jays' center fielder's head for a double, scoring both runs.
"Just great, those are the moments you work for," Hurdle said of Mercer's double. "You watch guys continue to grind, work through tough times, it's all about meeting challenges and overcoming them, that's what makes things meaningful."
Neil Walker credited Mercer's perseverance during his recent slump.
"He's done a good job not panicking and not listening to what everybody's telling him," Walker said. "He's doing just fine, and tonight was justice of him going out there, coming off the bench and getting just an absolutely huge hit."
-P- The Pirates committed three throwing errors tonight, two by Pedro Alvarez and one by Tony Sanchez. Alvarez now is tied with a league leading six throwing errors on the season.
-P- Francisco Liriano only lasted 3.2 innings tonight, allowing six hits, five runs and three walks along the way. Going back to September of 2013, he has pitched 65.2 innings, posting a 4.83 ERA.
Liriano said that he had no physical problems at all tonight.