Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pirates Game 74 Recap - Pirates 11, Phillies 7

No idea where to even start with this recap. The game started bad, went really good, got really bad then got really good again. Thank God it didn't go really bad again because I am not sure that losing a game like this would have been good for the overall feel of the team but the offense busted out the bats and had a great night. I don't know if I feel overly good about this win but at the end of the day a win is a win and I will take it no matter how it goes down. Saying "Raise it" at the end of the night is all that matters.

With James McDonald on the mound and the Phillies going with the bullpen by committee approach you had to feel pretty good about them getting a win tonight but it really didn't start off like that. With two outs in the first Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz went back-to-back and you just had a feeling this might turn into another one of "those nights." Thankfully it didn't.

The Pirates came back with a charge starting in the second inning with three runs on a Michael McKenry (!) home run. To be honest this inning was about as frustrating as you get but with one swing of the bat it turned into what was a bad inning into a good one. Casey McGehee walked to lead off the inning and then Clint Hurdle put on a hit and run only Walker didn't feel the need to swing at a hittable pitch and McGehee was hung waaaay out to try. McGehee actually stopped halfway down the base path and it was over from there. I went into my feelings on Walker last night but just a frustrating at bats. Luckily he had three hits after that disaster of an at bat.

The Pirates scored a pair of runs in the fourth and three more in the fifth to take an 8-2 lead. Things looked good and you were able to laugh and joke with your friends and things didn't seem as hard as they used to.

In the fourth McGehee hit a ball to dead centerfield that went deep into the shrubs over the 405' foot mark and then McDonald came up and singled home Walker for what was a pretty big run at the time.

The Pirates then got three runs on four hits in the fifth inning to push the lead to six. After Drew Sutton walked and Andrew McCutchen laced a single back up the middle Walker singled home Sutton with one out and then Jose Tabata and McKenry singled home runs in back-to-back at bats with two outs. This was something they couldn't do in the first two games.

That is when things got really interesting. A six run lead shouldn't make you feel like it is still a ballgame but we aren't talking about any typical ballgame. After throwing a bunch of pitches in the first two innings James McDonald was semi worn down and he gave up a pair of runs in the sixth before Jared Hughes came in to shut the door. That was about it for Hughes as he gave up a pair of runs in the seventh and wasn't able to record an out. Tony Watson came in and gave up three hits and a run and didn't even record an out himself. The game was now 8-7 after Watson departed with runners on first and second with no outs. Oy vey.

What happened next was easily the turning point of the game and probably won the game for the Pirates at the time. In what was a mind boggling decision by Hurdle he went with Brad Lincoln over both Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan. All Brad Lincoln did was get three straight outs and not let a single runner get to third base. What a ballsy and gutsy outing by Lincoln. Lincoln got Hunter Pence to strike out on a full count curveball in the dirt and then got Shane Victorino to fly out to shallow left field. Then came up Jim Thome. Thome is past his prime but is still a big threat to hit the long ball and with the way the inning had went you could just see the gap shot coming. All Lincoln did was throw three pitches with the final one being a fastball nearly right down the gut that Thome swung right through. What a moment.

The Pirates used the eighth inning to put the game away with three more runs. Alex Presley walked (!) to leadoff the inning and then scored when Sutton doubled to way deep right field. McCutchen followed with a towering home run to push the game to 11-7. The pen did its best to see the Phillies in the game but the offense just would not let it happen.

All in all the offense was really great tonight. They pounded out 14 hits and every player in the lineup had a hit except for Pedro Alvarez. The hitters went 7-for-16 with runners in scoring position and took six walks with three home runs and a pair of doubles. This is the offense you like to see more often and it is a fun offense to watch.

Again tonight it was really all about McKenry. I still don't think that he is an everyday guy but he went 2-for-4 tonight with four runs batted in that included the big three run home run. I think that he wasn't in a very good groove with McDonald tonight but they were able to battle through it and get the job done. While Rod Barajas doesn't have to go on the DL with the bone bruise the solid play from McKenry is letting him rest a little more than he normally would if McKenry wasn't playing well. Hopefully he can keep it up through the weekend.

McCutchen is just a beast of a player. He went 2-for-5 on the night with the home run and even put in a web gem nominee in the eighth inning to rob Hector Luna of a double in the right centerfield gap. I have no idea why teams are pitching to this guy but they continue to do so and he continues to make them pay. It will come to a point where they just walk him when first base is open but until they do he is going to punish the baseball.

I have no idea what Sutton is going to be. He had a pair of hits tonight and had five pretty good plate appearances. I don't think Sutton is going to be one of those "hidden gem" guys because he did this exact thing with the Rays before he kind of went down the tubes but as long as he is hitting well you need to have him in the lineup. I kind of put him in the same category as McKenry. Ride the hot hand.

As frustrating as Walker makes me he really bounced back and had a nice offensive game after a really bad first at bat. He went 3-for-4 with a walk and three runs scored while he doubled in one of his at bats. Walker is a frustrating player because he is so streaky and I think that he gets way too much of a pass from the media and fans in Pittsburgh but nights like tonight really show you what he is capable of.

As you know I am a huge Tabata fan but something needs to give. In the big eighth inning that the Phillies had he misplayed a ball pretty bad when he lost it in the lights and earlier in the game he came up with runners on the corner and only one out he struck out when he saw six pitches and not a single one of them were in the strike zone. I have no idea what his deal is but he has just been brutal. I know a ton of people are talking about getting Tabata out of the lineup but I am just not sure there is a good alternative. Tabata has been bad but he gets on base at a much better rate than Presley and lets not pretend like Presley has been good at all. Also do not give me the #freeStarlingMarte stuff because he progression and movement through the system should not be determined by the play of Tabata or Presley. Tough situation and I have no idea what to do.

This was the first time of the season when McDonald gave up more than three runs. He didn't have his best stuff tonight but he still gave the team a chance to win. He only got 5.2 innings and threw 100 pitches but he really settled down after the first inning. He was all over the place in the first and hung a pitch that Ruiz took deep but then he settled in and threw four straight scoreless innings to let the Pirates offense score some runs. Was it an ideal outing? No. Did he do enough to give the team a chance to win? Absolutely. You aren't going to go out and give up only one or two runs in eight innings every start and I have said this before that I like to judge a pitcher on the outings he has when he doesn't have his best stuff. McDonald passed that test tonight. Last year this kind of start to the game for McDonald would have led to a outing of less than four innings with him giving up six or seven runs. A huge improvement this year.

All the things I talked about were important in the game but Lincoln's inning of work was by far, and away, the most important point of the game. The pitch he threw to Thome was a challenge pitch and where it was located it was either going to be a strikeout or a 500 foot bomb. Luckily it was the former. Lincoln might not have been a success as a starter but he has been lights out in the pen and that was no more evident than it was tonight. After tonight Lincoln has inherited eight runners and not let a single one of them score. Just great stuff from Lincoln tonight.

Going into the series I thought that a split would be OK and three wins would be preferable but now the Pirates have a chance to split with A.J. Burnett on the bump. It is an afternoon start (1:05 p.m.) so make sure you remember that.

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