After being shutout in consecutive games, the Pirates scored first and never trailed. They lashed ten hits and drew ten walks. But there was never a moment when the game felt in hand as virtually no pitcher deserved a tally in their victory column as the team hung on to dear life for an 11-9 win.
Once again Felipe Vazquez was called on in the eighth and then strode to the mound with a scant two-run lead in the ninth, inspiring confidence in none watching except for his manager Clint Hurdle. Michael Feliz was the only other pitcher available, but he was observing from his seat in the bullpen.
A five-pitch walk to Chris Taylor on five pitches but the lefty swinging Max Muncy was called out on strikes. Another five-pitch walk to Chris Turner and Matt Kemp, three-for-three with two doubles, a homer and a walk on the night, strode to the plate as the lead run. A called strike, then a swinging strike. Then three well out of the zone. Full count - and a soft liner to second baseman Josh Harrison. With two outs it was up to lefty Cody Bellinger, who’d earlier deposited a Trevor Williams changeup into the right field seats for his tenth homer of the year. First pitch a ball, then a ground ball to Harrison who threw to first to end the game.
Finally the Pirates were able to plate runs as they beat up on young left-hander Caleb Ferguson, outmatched in his major league debut. Corey Dickerson led off the second by getting hit with a pitch, the same as Harrison had done in the first inning. Colim Moran walked. Even Sean Rodriguez walked. And after the pitcher Williams was called out on strikes, Harrison lined a ball off the chalk and the railing which settled into the left field corner, clearing the bases as Rodriguez narrowly beat the throw home. After Austin Meadows walked Ferguson was gone, but Starling Marte greeted Daniel Hudson with a ground single to center to plate Meadows and the Bucs led 4-0.
And Williams gave it right back the next half-inning. With two outs and none on, Muncy walked, Turner walked, Kemp doubled off the center field wall and Bellinger launched his shot to right. Game tied.
But the bats didn’t lay down. Dickerson led off the third with a single, David Freese walked, and when Colin Moran grounded to first Muncy’s throw to second skipped off Freese’s helmet into left field, allowing Dickerson to score. Josh Bell pinch hit for Williams and hit a likely double play grounder to second, but busted it down the line and was called safe as Freese scored another to extend the lead to 6-4.
Right back again in the fourth, with Brock Stewart on the mound Francisco Cervelli walked, Dickerson singled (again) and Freese double to left to score both. 8-4 good guys.
Steven Brault was on in relief of Williams and in the fifth inning gave up a single to Muncy and a walk to Turner before tossing a meatball that Kemp delivered to the center field bullpen. The lead was down to 8-7, but Brault was awarded the win. Now you see how meaningless pitcher’s wins can be.
But the Pirates weren’t done. Dickerson was called out on the throw from short to first, but a review overturned the decision and he had his third hit of the game. Freese walked and then Hell froze over as in consecutive at-bats Sean Rodriguez snuck an RBI single threw the hole at short and pinch-hitter Gregory Polanco lined a double into the right field corner for two more runs. 11-7. Feel safe yet?
Edgar Santana had pitched a clean seventh after coming in on a double switch, but after just that one inning he was out and Kyle Crick was in. At times he was pumping 97 mph heat, while several other times fast balls were bouncing in front of the catcher. Kemp walked and went to second on a wild pitch. Bellinger walked and then they both moved up on another wild pitch. Grgeory Polanco made a fine catch in foul ground on a pop by Yasiel Puig and Logan Forsythe popped out to second, but on the verge of getting out of the inning Crick was called for a balk on a quick pitch. But that didn’t really matter as Yasmani Grandal lined a single to right to score Bellinger and it was 11-9 as Felipe was called on to put out the fire. Eleven pitches later Kiki Hernandez was called out on strikes, setting the stage for the ninth.
The win keeps the Pirates above .500 with a record of 31-30. still in fourth place but now 5.5 games behind the Brewers, who dropped their game with the Indians.
The series and home stand will conclude at 12:35 pm Thursday as Jameson Taillon (3-4, 3.97) faces Dennis Santana, making his first major league start after just one relief appearance.