Bucs get another win thanks to the recently questioned or forgotten
The Pirates won again in dramatic fashion and, like it's been for more than a week now, the heroes were guys that were once players of concern.
Where to start?
Charlie Morton: Coming out of Spring Training there was some reason to wonder not only if he'd be able to stay in the rotation but whether or not his career had been jeopardized by injury.
But with the exception of one bad outing, Morton has been superb this year. Excluding the brutal start in Washington, he's posted a 2.63 ERA in his eight other starts.
He allowed a run in both the first and the second Wednesday but then threw four shutout innings. While he didn't have his best stuff, he kept the Pirates within striking distance.
"The sinker may not have been where he wanted it to be right out of the chute," Clint Hurdle said. "He found his rhythm in the second inning after Ray's [Searage] trip [to the mound]. ... [He had]] pretty good stuff without having his A-game. He's showing the maturity and the experience to be able to do things without just that filthy sinker."
Deolis Guerra: A few weeks ago, most of us didn't know a lot about the well-traveled career minor leaguer. Not much was expected from him, and the general consensus was that the less he pitched, the better, since his innings would probably be limited to mop-up duty.
But all he's done since joining the team is pitch seven scoreless innings and pick up two wins.
"Another man that worked a long time to get this opportunity and is focused on getting the ball and helping us win a game," Hurdle said. "Those two innings were real nice to get from him."
Guerra was almost as excited to get his second major-league win as his first.
"It feels awesome," Guerra said. "Good for the team. The more that I go out there I feel a little better. I don't want to say comfortable, because you never want to be comfortable. You want to be on your feet and knowing you got to get the job done."
The right-hander entered with the Pirates trailing 2-1 in the seventh and held the Padres scoreless for two innings, facing the minimum of six hitters and striking out two batters.
While Guerra held the Padres in check, the Pirates struck for a run in the seventh to tie the game, and then three in the eighth to secure a 5-2 win.
Gregory Polanco: Not much needs to be said here. Things had gotten to the point that Neal Huntington was asked Sunday if he was contemplating sending the young right-fielder to the minors in order to rediscover his offense.
But the last two nights all he's done is provide two game-winning hits and look better fundamentally at the plate.
Neil Walker: Heading into July the Pirates second baseman wasn't producing to levels commensurate to his spot in the top half of the order. While the numbers weren't bad, they didn't exactly jump off the page — .259/.331/.380 with 24 RBIs.
But all he's done since the beginning of the month is pick up two game-winning hits, and leadoff the seventh tonight with a double and eventually come around to score the game-tying run.
Walker is hitting .382/.417/.618 with 9 RBIs in July.
Travis Ishikawa: The Pirates picked up Ishikawa to little fanfare. All he did tonight was draw a walk on an excellent pinch-hit at-bat in the eighth that set the stage for Polanco's big hit. He also executed an excellent slide at home, as he barely beat the throw to the plate.
"Real big," Hurdle said of Ishikawa's walk. "Very aggressive [running home]. ... Great turns at second and third. Clean turns, cut the bases well. That got us on top."
Lengthening of the roster
The Pirates are in the middle of a nice little winning stretch. They've won 10 of their last 12, and chopped 3.5 games off of the Cardinals lead.
The trademark of this run is the contributions the team is getting all corners of the roster. These are exactly the sorts of stretches that championship contenders go through.
"Absolutely," Hurdle said about the importance of having a roster that lengthens out at some point in the season and provides clutch performances from all over. "You want to get all your guys involved. And there is kind of a baton that is handed off in the lineup from time to time. And even in the pitching staff. But the roots of all that is in the starting staff giving us the length."
Alongside the aforementioned players, Pedro Alvarez's offense has picked up, Mark Melancon has transformed back into one of the most dependable closers in baseball and Antonio Bastardo has shown signs of returning to career form.
"The guys that have come off the bench, Polanco is starting to spark," Hurdle said. "We're seeing what we believe he can do. Walker, you're seeing the back of the baseball card play out. [Pedro] Alvarez the same way. It just lengthens the lineup. It lengthens the bullpen depth. It gives everybody a real confident feeling knowing that we got our guys. These are our guys at 25, and how ever it gets sliced up, we got guys that can step in and get things done."
Here come the Cardinals
The Cardinals are coming to town for what should be four electric nights of baseball in PNC Park. But if you were looking for the Pirates to break character and talk about the added significance of the series, you'd be disappointed. Which, in the end, is probably a good thing, since it is a steady approach has served them so well the last few years.
"You know what, for us it's the same game," Hurdle said, when asked about the upcoming series. "We get to play the Cardinals. It's a good team. It's time to play them. They're on the schedule. It should be exciting here and should be a lot of fun."
Hurdle's attitude was echoed by the players.
"I think everybody wants to talk about [the Cardinals series]," Walker said. "I think the media wants to talk about it. I think even Major League Baseball wants to talk about it. But as baseball players, when you have good team you have to live day-to-day. You have to live moment to moment. ... Obviously, they are playing very good baseball and we're playing very good baseball, it's going to be an exciting weekend, but we're taking care of business."