The Pittsburgh Pirates jerseys are camouflaged on this Memorial Day weekend, but for once, the Pirates offense was more visible than ever.
The Bucs completed a sweep of the Chicago Cubs with a 10-4 victory Sunday afternoon, a hitting attack combined with a fine start from pitcher Erik Bedard. The victory included the most runs the team has scored all season, the most hits since May 3 (11), and their first three-game sweep at PNC Park since Sep. 2010.
The offensive display included homers by the Pirates’ top three home run hitters: Pedro Alvarez in the 1st, Andrew McCutchen in the 5th and Garrett Jones in the 6th. It may have been a cloudy afternoon, but the bats shined brightest for the Bucs in a six-run 6th inning, the most runs scored in an inning for the team since last August.
“It was definitely good that we were able to do that, break through and not leave it at three runs,” McCutchen said. “We’ve had those opportunities plenty of times and not been able to come through. But today we were able to come through.”
The Early Lead
Jose Tabata got the offense rolling with a leadoff single in the 1st. Josh Harrison laid down what he thought was a good sacrifice bunt. It got better for him when pitcher Matt Garza threw the ball wide, sending Tabata to third base and Harrison to second.
After Tabata was thrown out at home by third baseman Joe Mather, Pedro Alvarez laced a hitters’ count changeup from Garza over the right field fence. The three-run shot gave Alvarez his team-high 8th home run, and it was also the first time a Pirates player drove in more than two runs on one hit this season. After the home run ball bounced back onto the field, Cubs right fielder David DeJesus fired the ball out of the stadium, evidently unhappy that Alvarez put a 3-0 lead on his struggling team.
“Whenever we can get a couple runs early on, a little cushion… the pitchers have the opportunity to execute their pitches without all that pressure,” Alvarez said.
Garza settled in once he gave up a second-inning triple to Tabata. The Cubs righty retired 9 of the next 10 Pirates hitters, five of them via strikeout.
But in the fifth inning, Andrew McCutchen could not allow Alvarez to keep the Pirates’ home run lead any longer. McCutchen turned on a Garza changeup, smacking a laser-beam line drive into the left-field bleachers for his 8th homer of the season. Not that the center fielder was thinking about the team-high significance.
“I’m not trying to hit a home run, just trying to put the barrel on the bat,” McCutchen said.
Bedard Keeps Cubs Scoreless
Meanwhile, Pirates starter Erik Bedard was keeping an already-quiet Cubs offense almost completely silent. The veteran lefty crafted six shutout innings, lowering his season ERA to 3.12. He scattered two singles, the only hits he allowed, and only allowed one Cubs baserunner to get into scoring position. It was an “effective start,” but not the most efficient one, manager Clint Hurdle said, expressing some light concerns about allowing the leadoff hitter to reach base in three of the first four innings.
“Push come to shove, he made pitches, not a lot of hitters retired on three pitches or less, and about a half-dozen three-ball counts,” Hurdle said. “But at the end of the day: no runs, two hits. He got outs when he needed to and changed speeds… job well done for Erik.”
Bedard was also glad to receive some run support that has been hard to come by.
“It feels good to get on a roll like that and score 10 runs,” Bedard said. “It makes it easier for a pitcher to pitch.”
6 In The 6th
It was that 6th inning that stirred the hearts of the 27,486 fans that have become accustomed to watching the worse offense in baseball. After Garza walked Neil Walker on four pitches, Garrett Jones smacked an 0-2 pitch for a homer that landed 10 rows back in right field. It was the third Pirates homer of the day.
That was the end for Garza (5 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 6 SO) and put the Pirates up 6-0, but they were far from done. Rafael Dolis, who got the loss for the Cubs on Saturday night by hitting Matt Hague, walked Hague and McKenry and was promptly removed from the game. After a Bedard sacrifice off new pitcher Michael Bowden, Gorkys Hernandez picked up his first Major League hit, a two-RBI single. Josh Harrison walked, and Andrew McCutchen singled to load the bases.
Pedro Alvarez followed with a sacrifice fly to score Hernandez, then Neil Walker came up for the second time in the inning for an RBI single. Garrett Jones, the 11th Pirates batter of the inning, flew out to end the offensive bonanza. Jones fell just short of two homers in the same inning.
The total damage in that Pirates’ sixth: six runs on four hits and four walks. It was the most runs scored by the Bucs in one inning since Aug. 22, 2011, and it was more runs than they have scored in all but three total games this season. And it gave the camouflauged Pirates a 10-0 lead. So would Hurdle like to keep the camos longer than Monday?
“We did pretty well in the camos, but I think that’s above me. We can petition, let it be known,” Hurdle joked. “Good day on the North Shore. Good day all around.”
Tabata Leaves Game Early With Tightness
On an almost entirely positive day for the Pirates offense, there was one issue of concern: Jose Tabata left in the 6th inning with tightness in his left leg. Tabata was inspected by the trainer and Hurdle on the bases in the 1st inning, but was allowed to remain in the game until the result got out of hand. The young outfielder went 2-for-3 with a single and a triple before checking out early.
“My concern is the same for all my players: I hope he’s not hurt,” Hurdle said. “If he is, we’ll adjust and move on accordingly.”
With a huge lead to work with, the first crooked number for the Pirates’ pitching staff was a three-run 8th inning charged to Chris Resop. He pitched a perfect 7th, but allowed back-to-back singles to Koyie Hill and Blake Lalli. Hill scored on a Tony Campana groundout, the first Cubs run of the day. Then Starlin Castro hit a home run that just crossed the center-field fence, his third long-ball of the season. It was a rare bit of trouble for a bullpen that had allowed only one earned runs in their last 19.1 innings, and came into Sunday with the best relief ERA in the National League.
In the 9th, Darwin Barney doubled in Jeff Baker to scratch across one more Cubs run off reliever Juan Cruz. But the mostly-empty PNC Park (it is rare in Pittsburgh to see fans walking back into downtown along the Clemente Bridge because the Pirates are blowing out their opponents) rose to its feet to cheer the final out of a decisive win and an elusive sweep.