Everything has changed
On July 20, 2003, Aramis Ramirez led off the bottom of the third inning with a solo home run into PNC Park's left-field seats. Three days later he was traded to the Cubs for Jose Hernandez, Bobby Hill and Matt Bruback. The lopsided and purely financially driven trade was the darkest of dark times for the franchise and its fans.
12 years later, on a humid and sticky night in Pittsburgh, Ramirez crushed a three-run homer to put the Pirates up 3-0 in the first inning. It was his first home run as a Pirate in Pittsburgh since that July game in 2003. Ramirez's homer propelled the Bucs to another win in what could be shaping up to be the franchise's most successful season in 106 years.
"I got something special to play for every single day," Ramirez said. "It can't get better than that."
Since opening the season 18-22, the Pirates have won 61 of their last 88 games, which amounts to a jaw-dropping .693 winning percentage. No team in franchise history has put together a stretch of 88 games like this since 1909.
"It's not a conversation piece in the locker room," Hurdle said of the significance of the historic 88-game run. "We're doing some things that have some significance that we might be mindful of later. [But] we're in second place and we're trying to get to first place."
With Saturday night's win, the Pirates kept pace with the Cardinals and remain 3.5 games back. They continue to have the third best record in baseball.
"It has been a very, very solid stretch as far as winning games," Hurdle added. "And we don't lose sight of when we make mistakes because winning can be a deodorant and we're not overlooking the areas that we do need to improve in."
Happ with another fine start
J.A. Happ provided another solid start for the Pirates. He allowed five hits and only one run in 5.2 innings pitched.
"He had to pitch out of some traffic," Hurdle said. "He got out of some jams. His stuff was still sharp at times. Didn't execute a couple of times. But overall outing was very consistent, very solid."
Just like everywhere else on the roster, the Pirates seemingly are poised to have a glut of starting pitching depth. When A.J. Burnett returns they are likely to have more candidates than available positions in the rotation. All the Pirates problems seem to be good problems lately.
"He's really helped," Hurdle said of Happ. "He's really helped solidify the rotation. His confidence is in as good a place as it has been all year. He's fit in with the team. It has embraced him. And he's gone out there in a very professional fashion and manner, given us four really good starts in a row."
Happ has only allowed two runs in his last four starts, good for 0.78 ERA.
"I'm feeling pretty good about my delivery and locating my pitches more consistently," Happ said. "That's been a difference the last few starts."
Arquimedes Caminero extended his scoreless game streak to 13 with 1.1 shutdown innings. With the Pirates clinging to a 3-1 lead, the right-hander entered with two outs and runners on first and third in the sixth. He promptly got Nick Hundley to ground out.
"It was hard. We were able to get him up a couple of times but he hadn't been in a game in awhile," Hurdle said. "He missed the entire Miami series, for him to come in, first ball he unloads is a two-seamer to get the mishit groundball to third and then another quality inning after that."