The Bucs nearly coughed up an early five-run lead, but recovered and tacked on several more runs in the late innings en route to what turned into a relatively easy 9-3 win over the Rockies Monday.
The second batter of the game, Starling Marte, hit a Jon Gray fastball to deep left for a no-doubt solo homer, and Aramis Ramirez followed two batters later with another solo shot on another Gray fastball, this one much higher than its intended target.
The Bucs added a third run in the second inning when Francisco Cervelli singled and Jordy Mercer brought him home with a double to left. Oddly, Cervelli and Mercer repeated that exact pattern to score another run in the fourth, with the ball heading to a similar spot in left field. Polanco followed two batters later with a single to bring Mercer home. The Pirates took advantage of Gray, who threw in the mid-90s and struck out five but frequently left his pitches up and was in a 5-0 hole when he exited in the fifth.
At that point, it looked like it would be a slaughter, but in Coors Field, you never know. Justin Morneau led off the bottom of the fifth with a single for the Rockies. A.J. Burnett induced what should have been a double-play ball, but Pedro Alvarez inexplicably (or all too explicably) failed to catch the throw to first. Corey Dickerson followed with a single, and then a catcher named Tom Murphy hit a three-run homer. Burnett then hit a batter and walked the bases full, but he whiffed Nolan Arenado to escape the jam.
After Mercer singled to start the sixth, Clint Hurdle for some reason decided to let Burnett come to the plate. Burnett moved Mercer up with a sacrifice, and Mercer came home on a Marte double that narrowly missed being a home run. Burnett then had another shaky inning on the mound, giving up a double to Dickerson and then walking the bases full yet again before finally giving way to Antonio Bastardo. Bastardo got Charlie Blackmon to line out, fortunately. Overall, Burnett struck out five but walked four. Hurdle played with fire keeping him in the game as long as he did, but the Bucs avoided getting burned too badly.
Joakim Soria allowed a couple singles in the seventh but escaped with a zero thanks to a nice catch by Neil Walker. Tony Watson pitched the eighth. In the ninth, though, the Pirates extended their lead, ensuring Mark Melancon had the day off. Marte singled, Andrew McCutchen walked, and Ramirez singled to bring home Marte.
Keon Broxton made his big-league debut as a pinch-runner for Ramirez and promptly showed why he might be useful. He moved up to second as McCutchen scored on Neil Walker's grounder. Then Broxton swiped third easily and trotted home on Murphy's throwing error. Broxton doesn't have a plate appearance yet, but he already has a run scored.
The Pirates managed 15 hits; Marte and Mercer had four apiece, and Cervelli had three. McCutchen walked three times and now has seven walks in his past two games.
The Cardinals and Cubs also won, so the Bucs didn't make up any ground in the NL Central. The Pirates' victory was their 90th of the season, though, and they can clinch a playoff berth as soon as tomorrow.