Notes and quotes from the postgame:
Weaknesses becoming strengths?
Before tonight's game Jared Hughes had this to say about the Brewers-Cardinals series: "Hopefully it doesn't matter how that series goes because we just play so well that we run away with it."
The Pirates certainly aren't going to run away with anything with only 13 games left in the season, but after a nearly flawless 4-0 victory, their ninth win in the last 11 games, the Pirates look every bit like a team that is rounding into form at precisely the right time.
Tonight, Charlie Morton put himself firmly back into the starting pitching equation, and in doing so the Pirates starting rotation is suddenly looking as deep as it may be stable. In addition, the bullpen once again showed signs of turning into a strength. Specifically, with the emergence of John Holdzkom, who has been nothing short of dominating since joining the team, the Pirates may have plugged a hole in the middle of the bullpen that has caused them problems all season.
With both the starting pitching and middle relief looking a heck of a lot more reliable than they did for much of the season, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find a significant point of weakness on this club. And the timing could not be better.
An effective return
Morton went only five innings, but ended up only two points short of pitching a gem (game score, 63). He labored early, throwing over 60 pitches in the first three innings, and ended with 92 pitches through five. All of those pitches amounted to only two walks, however, and he collected six strike outs along the way. Most impressively, Morton worked around two leadoff doubles in the fourth and fifth innings without allowing a run.
"The thing that jacked up his pitch count more than anything was the foul balls," Clint Hurdle said. "The answer in the fourth with the big double play to [Will] Middlebrooks, which we were able to turn. And again the leadoff double [in the fifth], to get that out [by] striking out the last hitter, a very, very professional outing from Charlie."
Hurdle pointed to Morton being "as focused as I've ever seen a guy pitching sim games" as a contributing factor in his strong outing. "All that work, the preparation, gave him an opportunity to go out tonight and have some success," Hurdle said.
Morton credited his strong performance to an effective sinker, one of which led to the key double play in the fourth, and good mechanics out of the stretch.
Asked if tonight could have drawn up tonight any better, Morton gave a slight smile and said, "Yeah, I could have gone nine scoreless."
"But really, no really I couldn't have," Morton continued. "I think my expectations, or [the team's expectations] or the fans' expectations, [have to be] left at the door and just go pitch-to-pitch and give what I got."
Russell Martin echoed Morton's sentiments, saying that the right-hander's sinker was the difference-maker tonight.
"That's his bread and butter," Martin said. "When his sinker is working well, he's going to get out of jams. That's what he did today."
Bullpen throws four scoreless innings
Five Pirates relievers teamed up to throw a scoreless final four innings, netting five strikeouts and not allowing a walk. Holdzkom gained two of the strikeouts, bringing his season total to 11 in five innings pitched.
"They've been in a very good place out there," Hurdle said of his bullpen. "There are some defined roles and some guys we're letting them know early how we're going to go ... Everybody out there has been focused, they're preparing well and they're ready. There have never been any egos out there. They're just looking to get the ball and do the best job they can when they get it."
After struggling to bridge the sixth and seventh innings to get to Tony Watson and Mark Melancon most of the year, the Pirates have found some success in the last month. From April through August, opposition hitters were batting .268/.337/.414 in the sixth and seventh. In September those numbers have dipped to .221/.327/.317.
Martin homer starts the offense
Russell Martin wasn't feeling well before tonight's game, so much so that he skipped batting practice. When he came to bat in the second inning, he deposited the first pitch he saw of the day into the right-center field seats with his first swing of the day.
"Typically when I'm facing someone I've never seen before I take a couple pitches," Martin said. "I wasn't feeling good so I didn't want to waste much time."
The Brewers came back and defeated the Cardinals. The Pirates are now 2.5 games behind the St. Louis in the National League Central.