If you're old enough to remember 1970s baseball, then this one must have felt familiar. Actually, this was more dead-ball era stuff. Friday night, the Pirates and Phillies combined for only three walks, four strikeouts and one home run. That is a total of eight true outcomes. The average MLB game averaged about 12 true outcomes in 1908, 18 in 1975 and 26 this season.
There was a lot of contact and most of it was weak. Trevor Williams bettered Jeremy Hellickson in average exit velocity allowed, 78 MPH to 86.1 MPH, but the Phillies benefited from some key bloop hits, while the Pirates knocked into some hard hit outs. Andrew McCutchen and Danny Ortiz, in particular suffered from bad BABIP luck.
On paper, this game looks more lopsided than it was. But there is a lesson in how this one turned out. The more balls are put in play, the more the force of luck plays a role in outcomes. Tonight, none of the pitchers were able to generate strikeouts, but they avoided walks and home runs. So the game came down to where batted balls were put into play and, in that category, the Phillies got the best of it.
"I thought I did a good job putting the ball on the ground," Williams said. "Unfortunately it was a seeing eye baseball game. That's how today went."
Williams cruised through five innings and entered the sixth with a 2-1 lead. To that point, he had held the Phillies offense in check without recording a strikeout. In the sixth, however, a lead-off walk and a fluky bloop double against the shift started what ended up being a two-run inning for the Phillies. Williams was removed two outs into the fifth and finished with three runs and four hits allowed. He walked two and did not record a strikeout.
"I didn't have my slider tonight," Williams said of his lack of strikeouts. "I think it was pretty clear early in the game. Early in the game they were swinging early and getting a lot of quick pitch outs. You got to do what you got to do with what you got."
Josh Lindblom relieved Williams and allowed a run in the seventh and recorded the Pirates first strikeout in the eighth. Tony Watson pitched the ninth and gave up a pop-up single, a bunt single and then a three-run home run to Cameron Rupp.
For Williams, this was his second decent start in a row and it would be a very important development if he were to settle in and stabilize a spot in the rotation.
"I thought some good things happened tonight," Clint Hurdle said. "He pitched and competed and gave us a chance to win the game. If he gets another out, it's a quality start. To me, there was quality in the start regardless."
The Pirates jumped out of the gate early by scoring two runs in the first, but after that there wasn't much of anything. In fact, there was almost literally nothing, as the Pirates only managed a single and walk the rest of the way.
"At the end of the day, you've got to reflect on the game and see how we all approached it and say ‘You know what? If he made pitches he made pitches," Harrison said. "We play 162 games and as many times as we go through a [tough] stretch, we know there are going to be stretches where pitchers are going to be looking at us, like, ‘Hey I want to snap his bat.'"