In recapping the last game that Jeff Locke started, six days ago in a 4-3 extra-inning loss to the Minnesota Twins, I wrote, "It can be difficult to tell whether Locke is nibbling on purpose or simply missing spots due to poor command." Locke won tonight's game with 5.2 scoreless but maddening innings in a 5-1 win that could have been easier than it was. And I still can't tell what Locke was doing: deliberately wily and resilient, or just lucky?
The Pirates staked Locke to a 4-0 lead after two innings. In the first, after Starling Marte struck out with Andrew McCutchen on first, Josh Harrison on third, and one out, Jung-Ho Kang picked up Marte by smacking an RBI single up the middle on the first pitch he saw from Marlins emergency starter Jose Ureña. Ureña had been pressed into service due to injuries to more experienced and seasoned starters. The Bucs scored three more in the second on a single by Jordy Mercer, a double by Harrison, and an opposite-field homer by Neil Walker.
After that, it should have been easy. But if last night's game was the quintessential Charlie Morton win, tonight's was the quintessential Jeff Locke win. Ground ball outs are to Charlie Morton as outs on 3-2 counts with runners on base are to Jeff Locke.
Locke got swings and misses on an effective off-speed pitch tonight and struck out six Marlins batters. But along with those strikeouts, he issued four walks, gave up four hits, and used numerous pitches to record many of the outs he got. The last batter he faced was Christian Yelich in the sixth. By then the Pirates were up 5-0 after Pedro Alvarez, defeating the shift with a nice opposite-field poke on a two-strike count, scored Marte, who had reached on a double in the bottom of the fifth. With Jeff Baker on first by virtue of Locke's fourth walk and one out, Locke ran the count to 3-0 on Yelich before striking him out. By then, though, Locke had thrown 104 pitches, and Clint Hurdle had seen enough. Jared Hughes came in and got the final out.
The Marlins scored their only run in the seventh off Rob Scahill. Dee Gordon led off with an infield single, then moved to second and third on a passed ball and a wild pitch. With two outs and Gordon on third, Scahill walked Giancarlo Stanton. Gordon then scored and Stanton moved to third on a fly ball by Martin Prado that eluded Harrison in right field and dropped into the seats for a ground-rule double. The heart-stopping final out in the seventh came on a well-struck fly by pinch-hitter Justin Bour that Marte tracked down in the deepest part of left field.
In the final two innings, Hurdle afforded Marlins manager Dan Jennings with a dugout-side view of reliever Arquimedes Caminero, whom Jennings had sold to the Pirates for cash considerations in his former role as Marlins general manager. Caminero struck out J.T. Realmuto, Yelich, and Adeiny Hechavarria in rapid succession with blistering heat in the eighth and, for good measure, retired three more Marlins batters in the ninth, allowing Jennings to ponder what he might have been thinking.
The last game that Locke started, the loss to the Twins, is now a distant memory as the Bucs go for the sweep against the Marlins tomorrow. Their starting pitcher will be the typically efficient Gerrit Cole.