The Pirates held on to sweep the Red Sox in a game in which the final two innings lived up to the time of year. The top of the eighth ended with a gripping confrontation between David Ortiz and Tony Watson. And the top of the ninth featured a play that was so fortuitous you would not have even considered it an option before it happened.
"Sometimes I just think you are meant to win games," Clint Hurdle said later. And I'm glad he said it, because otherwise I would have been left having to come up with some summary statement of what happened in the last half hour, which on some cold winter night far removed from this postseason race I would suddenly remember writing and roll my eyes and feel slightly embarrassed.
In the ninth inning, with the Pirates leading 3-2, Mark Melancon hit Allen Craig with a pitch to lead off the inning. Jemile Weeks replaced Craig as a pinch runner, and then Daniel Nava singled up the middle, moving Weeks to third. With the tying run on third, the Pirates played the middle of their infield back, looking to contain the go-ahead run.
In this situation the best-case scenario seemed to be a strikeout, and then hope for a double play ball or another strikeout. The odds of avoiding at least one run from scoring were less than 15 percent.
What happened next was a tremendous bounce of fortune. Will Middlebrooks hit a bounding ball down the third base line that basically landed on the back of Weeks as he was scrabbling and diving back to third base. Weeks was ruled to be in the field of play, and thus out.
With runners now on first and second and one out, Melancon went back to work and struck out Jackie Bradley Jr., and then got Christian Vazquez to ground out to end the game.
"You see [Nava's] ground ball go through and it looks like a predicament," Hurdle said. "And I saw something tonight I've never seen before. A guy getting hit in fair territory, you get an out there ... he was able to finish it off after that, but that was a big break for us."
"Perfect, perfect, it played out perfect," a grinning Melancon said. "The end result was a lot of fun. Those are the type of things you have to go through late in a game and fortunately we came out ahead."
In the eighth, Gerrit Cole allowed back-to-back singles to lead off the inning. With runners on first and third, Hurdle brought in Tony Watson. After a harmless fly out to short right field, Xander Bogaerts came up and hit a run scoring sacrifice fly to center field. David Ortiz was up next, and as he moved toward the batter's box the energy in PNC Park surged.
It is rare, but fun, to experience a baseball crowd suddenly fully engaged in every pitch of an at bat. It is even better when the confrontation involves an aging slugger against a young shutdown reliever.
Watson overpowered him on four pitches. And the way the encounter ended was exactly what the crowd hoped for - Ortiz swinging through a 96 mph fastball.
"To get Ortiz up there late [versus Watson] are the situations you hold on to, you watch," Hurdle said. "I mean, you don't go to the bathroom. Nobody is leaving. Everybody is in their seat. Everybody is glued in. You got to see how it finishes. And [Watson] did a fantastic job there to [get out of the inning].
Cole terrific through seven-plus
There were other big moments in tonight's game. Ike Davis walked in the first inning to put the Pirates on the board early, Chris Stewart continued to provide unexpected offensive production by singling in a run in the the fourth and Starling Marte hit an off-the-bat no-doubt solo home run in the fifth. (Marte is now batting .364/.425/.621 since returning from the concussion disabled list.)
But what should not be overlooked the most was Cole's pitching. Cole went seven plus innings without allowing a walk, striking out seven and conceding only two runs.
"He pitched with an edge tonight from the time he went out there," Hurdle said. "He had a plan, pitched well with it ... Stewart worked very well with him and he was getting after it. Very, very crisp, effective outing."
In his two years in the majors, Cole now is 7-1, with a 2.98 ERA in two Septembers that found the Pirates locked in tight postseason races.
"He loves the competition, he loves the arena," Hurdle said explaining Cole's last season effectiveness. "He loves when he has the opportunity to be The Guy. You're in a pennant race and he's posted up so well for us without a lot of major league experience."