Heading into this series, the Braves were perhaps best known for their historically inept offense, but the Pirates got to their pitching tonight, grabbing three early runs and cruising to an 8-5 win that was easier than the score suggested.
The Bucs got off to a great start in the first despite not doing anything spectacular offensively. They loaded the bases with a walk and then two infield singles that were both just out of the range of Braves shortstop Erick Aybar, then scored the three runners on a wild pitch, a groundout and a single.
They then padded their lead in the third -- they led off the inning with two more singles, then got an RBI single from Francisco Cervelli and a groundout from Josh Harrison. The Bucs thus jumped out to a 5-0 lead in three innings even though they didn't get their first extra-base hit until two innings later, when Matt Joyce singled and Harrison tripled him in.
From there the Pirates unraveled a bit, although not enough to lose control of the game. Heading into tonight's game, Jon Niese had allowed ten homers in seven starts, and the Braves, who'd only hit nine homers all year, looked to provide him with an opportunity to get that trend under control. In the sixth, though, he allowed a leadoff double to Freddie Freeman, then gave up a two-run shot to Jeff Francoeur -- on a pitch that, to be fair to Niese, a more disciplined hitter probably wouldn't have swung at.
Alen Hanson made his MLB debut pinch-hitting for Niese in the bottom of the inning and struck out, and Neftali Feliz pitched a scoreless seventh. The Bucs then got two runs back in the bottom of the inning when Gregory Polanco singled and Joyce knocked him in with his fifth homer of the season.
Cory Luebke entered in the eighth, making his first big-league appearance since April 13. It didn't go well. He gave up a first-pitch single to Ender Inciarte, a first-pitch double to Freeman and an RBI groundout to Francoeur, then tossed a hanging slider that Kelly Johnson blasted into the shrubbery in center field. Clint Hurdle then yanked Luebke after just seven pitches, and Jared Hughes entered to clean up the mess.
In the ninth, the Pirates loaded the bases on three singles (including one by Cole Figueroa, his first hit as a Pirate) with no outs. They failed to score, which was a shame, because there was a save situation, which means Mark Melancon came in for the the second straight day. That means he likely won't pitch tomorrow. Luckily, Melancon got the job done, and the Bucs completed an 8-5 victory.
Of course, this game answered few questions about the Pirates' pitching staff, and certainly didn't answer any about Luebke. But a win is a win, and there were plenty of strong performances here, including three-hit nights for Joyce and Polanco. The series continues tomorrow at 7:05.