Walker’s Homer Breaks Stalemate, Pirates Beat Tigers 1-0

Before we get to the game’s pivotal moment, I should praise the work of Clint Hurdle to counteract my usual desire to bury him.

Neil Walker Pirates

Neil Walker hit 9-for-21 on the Pirates’ five-game road trip. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Eyebrows were raised when Hurdle removed Jeanmar Gomez with 73 pitches. Gomez had retired the last eight Detroit Tigers hitters, and looked primed to keep working through the bottom of the order. But Hurdle knew Gomez’s season high is 79 pitches, and opted for Justin Wilson, whose only hiccups in two innings were a Prince Fielder single and a Victor Martinez fly ball that Comerica Park would not let go over its wall.

Pulling Pedro Alvarez to use Josh Harrison as a pinch runner was curious in a scoreless game, one in which Alvarez’s lineup spot could have come up again, but I won’t burn Hurdle for giving Harrison a chance for redemption. He dropped in Jordy Mercer for Clint Barmes with a chance to go ahead in the 10th, but Mercer’s fly ball did not drop. Using Mark Melancon in the 10th inning was genius, then Jason Grilli was the obvious choice in the 11th inning once the Pirates had the lead.

Well done, Clint Hurdle. Now let’s get to Neil Walker’s home run.

It wasn’t quite certain why Ortega was still on the mound after nearly giving up the go-ahead run the previous innings, but there he was. The Pirates had swung at fewer than 20% of all first pitches before Neil Walker stepped in against Jose Ortega in the 11th inning. Walker came up to the plate swinging in his previous at-bat, and he did so again. Ortega left a breaking ball around the middle of the plate, Walker was ready for it, turned on the pitch…

Gone. Really gone. That was a no-doubt home run from Neil Walker to break the scoreless game and put the Pirates ahead. The homer capped a three-hit night for Walker, the only player in the game with more than one hit. After all, no runner even got to second base until Pedro Alvarez did so in the 8th inning. Walker is finally getting his swing right at the plate, up to a .778 season OPS after owning a dreadful .632 OPS as recently as nine days ago. That is partly the variance of small-sample OPS and partly a sign that the Pirates’ second baseman is swinging out of his funk.

Gomez Strong Again

I will admit that matching up against the Detroit Tigers made me quite nervous for Jeanmar Gomez. All of his successful May starts were versus below-average offenses, not versus one of the AL Central teams that he had struggled to a 5.87 ERA against in his young career.

But he continued to look like far more than a fill-in No. 5 pitcher, efficiently carving his way through the top-level Tigers lineup and allowing only four baserunners over seven innings. Much of the success was built on getting outs on contact once again, which makes me weary for Gomez’s future, but he kept a loud Tigers’ lineup quiet and reduced his season ERA to 2.30. If the Pirates’ plan is to replace him in the rotation when Charlie Morton is ready, well, that plan is looking a little more difficult to implement.

We can’t end this recap without acknowledging how amazing Detroit’s Rick Porcello was. He set a career high by striking out 11 hitters, one day after Justin Verlander recorded 13 K’s. Porcello’s dominance is not completely unexpected. He is a young, former top high school arm with a good sinker and off-speed pitches whose ERA has always been inflated by the poor defense behind him. Seven of his strikeouts came via fastball, and he made a couple of the Pirates hitters look a little foolish at the plate. Porcello is only 24 years old. He’s more than your typical No. 5 starter.

A Grilli, A Grilli, A Grilli, A Grilli…

Speaking of making hitters look foolish: Jason Grilli did just that to Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, striking out all three for his 21st save. Grilli needed only four pitches to disarm Cabrera (who has been surprisingly punchless this series), but battled with Fielder for nine pitches before relying on the ol’ Grilled Cheese to seal the deal.

Wednesday’s win was the Pirates’ eighth shutout of the season, more than the team had in any full season from 2007 through 2010, and we are not through May. If you are looking at the record books, the 1992 Pirates pitched 20 shutouts for the most by any Pittsburgh team over the last century. But even if this team gets to 16 shutouts, that would be the franchise’s second-most since the mound was lowered in 1969. The Pirates now have the second-lowest ERA in baseball (behind the Cardinals, of course) and are holding opponents to an MLB-best .222 batting average. This team is preventing runs.

