This game went from sunshine and rainbows to utter frustration to relief in about five innings. I don't know how to describe what happened in the bottom of the ninth inning but the Marlins were able to erase a four run deficit thanks to the Pirates bullpen imploding and some questionable managerial decisions but at the end of the day the top of the lineup cleaned up the mess and Gregory Polanco showed us why he was so highly anticipated.
This all starts from a great outing by Jeff Locke. He went eight innings, scattering seven hits, not walking a batter, and striking out seven. The big problem for much of Locke's career has been his control and not being able to throw strikes. Tonight he threw 67 of his 101 pitches for strikes and really had his way with a good Marlins lineup. That is back-to-back really strong starts from Locke and while I don't think he is the answer in the long term it is really nice to be able to get some good starts from guys not named Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton.
The offense did work last night. Namely the top of the lineup did work last night. The outfield trio of Polanco, Starling Marte, and Andrew McCutchen took hold of the top three spots in the lineup for the second night in a row and last night they combined to go 11-for-21 with six runs scored and five runs driven in. They were all over the bases and were a huge driving force in the Pirates chasing Marlins starter Nathan Eovaldi after only 4.2 innings.
Polanco did a bulk of the work late. During a span of extra innings the Pirates had struck out six times but after a Clint Barmes single to leadoff the 13th inning Polanco did this:
Good stuff. Polanco did it all last night. He was going with the pitch and taking it to left field and then he was pulling the ball when pitchers tried to come inside. He hit that laser beam into the stands for his first extra base hit of his career and boy did it come at a good time. Maybe the coolest part of this entire thing is that the fan that caught the ball threw it back onto the field when Polanco came back out for the bottom of the 13th inning. Most times a team official will have to go and bargain with the person to get the ball back but it was just thrown back in exchange for another ball. Really cool stuff.
Now the bad stuff. The Pirates entered the ninth inning up 6-2. Perfect, this was shaping up to be a pretty easy win with the starter going eight innings and the offense really clicking. Justin Wilson was brought in to finish things off since it wasn't a "save situation". Wilson started the inning with a walk before striking out Garrett Jones, and then walking the next hitter. Wilson for sure didn't have his stuff so immediately after the second walk Hurdle was out and brought in Jason Grilli. Maybe the only reason he was out so fast was that it was now a "save situation."
Grilli comes in walks three batters and records only one out. One of those walks was intentional but he walked three guys before Hurdle pulled him with the bases loaded for Mark Melancon to face Casey McGehee. Melancon promptly walked McGehee to tie the game. Up four in the ninth inning four relievers combined to walk six hitters and the Marlins tied the game with only one hit. Just brutally bad.
The whole idea of the "closer" is pretty silly and if you have followed me for any time you know that. Grilli hasn't been the same since his injury last year and if you are going to use your best deliver in the closers role then you better use your best reliever. Grilli isn't even the team's second best reliever. I don't think I have much of a problem for them pulling Wilson but thinking it automatically has to be Grilli when it's a save situation is silly. This is absolutely more about the players on the field than the decision to put Grilli in but unless Tony Watson literally wasn't alive there is no reason he shouldn't have pitched. Maybe he was unavailable but nobody has told me that and considering I asked about a billion times last night it seems as if he was.
The other decision was when it came to that intentional walk I talked about. With runners on first and third and the Pirates up one run Hurdle decided to have Grilli intentionally walk Giancarlo Stanton to load the bases in order to face McGehee. Now this is important because you walked the winning run to second base and you are giving yourself zero margin for error for Melancon to face McGehee. I think we see what happened when you don't have that margin for error, but I am not really sure I would have done something different. Stanton had been teeing off on Pirates pitching all night and is easily one of the best hitters in the league. McGehee is not. This goes against everything I believe in baseball-wise but I probably put Stanton on there too. Melancon was way ahead in the count and has to throw a strike. He typically does not walk a lot of people and I will take my chance letting McGehee hit over Stanton.
This was a wild game. I was so frustrated watching that ninth inning and I thought for sure the Pirates were going to lose this game. Losing this game would have been a crushing loss after how it started, but they were able to get it done. A win is a win and even though it was wildly frustrating they can hopefully put this behind them and go out and win the series tonight.