The Pirates are in first place. That may change by the end of the night, but thanks to an offensive outburst Pittsburgh is currently looking down at the NL Central.
Four Houston batters reached base in the first inning. Only one of those runners reached by way of a hit. McDonald struggled early with his control as he walked three batters and gave up an RBI single to JD Martinez in a 26 pitch first frame.
“He wasn’t sharp,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said of McDonald’s first inning. “He pitched himself in some tight situations and we were lucky to only be down one run.”
McDonald transitioned into a much smoother second, as he matched Astros righty Jordan Lyles in a 1-2-3 inning to keep the score at 1-0 Houston before the couple struck out five of the seven batters in the third.
JD Martinez hit a leadoff double to start the fourth inning for Houston but the Astros could not capitalize before the top of Pittsburgh’s lineup took the plate.
Andrew McCutchen singled and Garrett Jones blasted the first pitch he faced over the right field wall to put the Bucs in front 2-1.
“If we don’t put some runs on the board in the first couple innings we know it’s just a matter of time before we get a few,” McCutchen said of the Pittsburgh offense. “We are getting that confidence and belief in each other.”
Neil Walker followed the homer with a solo shot of his own, marking the fifth time this season that the Pirates have hit back-to-back dingers.
Jones was just one of the many impressed, “It was cool to see Walker hit a homerun right after me. We had a great offensive game. The bats came alive and everybody was swinging well, so it was a lot of fun.”
The scoring didn’t stop there though. Casey McGehee doubled before Clint Barmes drove him in to give the Pirates a four run inning and a three run lead.
A Carlos Lee single and McDonald error in the top of the fifth awarded Houston their best scoring opportunity since the first inning but the Astros again could not cross home before Pittsburgh continued the onslaught.
“The four run inning sparked him,” Hurdle said of McDonald. “After that, there was downhill angle, he finished with the fastball, he threw the breaking ball early, he threw the breaking ball late and a few change-ups showed up. So the packaged came together [after the first].”
New addition Drew Sutton opened the bottom of the frame with a standup triple and McCutchen proceeded to drive him home with an extra base hit of his own. Sutton’s triple was the Pirates second of the game. It was the third time this season that Pittsburgh has recorded multiple triples in one game.
Again Jones followed his all-star teammate with an RBI. His double to center was the third consecutive extra-base hit for the Pirates and it allowed McCutchen to reach home, giving the Pirates a 6-1 lead.
Hurdle credited the rally to patience. “We took some better swings later and we were able to find a way to score. What was really impressive was backing up the home runs with off-field doubles and off-wall doubles. We were hitting the ball to the big part of the park.”
Walker reached base via balls and a wild pitch advanced the runners for McGehee. The third-baseman didn’t disappoint as he hit the Pirates third double of the inning to drive in Jones and Walker to bump Pittsburgh’s lead to 8-1.
Pittsburgh, who was averaging less than three extra-base hits per game, recorded four in the fifth inning alone. The Pirates finished the night with nine—three more than their previous season high.
McDonald competed three more innings and the Pirates scored three more runs to seal the victory.
“I’m happy with the way I recovered,” McDonald stated after a nearly disastrous first inning. “That is the big difference between last year and this year. I would have let things spiral out of control, but I’m better this year at picking myself up. My command improved and we got aggressive. I also had some good defense behind me and it really helped me”
The win was McDonald’s eighth of the year, putting him one behind AJ Burnett for the team lead.
Burnett will have a chance to extend his cushion tomorrow night at 7:05 when he faces Lucas Harrell in the second game of the series.