The last time Aramis Ramirez hit a home run in Pittsburgh as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates was on July 20, 2003, three days before the fire-sale trade that sent him to Chicago to play for the Cubs and have the career he should have had in Pittsburgh.
His first Pittsburgh homer for the Pirates in his current role as prodigal son came in the first inning tonight on a hanging curve thrown by starter Chris Rusin of the Colorado Rockies. It followed singles by Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen and staked Pirates starter J.A. Happ to a three-run lead that he protected over 5.2 innings before turning the game over to the Pirates bullpen, which held on for a 4-3 win.
After having been acquired by the Pirates around the trade deadline from the Seattle Mariners as an emergency rotation replacement for the injured A.J. Burnett, Happ has followed a shaky debut outing with four consecutive effective starts in which he has gone 3-0 with a 0.78 ERA.
The only run Happ gave up tonight, the first he had given up in 12 innings, came in the third with the Pirates up 3-0. Brandon Barnes led off with an opposite-field double past first base. After failing twice to bunt, Rusin singled up the middle, moving Barnes to third. Leadoff hitter Charlie Blackmon hit a sharp grounder to Pedro Alvarez at first, and although the Bucs didn't record a double play, Alvarez at least succeeded in retiring Rusin at second without incident as Barnes scored. With José Reyes at the plate, Blackmon stole second and went to third when the throw by Francisco Cervelli bounced into center field. Reyes then lifted a fly ball to around the same vicinity in right field from which Gregory Polanco last night had thrown Reyes out at the plate in the decisive eighth inning. With the memory of that throw still green, the Rockies elected to keep Blackmon stationary at third base. It made no difference that Polanco then promptly launched his throw not to Cervelli at the plate but to Happ who was backing up the play several feet past home in front of the backstop: the throw they think you're going to make can be just as effective as the throw you do make. Carlos Gonzalez popped up, and Blackmon went from third base to the dugout to retrieve his glove.
After the first, the Pirates were unable to do much with Rusin, who kept the Pirates off balance with slow fastballs and offspeed pitches, as soft-tossing lefties sometimes do. Happ got into trouble that was not of his doing in the sixth. Gonzalez led off with a well-placed bunt single, and after Arenado popped out, DJ LeMahieu hit a grounder to Jung Ho Kang at short, who threw wildly to second, hitting Gonzalez rather than Neil Walker's glove and putting runners on first and second. Kang recovered to make a nice play on a ground ball by Paulsen to force LeMahieu at second, but Hurdle chose to lift Happ and bring in Arquimedes Caminero, who recorded the final out with one pitch and stayed in the game to pitch a dominant seventh inning.
The Pirates added a run in the bottom of the seventh that proved to be more important than it seemed at the time. Walker led off with a single. Starling Marte, running for Walker, went to third on a single by pinch hitter Michael Morse over second base, and scored on Polanco's fielder's choice bounce out. That put the Pirates ahead 4-1, a lead that Tony Watson held in the eighth. Mark Melancon, however, whose presence in this game seemed both unnecessary and unwise, gave up a single to Paulsen, a two-run homer to left by Nick Hundley, and an opposite-field single to Barnes before recording an out. But Melancon recovered to retire pinch-hitter Daniel Descalso on a pop-up to Josh Harrison at second base and Blackmon on a soft liner to Harrison, who easily doubled up Barnes at first for the final out.
The Pirates are now 79-49, 30 games over .500 for the season.