After two tense nights featuring more celebrated Pirates starting pitchers, J.A. Happ, of all people, dominated the mighty Arizona Diamondbacks tonight with a convincing two-hit, six-inning performance. Happ's effective start, an opportunistic offense, and great outings by three of four Pirates relievers earned the Pirates a 4-1 win. In taking the last two games of the series against the Diamondbacks after dropping the first, the Pirates kept pace with the St. Louis Cardinals, who came from behind at home tonight to beat the San Francisco Giants. Of course they did.
In a battle of lefties, Happ outpitched Robbie Ray, who gave up three runs to the Pirates in the bottom half of the second. Ray hit leadoff batter Jung Ho Kang with a pitch to start the inning, and Francisco Cervelli followed with a single to right center that raised his batting average to .310 and moved Kang to third. Ray got ahead of Michael Morse 0-2 but then, as Morse swung at strike three in the dirt, the pitch went to the backstop, allowing Kang to score easily and moving Cervelli to second base. Sean Rodriguez, starting at second base in place of Neil Walker, delivered a long overdue hit with a runner in scoring position, a solid single that drove in Cervelli with the second run. Rodriguez would have two more emphatic hits in his next two at bats--a course correction of sorts. With Rodriguez at first and one out, Happ bunted too hard to Ray, who got the force at second for the second out. Gregory Polanco then drove a double of sufficient depth into left center field to enable Happ to score from first despite a leisurely traversal around the diamond. The Pirates had a 3-0 lead, and it would be all they would need. The inning ended when an alert Paul Goldschmidt caught Polanco between third and home after an infield single by Starling Marte.
Happ's only trouble came in the top of the second. He began the inning by walking A.J. Pollock and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but he cleaned up the inning quickly by retiring Jake Lamb on a double play and Yasmany Tomas on a bouncer to Morse at first. He gave up his first hit in the third, a late-swing single down the third-base line by Ray, and then gave up another hit to Tomas in the fifth. But that was it. After 83 pitches and a quick one-two-three inning in the top of the sixth, Clint Hurdle went to his bullpen for the final three innings. Joakim Soria struck out two in a perfect seventh, and Tony Watson got three straight ground outs in the eighth.
Meanwhile, the Pirates mounted a mild threat in the bottom of the fourth, but otherwise Ray settled down and held them to the three runs they already had through six. The Diamondbacks turned to Zack Godley for the seventh and the eighth, in which the Pirates worked him for an insurance run. Marte led off with a hustling double to left center and moved to third on Andrew Mccutchen's single. After a line-drive out to short by Aramis Ramirez, Godley walked Kang to load the bases. He struck out Cervelli for the second out, but then pinch hitter Pedro Alvarez drew a walk, forcing in Marte with the fourth run.
With a four-run lead and no save opportunity available for Mark Melancon, Hurdle brought in Antonio Bastardo in the ninth. Bastardo immediately surrendered a well-executed bunt single by Ender Inciarte and an exasperating four-pitch walk to the light-hitting Nick Ahmed, tightening stomachs in the stands for the first time all evening.
To the extent that he is capable of bounding, Hurdle quickly bounded out of the dugout and called for his closer. Melancon gave up a further stomach-tightening, run-scoring single to Goldschmidt through the left side of the infield, but he then struck out the dangerous Pollock looking, Saltalamacchia swinging, and pinch-hitter David Peralta looking, all on nasty curves, for his 38th save and the win.
Melancon, right back on the horse.