The Tuesday Takeaway
It finally happened. For the first time since 1992, when this writer was two years old, the Pirates have won 81 games in a season, clinching at least a .500 winning percentage and setting their sights on a whole lot more.
Andrew McCutchen got the Bucs going with a solo home run off of Yovani Gallardo in the opening frame, but the Brewers countered with a pair of tallies against Gerrit Cole in the last of the first. McCutchen then teamed up with newcomers Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd to draw the Pirates even in the top of the third. Three straight singles knotted the score at 2-2.
McCutchen, Morneau, and Byrd joined forces again to put the Pirates ahead in the top of the eighth. The center fielder walked, the first baseman singled, and the right fielder doubled to make it 3-2. But Vin Mazzaro failed to hold the line in the home half of the frame, issuing a leadoff walk to Caleb Gindl, who came around to score on an RBI knock by Jean Segura.
That set the stage for Travis Snider to deliver the biggest hit in the franchise’s recent history. Snider pinch-hit for Mazzaro leading off the top of the ninth, worked a 2-2 count on six pitches, and then walloped a hanging slider from Jim Henderson 424 feet to right-center field to give the visitors a 4-3 lead. Mark Melancon allowed a two-out double to Scooter Gennett in the bottom of the ninth, but he punched out Khris Davis on a curveball to officially end the Pirates’ streak of 20 losing seasons.
With that milestone out of the way, Clint Hurdle’s club can now focus on bigger goals—such as winning the National League Central and contending for a pennant. The Pirates haven’t notched their 81st win of the season in 138 games or fewer since 1979, the last time they won the World Series. And, while Pittsburgh celebrated Snider’s heroics, the Cardinals were stymied by Homer Bailey, Manny Parra, and Aroldis Chapman, who combined on a two-hit shutout in a 1-0 Reds win that pushed the Pirates’ division lead to two games.
That’s the largest Central edge the Pirates have held since August 20. More importantly, it ensures that Pittsburgh will enjoy at least a half-game lead when the Bucs head to St. Louis for a three-game set at Busch Stadium this weekend, the final showdown between the Pirates and Cardinals this season.
Quick Hits from Tuesday
A well-played, two-hour, 2-1 ballgame is always nice. But for fans who prefer slop-fests, the Nationals and Phillies delivered one for the ages last night.
Before last night, according to the Baseball-Reference Play Index—which goes back to 1916—there had been only 65 occasions on which a team won a game despite being charged with four wild pitches. Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Mattheus uncorked two apiece on Tuesday. And the Nationals still prevailed, 9-6, to raise that total to 66.
But on top of those four wild pitches, the Nationals also committed three fielding errors, one in the fourth inning and two more in the sixth. Carlos Ruiz reached on an error by Ryan Zimmerman in the fourth inning and scored on a single by Cody Asche. John Mayberry moved straight into scoring position on a two-base throwing error by Ian Desmond, which also allowed Darin Ruf to score in the sixth. And later that inning, Michael Martinez, who singled, went from first to third on a throwing error by Bryce Harper and later scored on a single by Chase Utley.
Did I mention that the Nationals won this game? Well, they did, because the Phillies couldn’t throw a strike. That’s only a modest exaggeration: six Phillies pitchers combined to throw 180 pitches, and only 88 of them went into the book as strikes. Ryne Sandberg’s hurlers walked nine Nationals (one intentionally), hit one, added a fifth wild pitch to the game’s total, and committed a balk. Asche also contributed a throwing error, just for good measure.
And that’s how the Nationals became the first team since 1916 to win a game in which its pitchers threw at least four wild pitches and its fielders made at least three errors.
It’s tough to hang a loss on Max Scherzer these days. The Rangers did it on July 13 by plating four runs off the right-hander and three more off of Al Alburquerque, while Derek Holland, Joakim Soria, and Neal Cotts held the Tigers to one. The A’s tried to do it on August 29, when Scherzer was charged with a season-high six runs (five earned), but Jerry Blevins and Grant Balfour squandered the lead in relief of Bartolo Colon.
