Trey Mancini didn’t start this game, but he sure as hell finished it. Baltimore’s rookie outfielder hit a two-strike, two-out, two-run, pinch-hit homer off of struggling Pittsburgh closer Tony Watson to tie the game in the ninth and send it to extra innings. In the eleventh, Mancini sealed the deal with a three-run blast off of Wade LeBlanc to secure a 9-6 victory in walk-off fashion.
Earlier on Wednesday, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle stood up for Watson and claimed that the bullpen was best equipped with him as the closer. Then, for the second time in as many days, Hurdle showed faith in his closer and, for the second time, Watson failed spectacularly.
Watson has blown each of his last four save opportunities, surrendering eight earned runs and three homers in the process. It was the third time since Watson assumed the closer role last summer that he had been within one strike of a save only to surrender a game-tying or game-winning home run.
After the game, Hurdle took responsibility for the loss.
“I make the decisions,” Hurdle said. “When they don’t work out, they’re on me. It squarely falls on me.”
And, to his point, Watson wasn’t the one who tried to squeeze two innings out of middle reliever Johnny Barbato. That was all Clint, baby.
The Pirates had built a strong, 6-1 lead before Barbato surrendered an eighth-inning home run to Adam Jones and left runners on second and third for Watson - who is currently the baseball equivalent of the Springfield Tire Fire - to deal with in the ninth.
Watson allowed one inherited run to score on a sacrifice fly and the other scored on a double to left field by J.J. Hardy. After Watson struck out catcher Caleb Joseph, the lefty had Mancini on the ropes, attacking the corners of the strike zone. But one big, juicy mistake pitch – a changeup that fluttered into the zone – resulted in another devastating big fly.
And all of that happened while Felipe Rivero, who Hurdle praised for pitching in “more leverage situations than anybody else on the team,” sat unused in the bullpen during the highest-leverage situation of the game. The lefty flamethrower eventually entered the game to throw a scoreless tenth inning.
What makes this even more of a drag? The Pirates were, again, in the driver’s seat for the majority of this game.
Pittsburgh chased Orioles starter Wade Miley in the third inning. The Pirates bombarded the lefty with eight hits and two walks, which resulted in four runs. Miley lasted only 2.2 innings and needed 84 pitches to get those eight outs.
The Pirates offense was spearheaded by a trio of rookie hitters – Max Moroff, Elias Diaz, and Jose Osuna – who each drove in two runs and gave the Pirates what, under usual circumstances, should have been a comfortable lead.
Moroff, in his first start since being called up from Triple-A Indianapolis on June 2nd, started off the scoring with a second-inning double that just snuck onto the right side of the left field line. It was Moroff’s first career double and it drove both Andrew McCutchen and Elias Diaz in to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead.
After Chris Davis scored on a Hyun Soo Kim sacrifice fly, the Pirates responded with another two-run inning in the top of the third. David Freese walked, Osuna singled, and McCutchen, who caught Orioles third baseman Manny Machado in the hand with a spike when stealing third base in the second, reached base whenever Machado could not complete a routine double play. Baltimore’s franchise third baseman would be removed an inning later.
With runners on first and second, Diaz poked a double down the right field line. Osuna scored easily and McCutchen followed after right fielder Seth Smith had trouble getting the ball into the infield. Diaz has tallied six hits, one home run, and six RBIs in the three games that the rookie backstop has started, which is definitely good news with catchers Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart both on the DL.
After long reliever Mike Wright shut the Pirates down for the next three innings, Osuna deposited a hanging curveball thrown by reliever Edwin Jackson far over the left field wall for a two-run home run. It was Osuna’s fourth homer of the year. Eleven of his last 22 hits have gone for extra bases.
Starter Chad Kuhl was not exactly sharp, walking four and allowing four hits through five innings of work. But the righty managed to wriggle out of danger a few times and limit the damage to one run allowed. Daniel Hudson and Juan Nicasio each threw scoreless frames when Kuhl left after the fifth.
But, again, the ninth inning was a nightmare for the Pirates and, again, they lost in extra innings to the Orioles. Ugh.