Chase d’Arnaud led the Pirates to their 50th win of the season with sparkling defense and aggressive baserunning, and four Pirates pitchers combined to shut out the Reds by a score of 2-0. The Pirates now sit alone atop the National League Central, a half-game ahead of the Brewers and Cardinals after Milwaukee’s loss in Arizona.
Starting pitcher Charlie Morton labored through the first inning, throwing 14 balls among his 32 total pitches. With runners at the corners and nobody out, he induced a weak comebacker from Joey Votto and struck out Brandon Phillips. After an intentional walk to Jay Bruce, Morton was one strike away from escaping the jam when Mother Nature struck. Blinding lightning and booming thunder interrupted the electrifying moment, sending players and umpires scurrying for the dugouts. Heavy rain followed, and the delay lasted for about 80 minutes. When play resumed, the crowd’s enthusiasm soared as if the game had never halted. Miguel Cairo worked the count to 2-2 before bouncing one back through the middle. D’Arnaud ranged to his left and laid out for the grounder, flipped to second for the inning-ending force, and the crowd erupted in pent-up exuberance.
D’Arnaud again sparked some excitement in the fourth, leading off with a single and hustling to third when Neil Walker followed with a single of his own. He came home when Andrew McCutchen rolled one to short, and a Matt Diaz sacrifice fly plated Walker to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead they would not relinquish. Unfortunately, d’Arnaud was banged up while diving into third on Walker’s single, and later left the game with a stiff neck.
It was a gutty effort by Morton, who pitched five shutout innings, allowing three hits and walking two while notching three strikeouts. He had amassed 52 pitches through two innings with an extensive rain delay mixed in, but rebounded to complete his final three innings on only 33 additional pitches en route to his eighth win. Tony Watson retired the first eight batters he faced over 2.2 shutout innings, but a questionable catcher’s interference call and a subsequent walk knocked him from the game. Daniel McCutchen came in to shut down the inning, getting Cairo to foul out behind the plate. Joel Hanrahan pitched a quiet ninth for his 27th save.
Alex Presley continued to hit well, putting up a 2 for 4 night. He also roped a 101 MPH Aroldis Chapman fastball to left field that was caught. Walker kept up his recent hot streak, going 2 for 3 on the night.
The 22,016 fans on hand were energized throughout the game, with the majority waiting out the delays and staying until almost midnight for the final out. The crowd was roaring with approval during the 9th inning, as Hanrahan capped off a well-played victory with a 1-2-3 inning.
The Pirates hosted a few of us bloggers at the ballpark tonight. Tim and I represented Pirates Prospects, and we were joined by Charlie and Vlad of Bucs Dugout, Brian from Raise the Jolly Roger, and Tom from Rumbunter. We had a chance to take in a few minutes of batting practice before rain sent us searching for shelter. We also were able to interview Jeff Karstens, Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington before heading up to a suite for the game. Look for notes from the interviews on the site in the near future. Thanks to Matt Nordby and the Pirates for putting the evening together.