Tonight's Pirates starter, A.J. Burnett, entered tonight's game with an ERA around two. The Bucs were facing the Royals, a great defensive team. And the game began with Kansas City starter Yordano Ventura throwing 100 MPH while striking out the side in a terrific ten-pitch first inning.
So, naturally, the Pirates knocked Ventura out of the game after four-plus innings by knocking one single after another, then survived a chaotic last half of the game, finally emerging with a 10-7 victory to snap their brief post-break losing streak. And, obviously, Travis Ishikawa, a journeyman infielder who'd be little more than a baseball afterthought were it not for his playoff heroics with San Francisco last season, was in the middle of most of it, smacking a home run and two doubles to key the Bucs' win.
The Pirates did, however, lose Francisco Cervelli, who left late in the game with what was later announced to be right wrist discomfort. The Bucs can ill afford to lose another regular for a significant time, so here's hoping Cervelli doesn't miss much.
The Royals got on the board first, as Alcides Escobar led off the bottom of the first with a single, stole second, and then came home on a ground-ball single by Mike Moustakas. In the second, though, the Pirates began their hit parade against Ventura. Starling Marte led off with a grounder to right for a single, and then Jung-Ho Kang, Pedro Alvarez and Cervelli followed with singles of their own. Then Ishikawa, who was batting eighth and playing first, doubled home two runs with a shot to deep left, and the Bucs were up 4-1. There were still no outs at the time, but Ventura struck out two of the next three batters and escaped the inning without further damage.
The Bucs pulled off an escape of their own in the bottom of the second. Salvador Perez singled, Omar Infante doubled, and Jarrod Dyson reached on a one-out HBP to load the bases. Kang leaped to make a nice catch on Escobar's liner, though, and Burnett got Moustakas to fly out, leaving the bases full of Royals as the inning ended.
The Pirates began the third by loading the bases on two singles and a walk, but Ventura again whiffed two of the next three batters and, this time, got out of the inning unscathed. By this point, though, it was clear that Ventura wouldn't be able to last much longer -- not only did he look frustrated (at one point stabbing his glove in frustration at a ball Perez threw back to him), but his pitch count was piling up, with 30 pitches in the second and 28 more in the third.
The Bucs managed another run in the fourth on doubles by Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen, going up 5-1. The Royals got one back in the bottom of the inning as Alex Rios stole home on a bungled play by Kang. But in the fifth, the Pirates finally chased Ventura as Kang led off with a double. Ventura exited with seven strikeouts and one walk, but with 10 hits and six runs allowed. The last of those came when Kris Medlen (the former Braves pitcher, who had Tommy John surgery last year and was making his 2015 debut) left some sort of 86-MPH two-seamer-y thing up for Ishikawa, who brought Kang home with an opposite-field two-run shot.
It appeared then that the blowout was on, with the Bucs up five runs, but Burnett gave two runs back in the bottom of the fifth on a two-out single by Eric Hosmer and then a line-drive homer to right by Kendrys Morales. That made it 7-4. The Pirates were next to strike, though, as Marte singled in the seventh, stole second, moved to third on a fly ball, and came home on Alvarez's grounder.
That's when the Royals really made it interesting. Moustakas led off the bottom of the seventh with a homer, and Cain hit a ground-ball single. That's when the Pirates finally replaced Burnett (and Cervelli). Antonio Bastardo gave up a triple to Hosmer to score Cain, who then came home on Morales' grounder. With two innings left to play, tthe Royals were within one.
Fortunately, the Bucs weren't done. Ishikawa led off the eighth with his third extra-base hit of the game, a double to right. He was erased on Sean Rodriguez's rather silly bunt attempt, but then Rodriguez raced to third on Polanco's single, and both batters came home as Neil Walker pounced on a middle-middle cutter from Luke Hochevar for a triple down the right-field line. Tony Watson and Mark Melancon handled the eighth and ninth, respectively.
As for Ishikawa, one game and a famous postseason homer don't make him an everyday player, any more than Drew Sutton was after a couple heroic nights back in 2012. It is, however, great to see the Bucs get such a big performance from a bench player on a day in which pretty much all of us were reeling from the Brewers' sweep in Milwaukee and bemoaning the Pirates' lack of depth. Travis Ishikawa says not to worry. Everything will be fine.