With the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals losing twice to the lowly Cincinnati Reds earlier on Saturday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a golden opportunity to make a statement
The Pirates responded loudly with a 10-2 drubbing of the Milwaukee Brewers that featured four hits from Josh Harrison, a stellar start by Jeff Locke, and a pinch-hit grand slam by Michael Morse to pull within 2.5 games of St. Louis.
But even though Saturday’s rainy, 57-degree weather certainly felt like fall, the Pirates adamantly stated that this game no more important than any other.
“We’ve talked for years about not having a September gear, an August gear, or playing October baseball,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “You play October baseball from Opening Day.”
Jeff Locke earned his eighth win of the season after he surrendered one run on just three hits in six innings of work against the Brewers. He admitted that the team has been paying attention to what was going on around the league, but that they could not afford to focus on what the Cardinals or Cubs were doing.
“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t know what was going on [in the division],” Locke said. “But we’ve had the mentality since game one that we just have to take care of ourselves and try to beat the opponent, no matter who it is.”
Harrison, who was a last-minute replacement for an ill Starling Marte, went 4-for-4 with a walk in the ballgame and echoed Locke’s sentiments regarding late-season scoreboard watching.
“The minute you put your energy on somebody other than yourself, that’s when you lose focus of what’s important,” Harrison said.
The Pirates focus on the game tonight clearly never waivered.
Pittsburgh’s early offensive outburst led to six earned runs off of Milwaukee’s soft-throwing starter Zach Davies, who struggled to find the strike zone in his brief 3.2-inning outing.
Each of the first five Pirates batters in the third inning reached base and scored as the home team piled hits onto Davies in his second time through the lineup.
After Gregory Polanco walked and Harrison singled, Andrew McCutchen drove a single to right-center field to open the scoring. The next batter, Ramirez, doubled in Harrison and doubled the Pirates lead.
Walker walked and then Francisco Cervelli, with the bases loaded and nobody out, singled up the middle to drive in McCutchen. Ramirez came around to score when center fielder Domingo Santana dropped the ball and Walker scored on a groundout by Jordy Mercer.
Ramirez doubled in Harrison again in the bottom of the fourth inning before Brewers manager Craig Counsell closed the book on Davies.
Contrarily to Davies’ rough outing, Pirates starter Jeff Locke thrived in the dreary weather. Locke only allowed one run on three hits and struck out six in six innings of strong work. The lefty threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 24 batters he faced and used his changeup to maintain an aggressive approach while keeping the Brewers off balance.
Locke gave way to Jared Hughes after he loaded the bases in the top of the seventh inning and gave up his only run. Hughes shut the door quickly to prevent further damage.
The Pirates extinguished any remaining comeback hopes the Brewers may have had in the top of the seventh inning when reliever Cesar Jimenez, who walked three Pirates to load the bases, served up a juicy 89-mph fastball that pinch hitter Michael Morse rode over the Clemente Wall for the Pirates’ second grand slam of the week.
Pittsburgh’s win helps them maintain their position as the second-best team in baseball and brings them closer to the Cardinals than they have been since the All-Star Break. And whether or not scoreboard-watching influences the Pirates’ approach, each game from hereon out will come with more anticipation than the last.
“It’s just a different feeling this year,” Locke said. “We’re right up there with [the Cardinals and the Cubs] and there’s no reason why we can’t finish on top.”
Pittsburgh and Milwaukee close out their four-game series on Sunday afternoon at 1:35 PM when Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano (10-7, 3.28 ERA) takes on Brewers rookie Taylor Jungmann (9-6, 2.87 ERA).