James Santelli

Author: James Santelli

James covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects. He is a Broadcast Journalism student at USC and has written for such outlets as NBCOlympics.com, Pittsburgh Magazine and the official websites of the Los Angeles Clippers and Pittsburgh Penguins. James previously covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report. He also broadcasts play-by-play for the USC Trojans baseball team and was awarded the 2013 Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship and Allan Malamud Scholarship. James dispenses puns at his Twitter account (@JamesSantelli) where he promises to write in first-person. Google

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  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

    And the Bucs improve to 14-4 when Inge does not start. This guy is crazy good in the clubhouse.

  • HamburgBucco

    Can you imagine what our record would be if we played the majority of games without both Inge AND Barmes ?
    In my opinion we are making it a bit too easy for Cincy and the Cardinals by deliberately choosing NOT to play out strongest team day in day out.

    Let’s see how we deal with Sanchez tonight, Detroit’s hottest pitcher right now. With AJ on the mound usually we don’t get good run support for him.
    On the other hand the Buccos love to make a great pitcher look weak and a weak pitcher look great, so I’m hoping for a convincing win tonight.

    With Mercer at SS please.

  • pitwalker18

    I didn;t get to watch or listen to the game last night. I was following along on MLB Gameday. Can anyone tell me why Gomez was taken out of the game when he only had thrown 73 pitches and had just struck out Peralta?

    • leadoff

      He was taken out because the manager is a genius? There is probably a stat somewhere that says Gomez was about to crash, Hurdle is a little bit of a hypocrite, statements that the bats will tell us when a pitcher is done. I guess they were hitting rockets off of him in the 7th and he was lucky to get through 7. I did not see those rockets, but apparently Hurdle did. Porcello was allowed to go 8, except for more strikeouts, he was not pitching any better in the 7th than Gomez and he had thrown a lot more pitches.

  • elgaupo

    Check this old link someone shared on OBN. I guess Grilli, Leyland and Inge all were on the 2008 Tigers together. Grilli questioned the management team after he was traded and Grilli went off on him:

    http://www.mlive.com/tigers/index.ssf/2008/05/wdfn_audio_leyland_grills_gril.html

    I think the Inge reference is hilarious

    • elgaupo

      I meant Leyland went off on Grilli sorry

  • leadoff

    Our genius manager let Barmes hit in the 8th after Josh Harrison mysteriously was put in to run for Alvarez.
    First of all Alvarez should have stayed in the game. Alvarez runs the bases fairly well and taking out a game breaker in the late innings is a no no. Captain hook has a problem with taking out his guns too early in games.
    Second, Barmes should have been pinch hit for in the 8th. If Jessie Owens was pinch running it would not have made any difference, because of who was supposed to drive him in. Wasting Alvarez was totally Genius.

    • kidic56

      Yes, I agree. Taking Alvarez out of the game after going 1 for 7 with NO HR’s, NO RBI’s and 4 KO’s in 2 games against Detroit was sheer madness on Hurdle’s part.

      • Y2JGQ2

        Taking out someone who hits extra bases when he gets hits is madness in a scoreless game that only needs a solo homerun for a win. Not to mention he had a lineout to the OF in his last AB before the single up the middle. A strikeout or homerun…..your sarcasm is misplaced.

  • Y2JGQ2

    James- were we watching the same game? 1. Taking out a dominant Jeanmar who was showing no signs of slowing down….simply stunts his growth….he should be stretched out to 90 pitches at this point…. There is no reason not to put him out there in the 8th until he at least gives up a base runner. Putting in Wilson worked out, but if he was having an off day with his control, it could have been disasterous. It may have worked out, but it worked out with luck, not conscientious decision making. 2. Putting Harrison out at second is fine, no problem there….but why are you pinch running if the situation isn’t important enough to hit for Barmes who was already struggling horribly in his previous AB’s vs. Porcello? It makes no sense 3. Finally after then hitting into a double play and making an error he finally pinch hits with Mercer for Barmes the NEXT time he comes up….evidently the chance to go ahead in the 8th wasn’t important, but in the extra’s it was? You either pinch hit for him in the 8th or you don’t pinch hit for him at all, this move makes no sense.