Jung-Ho Kang, who's emerged as the Pirates' best hitter so far this year, put the Pirates on the board with a line-drive solo homer to left in the first. The Bucs added another run in the fourth when Starling Marte hit an infield grounder and went all the way to third on an incredibly poor throw by Cards starter Tyler Lyons. Marte came home two batters later as Jordy Mercer hit an infield single of his own.
Jeff Locke had little trouble through five innings, but the Cardinals tied the game in the sixth when Locke gave up a single to Peter Bourjos and a two-run shot to Pirate-killer Kolten Wong. The Bucs took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the inning, though, when Andrew McCutchen doubled, moved to third on Marte's single and came home on Gregory Polanco's sacrifice fly.
In the seventh, Locke gave up a two-out double to Mark Reynolds. He then completed what should have been a strikeout of Jason Heyward, but there was some kind of cross-up between Locke and Francisco Cervelli, and the ball got away. It was called a ball, and Reynolds moved up to third and then scored the tying run when Heyward singled.
In the bottom of the inning, though, Steve Lombardozzi walked against Mitch Harris, then moved up on Josh Harrison's sacrifice. And then up came Kang, who came through for the Pirates yet again, hitting a line drive to left to put the Pirates up 4-3.
Tony Watson pitched a strong eighth, getting a strikeout and erasing a walk with a double play. Mark Melancon gave up two singles in the ninth and didn't look good, but struck out Heyward in a crucial spot and got Pete Kozma to ground out to end it. This was a big win for the Pirates, who took the series and remained sort of in arm's length of the Cardinals. They also inched within one game of .500.
A few notes:
- I've never seen Andrew McCutchen act as strangely as he did today. He laid on the floor of the dugout gesturing with his hands after making an out, then proceeded to lecture a towel, as if it were a dog he were telling to keep still. Later, he ran up the wall in center after making a catch, even though he easily could have stopped. I'm not sure if he would have done that if his knee were still bothering him, but it was still weird.
- I'm not sure what's gotten into Jared Hughes, but he's good now. Not just "he gets a lot of ground balls" good, but really good. He has 16 strikeouts and two walks this year despite throwing balls that move all over the place. He also has a 57.8% ground ball percentage. I'm not sure what's gotten into him, but if he's striking out eight batters for every one he walks, they don't have much of a chance against him. I've always enjoyed watching him, but viewed him as a sort of marginal ground ball specialist. Now he seems to be turning into something else.
- Having Melancon pitch with a three-run lead is one thing, but he shouldn't be pitching the ninth with a one-run lead. I don't care how many consecutive scoring appearances he has. The Bucs are playing with fire. Melancon right now is basically Mike Williams in an era in which nearly all relievers are much better than Williams was. Watson, Hughes, and even Arquimedes Caminero and Rob Scahill are better pitchers right now. It's good that Melancon's velocity was up last night, but it appeared to be back down a bit again today, with most of his cutters coming in at 89-90 MPH. Let him work this out in low-leverage situations.
- Sean Rodriguez went 2-for-3 with a double and is now hitting .406.
- Cervelli made just about the worst slide I've ever seen getting thrown out while trying to tag up in the fifth. The decision to send him was probably defensible, given that he was heading to third with one out and it took a good throw to get him. Maybe we can chalk that up to catchers not having to make ambitious baserunning plays very often.