The Pirates held the Rockies close through eight innings but came apart in the ninth as they lost 5-1 in a rain-delayed contest Saturday.
Jon Niese gave up an RBI double to Mark Reynolds in the first but otherwise fared well, whiffing four and walking one while allowing just that one run over seven innings. The Pirates tied the game in the fourth, although not without some controversy. Jung Ho Kang led off with a double and moved to third on a groundout. Then Matt Joyce dribbled a ball to second, and DJ LeMahieu threw home. Kang's hand plainly beat the ball to the bag.
If Kang didn't touch the plate, it was clearly because his path was blocked by Tony Wolters' shin guard, which he dropped down slightly before he got possession of the ball. The new collision rule allows for some umpire discretion, but one of the key points as I understand it is that the catcher can't block the plate until he has the ball. The play happened very fast, but Wolters clearly put his leg down before the ball was in his glove, and the out that resulted was a huge one.
I guess we'll get more clarifying information on the play later, but it seemed to me that Kang should have been called safe because he touched the plate or because Wolters actively prevented him from doing so. Worse, Kang, who'd slid headfirst, came up holding his thumb and was later removed from the game and is now day-to-day. The Pirates did tie the game later that inning on a single by Jordy Mercer, but the path of that inning would have been different, perhaps very different, if not for that call.
After that, no one scored for several innings, with Joyce notably getting thrown out at second in the eighth while trying to take advantage of a dropped ball by Wolters. Then in the ninth, Mark Melancon recorded two strikeouts before all hell broke loose. Francisco Cervelli's throwing error resulted in Gerardo Parra getting to second, and Daniel Descalso walked. Both runners moved up on Melancon's wild pitch. Then Wolters hit a hard grounder that took a weird bounce off first base. John Jaso alertly tried to field it with his bare hand, but he couldn't come up with it, and then he fell down and failed to get a handle on it on a couple attempts to grab it off the ground. Two runs scored. Then Jared Hughes (who's quietly had a very uneven year so far, walking seven batters in eight innings heading into tonight) entered and threw a terrible hanging sinker that went for a two-run homer by Cristhian Adames, giving the light-hitting utilityman his first career blast in parts of three seasons.
Maybe the Rockies would have won, then, even if the fourth inning had turned out differently. Whether because of the call or the weird bits of poor play and misfortune in the ninth, though, this game feels like one that got away.