Wade Miley and the Diamondbacks' defense smothered the Pirates' offense for the first eight innings tonight. But in the ninth, the bloops and drives that had been caught for the previous two hours began to find places to drop. When the sudden offensive barrage finally ended, the Bucs had scored three runs on four hits and were walking off with a 3-2 victory. It's the Bucs' eighth walk-off win this season.
The ninth-inning heroics broke up what had been an uninspired performance by Pirates' hitters. Indeed, it looked like tonight was simply going to cap off a rough week offensively -- heading into the ninth the Bucs were hitting at a .209/.263/.302 clip the last seven days. However, as has been their way lately, the Pirates' offense gave just enough when it mattered most.
Not to be lost in tonight's win is Jeff Locke's fine performance. For the fourth time in six starts, Locke made it through seven innings. Tonight, he pitched eight, while allowing only two runs. His success going deep into games is due to both working from ahead in the count and being very efficient with his pitches. Against the Diamondbacks, he threw 105 pitches, 65 for strikes, with only 3.18 pitches per plate appearance. Coming into this evening's game, he has averaged 3.23 pitches/plate appearance (3.84 Pitch/PA is league average.) Locke's ERA now stands at 3.46, with a very good looking 2.90 FIP.
Locke feeling good, feeling healthy
Clint Hurdle has repeatedly mentioned that one big reason that Locke is performing so well is that he is feeling healthy again. After the game, the Pirates left-hander talked at length about his frame of mind, his health and how he is preparing himself physically to stay strong for a full season.
"I think when things started to decline last year, it got difficult to stay focused," Locke said. "I think it was a maturity thing. I tried to stay balanced whether things were going well or poorly last year. But what I say to [reporters] and what I say to my [teammates] isn't necessarily how [I] feel."
"When the doors close at night and you're by yourself and you pitched seven shutout innings, but you've walked six, you're kind of like, 'How the heck did no one score?'" Locke continued. "You look at your season at the end of the year and wish that you could have done things better, and think that you could have had a [much larger] ERA last year."
The difference this year is that Locke is going deep into ballgames without having to walk a tightrope over self-induced jams.
Physically, the difference between this season and second half of last season is almost night-and-day. Locke said that when he got hurt before the All-Star game last year "everything changed." It was not the mental approach that suffered, but the weekly physical preparation. Specifically, he was limited in his conditioning, often leaving him just "riding the bike" for the most part.
Ultimately, Locke said he never was back to full strength last season, but that he was not going to allow that to stop him from making his starts.
"That's what we do, we go out there and pitch, regardless of your situation," Locke said. "My body feels a lot better, it feels good, I'm healthy."
Finally, Locke said he trained very hard in the offseason, and continues a disciplined condition regime so that he can avoid any type of physical setback this season. He seems inspired in his training by the advice he is receiving from Russell Martin.
"Anything that Russell ever says, whether on the field or off the field, always makes sense," Locke said. "He was saying to me the other day, and I was thinking about it after the game how much better my body feels. He said that the reason he trains so hard because he knows during the season you're never going to endure anything that hard. He trains so hard so he's able to do anything he's called upon to do. For what I do, being prepared mentally and physically is comforting."
Marte describes his approach
Starling Marte had the key hit in ninth-inning rally that propelled the Pirates to victory. With runners on first and third and one out, Marte fell behind 0-2 in the count. He had already struck out twice on the night, and had not looked very good doing so.
"I was thinking about nothing," Marte said of his approach. "I was looking for a pitch to hit to the outfield."
He said he was mad after the first two pitches.
"I said to myself, 'I have to be the guy to bring them home,'" Marte said. "I didn't know [what he'd throw me], I was just looking for one pitch close to the zone."
Marte's double tied the game and brought up Ike Davis, who hit a game-winning single.
Davis supplies the game-winning hit
Ike Davis did not have to face Wade Miley tonight, as Gaby Sanchez started in his place. But he was placed in a difficult situation in the ninth, having to pinch hit with the game on the line.
"Anything that I could kind of put the barrel on and get into the outfield," Davis said of his approach. "I didn't want to take too many pitches and get down because not being in the game it's hard to really have a great at bat. You're kind of just looking for a pitch you can make contact with and get out of there. Pinch hitting is a different approach than starting from the first inning, so you got to swing early and get the pitch you can handle and hopefully it falls."
Harrison contributes to another win
Josh Harrison seemingly always finds a way to write himself into a Pirates win. Tonight, in the top of the ninth he threw out Gerardo Parra attempting to score from second on an Ender Inciarte single. Harrison's assist from right field kept kept the Pirates within striking distance heading into the bottom half of the inning.
"He's done it now from both outfield spots, and he almost had one early in the game," Clint Hurdle said. "He's done very good work with Sofield out there not trying to be big with his throws ... He's been very direct with throws. It was a big play, you say how big it turned out, obviously."