For a long time Tuesday night’s game was the most unlikely of pitching duels. Yes, the Pirates were involved in another 1-0 game, but only after being held scoreless for six innings by a rookie with a 7.08 ERA in fifteen previous Major League starts. Felipe Vazquez blew a save, but veteran catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who’d only joined the Pirates as a September call-up, lined a bases loaded single in the eleventh to bring home the win for the Pirates.
With a game score of 83, it was the second highest rated start of Jameson Taillon’s career, topped only by his one-hit complete game shutout of Cincinnati on April 8 of this year. Blowing letter high fastballs past most every batter in the Kansas City lineup, Taillon racked up eleven strikeouts against only one walk and four hits as he tossed seven scoreless innings.
However, in that seventh inning as Taillon approached 100 pitches it didn’t appear he’d continue to keep the Royals off the board. After reaching base only three times in the first six innings and after Jorge Bonifacio led off the inning being called out on strikes for Taillon’s career high eleventh, Ryan O’hearn lined a single to left and light-hitting Alcides Escobar snuck a grounder past Kevin Kramer and inside the bag at third, putting runners at second and third with the one out. Lefty swinging Brian Goodwin lifted a 2-2 pitch into medium right center field which the Pirates’ new super utility player Pablo Reyes caught on the run and fired home. The throw was strong but towards third base, requiring catcher Francisco Cervelli to dive for the runner, but he managed to swipe O’Hearn in the buttocks for the third out of the inning.
It looked like Taillon and the Pirates were in line for another 1-0 win after with two outs in the bottom of the seventh pinch-hitter Colin Moran took reliever Brandon Maurer deep to the seats in right-center field for his tenth homer of the season.
Richard Rodriguez made quick work of the Royals in the eighth with a walk and three whiffs, and then it was to Felipe Vazquez to nail down his 24th consecutive save.
Felipe made Alex Gordon look silly trying to swing at a two-strike left-on-left change for the first out, but Jorge Bonifacio walked on a 3-2 pitch and Sal Perez, scratched from the starting lineup because of left thumb discomfort, came on to pinch-hit for the lefty swinging O’Hearn and lined the first pitch to left for a single. Escobar meekly struck out swinging, but Hunter Dozier, another player summoned off the bench to bat for a left-hander, lined the first pitch he saw off the fence in left on one bounce. Jordan Luplow was over quickly. Bonifacio easily scored from second with the tying run, but the slow footed Perez was nailed at the plate on a strong relay throw from shortstop Jordy Mercer to preserve the tie as the Pirates came to bat in the bottom of the ninth.
Veteran Jason Hammel, who’d been banished to the bullpen earlier in the season and entered the game with a 3-13 record and a 6.04 ERA, stayed on for the ninth after throwing a scoreless eighth. Starling Marte fouled off several pitches before grounding a single up the middle and moved to second when Josh Bell lined a single to right. Then, for the first time in nine years, Francisco Cervelli laid down a sacrifice bunt to put the winning run at third base with only one out. With both the infield and outfield drawn in, Marte flinched towards home on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s one hopper to the mound, then inexplicably jogged home to be easily tagged out without a rundown. Pinch-hitter Elias Diaz, appearing in his first game since injuring his hamstring on August 31, worked a 3-2 count for a walk to load the bases, but Josh Harrison lifted a 2-1 pitch to right for an easy catch and the third out of the inning.
Edgar Santana worked an easy tenth and Kyle Crick did the same in the top of the eleventh, and then it was deja vu all over again in the bottom of the inning. Burch Smith, with a 1-5 record and a 6.75 ERA in 75 innings entering the game, had thrown a scoreless tenth and came back out for his second inning, to be greeted by a Starling Marte bouncer which tipped off his glove, allowing Marte to reach with an infield hit. Bel walked to put runners at first and second with no one out while Cervelli attempted to bunt. That became moot when a pitch cloanked off the glove of catcher Meibrys Viloria, allowing the runners to advance, but with the infield and outfield drawn in Cervelli was visibly upset when called out on an appeal to first for his check swing at a 3-2 pitch at the letters. Frazier was then intentionally walked to get to Lavarnway, who came on to pinch hit for Crick. He took the first two pitches for balls, then a called strike, before smashing the 2-1 pitch on a line, past the pitcher and into center for the game winning single.
A while ago I stopped posting standing, but now that the Pirates have won four games ina row and ten of their last thirteen, their record has risen to 76-74, and although in fourth place in their division they are only 7.0 games back of the second Wild Card spot with twelve games left to play, behind Colorado, Arizona and Philadelphia and tied with Washington. On the other hand, their elimination number is 1.
The series concludes Wednesday night at 7:05 pm Eastern at PNC Park as right-hander Heath Fillmyer (3-1, 4.76) starts against the Pirates’ Chris Archer (4-8, 4.66)