Locke's best start
Jeff Locke was simply spectacular this evening. He controlled his fastball, darting it to the corners at will. The changeup and curve kept Cleveland batters off balance, inducing ground ball after ground ball (11 ground outs). And, man, was he efficient: Locke tossed 89 pitches, 60 for strikes over eight innings.
"I can't speak enough about Locke's effort tonight. Fantastic," Clint Hurdle said. "Overall command [was excellent]. That was just fun to watch, man."
The problem was that Cody Anderson matched the Pirates left-hander for most of the day. After missing excellent opportunities to score in the first and third, the Bucs cashed in for a run in the sixth. But that was it, as Anderson confused Pirates hitters with his changeup all day.
"Wow!" Hurdle exclaimed as he sat down at the postgame presser. "The two [pitchers] that went out there and did that mound work were really, really good today. You might have seen the two best changeups you're going to see all year from our guy and their guy."
The starting staff was identified as an area of potential concern heading into the season, but now 80 games into the season Pirates starters rank second in ERA (3.08), second in FIP (3.16) and third in WPA (3.48).
"I've been watching everybody else in the rotation do it most of the season," Locke said. "You never want to feel like you're the weak link. I know the better I pitch, the better this team plays."
Locke finished with a 84 game score, the highest of his career and the second highest by a Pirates starter this season.
"It's certainly up there," Locke responded, when asked if he felt it was the best start of his career. "Everything kind of clicked."
A tough decision
Hurdle faced a difficult decision in the bottom of the eighth. Jeff Locke was rolling and certainly had more in the tank, but he was also the first hitter due up.
"Well, of course I wanted to go back out there in the ninth, there's just no question," Locke said. "One-run game and my spot's up in the order, it may be an opportunity to get a real hitter up there and see if we can put a couple more runs up on the board. That's [Hurdle's] decision to make. Of course I wanted to go back out there."
Hurdle decided to go with Mark Melancon, but he wasn't sure after the game if it was the right call.
"I wrestled with it," Hurdle said. "And I'm not sure I made the right decision right now, to be quite frank with you. I hate to get in the way of players when they're performing like that and the way he was pitching. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to tell you week or a month ago if it was the right decision."
What tipped the scales?
"I wanted to get the ball to the guy that has the experience in [closing]," Hurdle explained. "He's been so good, so consistent and so effective for us, you like it when he's on the mound."
Melancon delivered, posting his 26th save of the year. The Pirates closer hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 24 appearances (23.2 innings) and he's collected 24 straight saves.
A nice day
As I finish writing this, the Clemente Bridge is already packed with Pittsburghers partying and waiting for tonight's fireworks. It is Pirates Family Day down on the field and Chris Stewart's son just won the pierogi race. The score from the game still is lit on one of the scoreboards, and the three heroes of the game -- Locke, Melancon, and Neil Walker -- were three guys who not long ago were struggling and receiving a lot of criticism.
Jeff Locke was asked what it meant to get a win like this on July 4th: "It's very special. Just very American day today; a very nice day."