The Pirates offense has been struggling to hit consistently in the month of September. Pittsburgh entered game action Sunday with a five game skid, and having scored more than just one run in only one of those games. In back-to-back games against the 100-plus lost Houston Astros, the Pirates were only able to score two runs, each solo-home runs. Looking for a spark to finish the 2012 season on a high-note over their final stretch, the offense finally came alive to give them their 75th win of the season.
The Bucs sparked a hit parade at Miller Park, combining for 18 hits, just one shy of their season-high 19. They drove in eight runs for the first time since driving in nine in the loss at Wrigley Field in Chicago on September 16th. Of those 18 knocks, just three came for extra-base hits. But for Manager Clint Hurdle, that is a good sign that things could be turning. They “singled to death” the Astros’ starter Jordan Lyles and their bullpen.
“The one thing that happens in this game is when you start not getting the results you want, I think people have the tendency of wanting to do something big and impactful,” Hurdle said. “It’s been ongoing for a while. What you need to do is connect the dots. Single someone to death. We talk about it all the time. Single somebody to death. Hit five singles in a row. Easier said than done, but the mind-set has got to change. You can not continue to do things the way you’ve been doing them and expect different results. It’s a definition of insanity.”
Seven of the eight runs came on two big innings from the Pirates.
A four-run fifth inning broke up the scoreless game. Back-to-back singles from Alex Presley and Josh Harrison started the frame, and a walk to Andrew McCutchen loaded the bases. After the Astros brought in a left-handed reliever, Hurdle pinch-hit the southpaw bat of Garrett Jones for Gaby Sanchez. Sanchez was hit by a pitch to drive in the first run of the game.
Jose Tabata was the next to step to the plate as a pinch-hitter. And he, too, was given a free pass. Tabata drew a four-pitch walk to bring home the second run. The Pirates finally put their bats in the equation after back-to-back RBI singles from Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas finished off the four-run frame. The four-run fifth was the first four-run inning for the club since August 28th against St. Louis.
After picking up another run in the sixth, McCutchen’s second hit of the day drove in Harrison and pushed his season average to .338, Pittsburgh put together another multi-run frame in the eighth.
Three straight hits with one out drove in two more and starter A.J. Burnett joined in on the hit party with an RBI single of his own. The offensive game snapped the club out of their five-game losing streak and gave them just their fifth win in the month of September.
Burnett Becomes the Stopper in Eight Inning Performance
When the Pirates have needed a stopper to help snap the club out of a funk, A.J. Burnett has been that guy for most of the 2012 season. On Sunday in Houston, the veteran tossed eight impressive frames notching a new season-high in strikeouts.
Burnett dealt against the Astros, hold them to just one run in his 29th start of the season for Pittsburgh. He tossed a shutout through five and gave up his lone run on a two-out solo shot in the sixth. Scott More took a 1-1 fastball for the long ball, but Burnett was able to keep the runs at that mark.
The right-hander notched his season-high 11th strikeout in the eighth inning, passing the 10 whiffs he’s reached twice this season. Burnett got Jose Altuve swinging in the two punchout frame. The right-hander held the Astros to just four hits over his eight innings with just one walk while throwing 109 pitches.
After a rough month of August when he posted a 5.18 ERA, Burnett has not allowed more than three runs in any of his five starts this month. Burnett became the Pirates first pitcher to win 16 games in a season since 1991 when Zane Smith went 16-10.
Huntington Addresses SEALs Criticism
General Manager Neal Huntington addressed the Navy SEALs training program held at Fall Instructs for the Minor Leaguers on Sunday. The organization was criticized after a report in the Tribune review involving an email from assistant GM Kyle Stark. Huntington supported Stark calling him a “tremendous front-office executive” and that the report was inaccurate.
Huntington also told the Tribune that despite the team being in the midst of a second straight season collapse that he will not change the front office and that he believes in what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. The team President Frank Coonelly and Owner Bob Nutting, however, could decide to go different ways with Huntington due to the struggles in the final month and a half in the season. Huntington acknowledged that it was their call, but said he hoped they decided not to replace him.