It is really starting to feel like in these recaps I am coming on and saying a lot of the same things recently and it feels great to do so. The Pirates just keep getting the job done and today it was once again Andrew McCutchen and some great pitching that got it done as the Pirates go to six games above .500 with a 4-1 win over the Tigers. Oh my.
McCutchen is going to get much of the praise for this game, and deservidly so, but for me this was all about the pitching staff. As a whole today the staff which included innings from Brad Lincoln, Juan Cruz, Tony Watson, Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan gave up only four hits to a pretty good Detroit lineup and struck out ten batters while walking only two and giving up a lone earned run.
Lincoln hasn't been good for much of this year when he has been in a starters roll but there was something that clicked today. He only went six innings but racked up seven strikeouts and walked only one while walking one. He didn't give up a hit until the sixth inning and even mixed in the change up a little bit today which was really nice to see. The big problem with Lincoln this year was that he was only using two pitches, his fastball and his curve, and when one of those wasn't on he was really in trouble. Today he threw 79 pitches and seven of those were change ups. Moreover he wasn't just throwing them just to throw them, six of them went for strikes and two of them were swing and miss pitches which registered strikeouts. Having a third pitch is huge and today Lincoln had that third pitch. Now, I still don't think Lincoln is a starter but this was an outstanding performance from him today and as much credit as McCutchen is going to get for the win, Lincoln should get just as much, if not more.
The rest of the staff did just as well as Lincoln. The other four relievers went on to pitch a near perfect three innings where they only walked one batter and gave up two hits. Cruz didn't have a great outing but Watson came in and stopped the bleeding in the seventh inning and Grilli had an outstanding bounce back performance after blowing a save a few nights ago. Grilli stuff was as good as it has been all season as he struck out a pair of hitters in an inning of work to push his k/9 ratio to 14.13. Impressive. Hanrahan came on and earned his 19th save even though he gave up a hit to Prince Fielder and a walk to Delmon Young. Then with two outs it took three dirty sliders to strike out Alex Avila.
Now, on to Mr. McCutchen. While he didn't have the best day at the plate going 1-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and an intentional walk but that one hit resulted in three runs and essentially got all the runs the Pirates needed. Max Scherzer got Cutch in a 0-2 count and threw a pitch over the plate and he just hammered it for his 13th home run over the left field fence. A three run shot to make it 3-0. Maybe the most amazing thing of the whole situation was that a packed PNC Park was chanting "MVP, MVP, MVP" as McCutchen touched home plate. When was the last time that happened? Just a moment that gave you goosebumps.
The offense only had eight hits on the day but did a good job to make those eight hits count. McCutchen got the big one with the three run jack but Neil Walker came through with a clutch single in the seventh inning to score Casey McGehee on a 0-2 count. That run answered the lone run the Tigers got in the top of the inning. Just a great job of putting the ball in play and getting the run in. You have to love stuff like this.
I have been pretty hard on Alex Presley this season and while I don't see him as a long term answer for the Pirates I still think he can be a nice bench/fourth outfield option for them down the road. Today he got a pair of hits with two doubles and between him and Jose Tabata they combined to go 3-for-6 with two runs scored and only one strikeout. The guys who hit in front of Cutch are going to get pitches to hit and if they can do that then the Pirates are going to be in good shape.
All wasn't good in this game, however. Late in the game the offense had a chance to really put the Tigers away but they weren't able to do so. In the seventh inning. With runners on the corner and Josh Harrison up all that Harrison needed to do was put the ball in play someone and get a huge run across. The first pitch of the at bat Harrison took a massive home run cut, something that was in no way necessary. Then Clint Hurdle throws up the squeeze play. Harrison gets an absolutely beautiful pitch to put down and he missed it. He looks like he is trying to bunt for a base hit but all he needs to do it put it down. He doesn't and Walker is easily tagged out at home. With a runner on second and two outs Harrison strikes out. Just a horrible at bat for Harrison.
For the record I am more than OK with the squeeze play at that juncture of the game. It is late and the Pirates are up three runs. I am more than OK trading an out for a run especially when the Pirates only need to get six more outs. Harrison has to get the bat on the ball in that situation no matter what. He didn't.
Then in the eighth inning as the Pirates get runners on first and second with nobody out. Tabata bunts both runners over (which I also agree with) to set up a pair of runners in scoring position. The Tigers do the right thing and walk McCutchen for one of the Pirates hottest hitters in McGehee. McGehee and Walker both strike out and leave the bases loaded with no runs.
The Pirates have done a really nice job of taking advantage of these situations but you have to get some runs across the plate and put the game away. It might not have haunted them this time but one time it might.
Those bad things I talked about there aren't good but whatever. Yesterday I talked about the Pirates playing with house money when facing Max Scherzer today and Justin Verlander tomorrow. The Pirates have the series win and if they can get the sweep tomorrow that will say a lot about this team.
Speaking of Scherzer you just have to tip your cap to this guy. Before the game it was released that his brother had taken his own life and he still went out there and competed and threw a pretty good game minus the one pitch to McCutchen. I can't even imagine what he must be going through and I am sure going out there to pitch helped him keep his mind off of it because that is just something that is so terrible that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. My heart goes out to Max and his family and I hope he is able to cope with this and find some closure.
I am still not sure what this team is but it is amazing to watch right now. Just a ton of fun.