There were many moments in Pittsburgh’s improbable come-from-behind 10-7 win against Cincinnati on Sunday that could be pointed to as turning points.
Michael McKenry’s first home run, Starling Marte’s home run, McKenry’s second home run, Travis Snider’s near home run — all possible moments when the momentum shifted to the Pirates side. From my seat, however, Pittsburgh took control of the game during Andrew McCutchen’s at-bat in the seventh inning.
Snider had just hit what appeared to be a home run but was originally ruled a double. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle came out for clarification on the play, and after the umpires had the play reviewed the double stood.
“I haven’t seen the replay,” Hurdle said after the game. “All I can get them to do is convene. They thought they had the call. You got to go out there and push it. They were kind of like they had it right and I said, ‘It’s never going to look good if you don’t and I’d like for you to check,’ and they checked and made the decision they’re going to make. I thought that ball was hit as good as any of them.”
That made the score 5-2.
Snider was the last batter Cincinnati starting pitcher Mat Latos would face, handing the ball over to Logan Ondrusek. After a wild pitch that moved Snider to third, McCutchen smacked a ball to left field and kept the Pirates momentum going in their attempt to chip away at the Reds lead.
“Just keep the chain moving,” Snider said. “They say home runs are rally killers so maybe it’s better off that we didn’t end up getting that call. Hitting in front of Cutch, any time you get on base there’s a good chance you’re scoring. As a 2-hole hitter in that situation you do what you can to get on base and let the big man work.”
Michael McKenry, who probably won’t have to pick up a tab in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future after his performance on Sunday, said McCutchen’s hit played a big part in keeping the rally going after what could have been a deflating video review.
“That instant replay can really shift the momentum,” he said. “We thought it was a homer and they came back and said it was a double. It can really have that momentum shift. For Cutch to stay focused, stay locked in and get that base knock it was huge.”
McCutchen, for his part, said he was just trying to keep up with the rest of the Pirates at the plate.
“Hitting is contagious. That’s the way I look at it,” McCutchen said. “It’s why we do what we do and when one person hits the next person wants to and that’s just the way it goes.”
Pitcher Phil Irwin made his big league debut, and while things could not have started much worse for the former Ole Miss Rebel once he got over his nerves and settled down he was able to keep the Pirates in the game.
The Reds plated two runs in each of the first two innings and another fifth before Irwin’s exit.
“The first two innings I was just fighting through some nerves,” Irwin said. “I felt like I settled down pretty good and once I did I felt normal. The stuff was there and the command was there. I was trying to be as calm as possible and I was trying to look as calm as possible even though that wasn’t quite the case.”
Hurdle said despite the rocky start he thinks Irwin will remember his first experience at PNC Park as a good one.
“I think he’ll look back at this and it will be a very gratifying experience because we walked away with a W. I think there was definitely some nerves out there that he dealt with,” Hurdle said. “I think he finally found his rhythm in the third to some degree and Johnny McDonald made a big play early to minimize some damage. He got us to a manageable part of the game when it looked like that might now happen. I just think he had to settle down and he didn’t really settle down and find his comfort zone out there until the third inning. It was good to see him battle and he’ll feel much better when he gets the ball and the opportunity again.”
Irwin said when things were rough in the early innings his new teammates were there to pick him up and instill some semblance of confidence in the young hurler.
“McKenry just kept talking to me and making sure I settled down and Pedro came and visited me in the first. He was just like, ‘Hey just throw it over the plate. We’re behind you. If you can make them hit it we’re going to make some plays for you.’ That made me feel a lot more comfortable.”
Entering Sunday’s contest the Pirates had hit three home runs this season. They matched that with two blast from McKenry and one from Marte in just one game and needed each one to complete the comeback and sweep of the Reds.
“Timely and much needed and it’s not the easiest position for a young player to be in,” Hurdle said of McKenry’s multiple home runs. “He competes and he works as hard as anybody we have and it’s always nice when you see players that have the unselfish mentality and attitude to have success and to make a difference and impact the game.”
It’s still too early to get too depressed or excited about a single game or a single series, but the significance of this weekend’s series with the Reds can not be understated. It was the Pirates first sweep against Cincinnati since 2010 and with the Reds expected to be among the National League’s elite it could serve to send a message to the rest of the league that despite their slow start these Pirates are no pushovers.
There’s no time to dwell on what went on at PNC Park during the last three days with St. Louis coming to town to open a three-game series today. Right-hander Lance Lynn is scheduled to pitch for the division-leading Cardinals while James McDonald will start on the mound for Pittsburgh. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 and I’ll be back at PNC Park with insight before, during and after the game.