Thus, Scherzer took the mound at Fenway Park making his second bid for his 20th win of the season and a chance to become just the second pitcher in major-league history to compile a 20-1 record. He allowed only two runs, both of them on a fifth-inning single by Will Middlebrooks. But in Jon Lester and the Red Sox bullpen, Scherzer and the Tigers met their match for the second time in 2013.
Lester, resembling the pitcher who turned in back-to-back 3.0-plus WARP campaigns in 2009 and 2010, limited the Tigers to a run on eight hits in seven innings of work. He struck out nine and walked none, becoming just the second pitcher this season to fan at least that many Tigers without issuing a base on balls. Felix Hernandez, who whiffed a dozen on April 17, watched Scherzer match him inning for inning and strikeout for strikeout in a game the Tigers eventually won in the 14th. But while Lester and Scherzer both pitched seven innings on Tuesday night, the lefty permitted one run and the righty two—and Boston’s bullpen protected the razor-thin lead in the eighth and ninth.
John Farrell took no chances in the eighth inning, using three relievers to navigate the heart of Jim Leyland’s lineup. Rookie Brandon Workman drew the task of retiring Miguel Cabrera, who returned to the field after a couple of days off, and he coaxed a fly ball to right. Craig Breslow was called upon to face Prince Fielder, and he induced a ground ball to second before allowing a single to the switch-hitting Victor Martinez. With the right-handed-hitting Omar Infante up next, Farrell brought in Junichi Tazawa, who struck out Detroit’s keystoner to set the stage for Koji Uehara in the ninth.
Uehara did not disappoint. He fanned two more Tigers and needed only nine pitches to earn his 17th save. Uehara’s numbers since taking over the Red Sox closer role full time on June 26 are otherworldly. He has pitched 32 1/3 innings over 29 games, and he has given up only two runs, one of which was unearned. But that’s not all: In those 32 1/3 innings, he has also allowed only 10 hits while walking two and striking out 43. That adds up to a 21.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and an opponents’ average below .100.
The 38-year-old has made 26 consecutive appearances without allowing an earned run. Had the streak ended last night, Scherzer would still be 19-1.
Defensive Play(s) of the Night
The Athletics lost to the Rangers, 5-1, on Tuesday night, but Josh Donaldson turned in what might be the foul-ball catch of the year:
A long run? Check. A lunging catch? Check. A tarp to contend with? Check. What more could you want?
What to Watch for on Wednesday
- A left-hander with a gigantic frame, Brian Flynn came to the Marlins from the Tigers in the deal that sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to Detroit, and he’s now ready to give Miami a taste of the talent it acquired. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Flynn excelled at the two highest stops in the Marlins’ minor-league chain, posting a 1.57 ERA in four outings for Double-A Jacksonville and a 2.80 mark in 23 trips for Triple-A New Orleans, totaling 147 strikeouts and 43 walks over 161 innings on the bump. Flynn’s first big-league assignment will come at Wrigley Field, where he is scheduled to lock horns with Jeff Samardzija this afternoon (2:20 p.m. ET).
- With their wild card hopes on the line, the Orioles need their key lineup cogs to get hot and stay hot over the next four weeks. So far, though, two of their outfielders haven’t gotten the memo. In the seven days preceding Tuesday night’s game, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis combined to go 12-for-63 (.190) with two extra-base hits and 12 strikeouts. Tonight, as the Orioles wrap up their three-game series with the Indians and return to Baltimore to welcome the White Sox, Jones and Markakis will take their hacks against Zach McAllister. They are just 1-for-9 lifetime versus the Cleveland right-hander, who has not taken on the Orioles this season, but J.J. Hardy is 3-for-6 with a home run (7:05 p.m. ET).
- The Rays opted to give Jeremy Hellickson an extended period of rest after his most recent start, in which the Royals sent him to the showers after just 2 2/3 innings with five runs on seven hits and two walks on his line. Hellickson has struggled throughout the 2013 campaign, but his ERA, now at 5.21, is as high as it has been since June 19. The 26-year-old right-hander is now preparing to face the Angels for the first time this season, and with the Rays’ lineup scuffling, he’ll need to regain his erstwhile form in Southern California. Mike Scioscia is set to counter with Jered Weaver, who owns a 2.59 ERA over 10 starts at home this season, in which he has pitched 66 innings and permitted only five home runs (10:05 p.m. ET).