As opposed to many of the games with scores manager Clint Hurdle likens to World Cup soccer matches, the Pirates (39-26) bashed their way to victory no. 10,000 as an organization at the expense of the Giants (33-31).
Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, and Andrew McCutchen combined to bat 10-for-15 out of the first three slots in the order, and scored eight runs collectively. On the mound, Francisco Liriano earned his fifth win of the season after allowing four runs on eight hits over six innings.
“The top of the order was really special tonight. The runs and the hits, they just kept fueling us from the first inning through the eighth,” Hurdle said. “That’s why you have them hitting first, second, and third.”
Marte himself scored four runs in a 4-for-5 day at the plate that saw the young left-fielder lead off three separate scoring innings, and steal two bases off San Francisco catcher Buster Posey. In his first at-bat Marte singled then advanced to second on an errant throw by shortstop Brandon Crawford, and later scored on a RBI single by McCutchen.
“The main thing with me on base was getting pressure on the pitcher knowing that Mercer and then McCutchen are good hitters,” Marte said through a translator. “That was one of the keys for me, to be on base and put pressure with those other hitters.”
Marte also led off the third with a single, in which the Pirates scored three runs, as well as the fifth when the Pirates scored four to take a 8-4 lead. On Marte’s first career four-hit day, the outfielder knocked hits through the middle and into right center which he attributed to an adjustment other Pirates recommended to him.
“Some of the players were talking to me to wait a little bit longer for the ball and I tried to do that today,” Marte said. “You see the results.”
For Hurdle, Marte’s big night comes as Marte seeing the ball better and swinging at quality pitches.
“It goes back to pitch selection, seeing the ball up, trying to maintain discipline throughout the at-bat—plate discipline, zone discipline,” Hurdle said.
Following Marte, Mercer continued to capitalize on playing time afforded to him behind Clint Barmes with a 3-for-5 day at the dish with two runs scored. Tonight’s effort was yet another instance of the boost Mercer has provided to the Pirates, one that likely made the organization comfortable enough to trade away John McDonald.
“The volume of the work has been very solid, very professional,” Hurdle said about Mercer’s recent performance. “He’s handled left-handed pitching when he’s gotten the start very, very well, he’s matched up very well. His confidence continues to grow.”
For Mercer personally, the last few games have begun to showcase the Pirates’ offensive ability.
“Anytime that you go on a little struggle you keep grinding out at-bats and good thing will happen, we’ve done that so far,” Mercer said. “Things are starting to turn.”
Plus, hitting between Marte and McCutchen makes Mercer’s job a tad easier.
“It’s pretty special because you know the guy in front of you, if he gets on, more likely he’s going to steal a bag, so basically you got one job to do and that’s to get him over and you know the guy behind you is going to pick you up,” Mercer said. “It’s pretty cool to hit between those two guys, that’s for sure.”
Hitting out of the three-hole, McCutchen went 3-for-5 as well with three RBI, two runs scored, and a double.
With the offense provided by the top three alone, the Pirates were well on their way to winning a game in which the pitching was not up to the standard displayed by the Bucco staff thus far in 2013.
Liriano (5-2) entered with a 1.75 earned run average, but allowed four Giants to score in six innings. Over his 91 pitches, Liriano struck out just two batters and walked three—numbers polar opposite for the pitcher who entered the game with 47 strikeouts in 36 innings.
“That’s one of those nights when you have to go out and battle, and compete,” Liriano said. “That’s what we did tonight.”
Fortunately, the Pirates were able to chase Liriano’s mound opponent Barry Zito in the fifth inning and hand Zito another loss on the road where he now owns a 11.28 ERA. Zito (4-5) pitched four and two-thirds innings and allowed eight runs on 11 hits.
“I think I made some good pitches today that they were fouling off, and they took some pitches that I got a swing-and-miss before,” Liriano said.
The consecutive wins for the Pirates against Zito tonight and Tim Lincecum yesterday also marks the eighth time in franchise history the Bucs handed losses to former Cy Young winners in two straight games.
Out of the bullpen, Justin Wilson continued to have a rough week with two runs allowed in the seventh inning, while Tony Watson allowed two more to score in the eighth. But the Giants never came close to the Pirates as Neil Walker and Alex Presley each hit home runs in the late innings to help extend the Pirates’ lead to as large as 10-4 in the seventh inning.
Walker’s home run in the eighth was originally ruled as a double but then changed to a home run when video replay showed umpires the ball bounced off a seat above the Clemente Wall and back into right field.
Walker finished the night 3-for-5 with the home run and a two-run single in the fifth inning that helped the Pirates take a 8-4 lead after San Francisco tied the contest at four in the top half of the inning.
Jason Grilli entered in the ninth and pitched a perfect inning to keep the 12-8 victory intact, as the Pirates consistently responded to challenges posed by the Giants.
“It was a night that every run counted, they always do, but we were able to continue to add on,” Hurdle said. “You’re playing a team over there that’s won two championships in the last three years, there’s no quit in them regardless of who takes the field or who’s pitching—they kept coming and we just kept adding on.”