In a battle of back-end starters, Jeff Locke emerged triumphant, throwing seven innings in an efficient 82-pitch outing to overcome Jhoulys Chacin and the Angels. For the second consecutive start, Locke walked zero batters, which helped limit the damage resulting from the two home runs he permitted. His outing was hardly flawless, with seven hits and several warning track fly balls, but it was still an encouraging sign from a pitcher who has often been the target of Pittsburghers' ire this season. Fans at the game went home with not only brand new logo-adorned fedoras from today's giveaway, but also the satisfaction of a close and competitive win.
Kole Calhoun drove in the game's first run on a solo shot that just stretched over the lip of the wall in straightaway center field. The Pirates struck back in the bottom of the second, as Starling Marte led off with a double to center and Jung Ho Kang followed by depositing a fastball in the visitors' bullpen. The teams alternated their blows over the next several innings, and the game continued in a back-and-forth fashion. Chacin led off the third with an unexpected single, and Angels third baseman Yunel Escobar evened the score at 2-2 with a double that fell just beyond Andrew McCutchen's outstretched glove. Escobar kindly limited the damage, however, by losing track of the number of outs and getting doubled off second base when Calhoun hit a fly ball to Gregory Polanco in right field.
The Pirates pulled ahead again in the bottom of the fourth. Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer singled, Locke advanced the runners with a nice sacrifice bunt, and then John Jaso walked to load the bases for Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates' center fielder quickly fell into an 0-2 count, but battled through an eight-pitch at bat and worked his way to a walk that scored Harrison. Chacin worked his way out of the jam by inducing a ground ball to second from Polanco, and the Bucs ended the inning with three men left on base. That 3-2 lead held until the top of the sixth, when Shane Robinson snuck a fly ball over the fence in the left field notch.
The pattern changed a bit in the bottom of the seventh, and the Pirates looked to put the game away for good. Polanco led off with an absolute moon shot to right center, which looked like it would have reached the river if it hadn't hit the top of one of the three vertical Highmark signs. The next batter, Marte, drove a single up the middle. Second baseman Johnny Giavotella cut it off in shallow center field but then made an awkward and ill-advised attempt at a leaping, twisting throw to Albert Pujols at first. Badly off target, it ended up in the stands to Pujols's left, advancing Marte to second base. Harrison drove in the inning's second run with a single to left, Mercer walked, and then Matt Joyce batted for Locke and hit his sixth home run of the season to clear the bases. If he can maintain his current pace, he might end up posing a serious threat to the team record for single-season pinch hit home runs, currently held by Craig Wilson.
Four insurance runs should have been enough to finish the job, but Tony Watson struggled in the eighth. He allowed two runs of his own, facilitated by a rare error from McCutchen, and then Neftali Feliz allowed two more inherited runners to score, narrowing the margin to 8-7. Fortunately, Mark Melancon was able to handle business in the ninth and earn an uneventful save, his 17th of the year.
With the series even at one game apiece, Hector Santiago and Gerrit Cole will square off at 1:35 tomorrow afternoon.