The Pirates’ offense jumped on starter Cliff Lee and the Phillies’ relievers for 14 hits for a 6-4 win Thursday afternoon. Add in the fact that manager Clint Hurdle made far more of the right moves than his counterpart Charlie Manuel, and the Bucs wrapped a key four-game series win.
This is not a game the Pirates would have won last April. They didn’t even reach 14 hits in a game last year until June 27. Posting 10 hits on Lee is certainly not unprecedented (four teams did it last year), but the feat is not something the 2012 Pirates would have accomplished early in the year. This time around they have Travis Snider, Starling Marte and Gaby Sanchez, plus a Pedro Alvarez that is flashing his power earlier than in years past.
After six innings of failing to drive in baserunners Thursday, the Bucs made their move with two outs in the 7th. Trailing 3-1, Andrew McCutchen singled (his first hit of the series) to move Marte to second. Then Sanchez, who had scored the only Pirates run with a solo homer in the 6th, singled in Marte and put the tying run McCutchen on third.
It looked like Lee was done when Manuel walked up the mound. Instead, he stayed in and coughed up the game-tying RBI single to Michael McKenry before getting Alvarez to ground out as his final batter. Whether or not Lee convinced Manuel he was good to go, the decision to keep the starter in backfired on the Phillies manager.
But that’s not all! Phillippe Aumont took the mound in the 8th and proceeded to look like a reliever you have never heard of. After striking out Neil Walker, Aumont hit Clint Barmes (Barmes Offense Alert!) and gave up back-to-back singles to Snider and Marte. Hurdle correctly substituted Garrett Jones to pinch-hit for Brandon Inge, and Jones rewarded him with sharp two-run double off the right field wall. And boy, did the boos from frustrated Phillies fans rain down.
Aumont was removed, but Chad Durbin gave up another run to the Bucs. Sanchez hit a short fly ball with the bases loaded, but Marte decided to let it ride on John Mayberry. The right fielder’s throw was just wide enough up the baseline for Marte to narrowly avoid Erik Kratz’s tag (speed kills, children), and the Pirates were up 6-3. Alvarez nearly hit a grand slam, but swung just ahead of two pitches, smacking them foul towards the upper deck.
After losing the opening series to the Cubs, the Pirates embarked on 28 straight games against teams that finished .500 or better last season. They are now 12-7 on that run, including this 6-2 run against the Braves and the Phillies. Early-season records are largely based on the scheduled you face, and the Bucs have been impressive against strong competition.
McDonald: Neither Good Nor Bad
Whenever James McDonald makes a start, there is always a focus on whether hitters see “Good J-Mac” or “Bad J-Mac.” Such a black-or-white designation can’t really be made for his Thursday outing.
He certainly looked like J-Mac The Good (though not great) early on. He retired 9 of his first 10 hitters, allowing only a second-inning double to Ryan Howard. Walking Chase Utley to start the fourth bit McDonald, though, as he scored after a wild pitch and RBI double by Domonic Brown.
Still, McDonald was noticeably more efficient than usual, throwing only 71 pitches through his first five innings. But as usual, he became more hittable in the sixth inning, giving up a leadoff walk and two straight singles to leave the bullpen in a bit of a bind.
His final line: 5+ IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K and 50 strikes on 87 pitches. Again, not bad, but not living up to a No. 3 starter’s billing.
As we have become accustomed to, the bullpen nailed down the later innings. Justin Wilson took the troubles handed to him in the sixth and got three straight outs, allowing only one of McDonald’s runners to score. He followed with a 1-2-3 seventh inning, striking out Kratz and Jimmy Rollins.
With Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli unavailable after pitching the last two nights, Tony Watson got the two-out save. His blemish in the eighth inning: Kevin Frandsen hit a leadoff double and came around to score on a Howard groundout.