Pirates Beat Angels in 10-9 Thriller: What We Learned

Charlie Morton

Morton got 13 of his 28 batters to hit ground balls in Sunday’s victory.

It would be difficult to describe all the important events of the Pirates’ 10-9 extra-innings victory to sweep the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Frankly, any such description would not do justice to the most exciting game of the 2013 season.

Instead of trying to re-tell all that happened, let’s treat this win like I try to treat every game: a chance to learn more about this Pirates team that is so fascinating, so exciting.

1. Charlie Morton is still Ground Chuck — But that can be dangerous.

We are only three outing into his 2013 season, but it appears the Pirates’ starter is once again becoming Charlie Morton: Lord Of The Ground Balls. A total of 64% of the balls opposing hitters put into play have been grounders, which would be far and away the highest rate of any MLB starter if Morton had enough innings. That is an overall good thing: groundball pitchers allow fewer hits and extra-base hits on balls in play. And if Morton combines that ability with more strikeouts and good control, he can be a very effective starter.

Sunday’s game represented the downside to being Ground Chuck: errors and holes in the infield. Morton drew five ground balls in the 2nd inning, but was thwarted by a sequence of Neil Walker’s glove-flip throwing error, Pedro Alvarez’s fielding error, Anaheim’s J.B. Shuck cutting a grounder through the diamond and Peter Bourjos sliding hard to break up a double play. He got the grounders, but Morton and the Pirates were suddenly down 5-1 based solely on the bad luck that can happen on groundballs. Granted, Morton made enough of his own troubled Sunday by passing out five walks, but his final line would have looked a lot prettier without the miscues.

2. Pedro Alvarez is in his June Groove.

The sun was shining in Southern California, which juiced up Alvarez’ solar-powered bat. His first time up, Alvarez cranked out his 19th home run, becoming the first opposing player in nearly 10 years to homer in all three games of a series in Anaheim. He added another shot in the 10th inning, this one a leadoff double misplayed by center fielder Mike Trout to start the four-run frame.

So now the All-Star Pedro Alvarez talk begins in earnest, but don’t let the discussion supersede the tangible contributions he has made to the Pirates’ recent success. The Bucs are 6-2 over his eight-game hitting streak, during which time Alvarez has a 1.340 OPS and five home runs. He is still striking out too much but is now second in the National League in home runs behind Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez (21). If the Pirates can get baserunners in front of Alvarez while he’s still streaking, the wins will keep coming.

3. Tony Sanchez and Duke Welker are ready to contribute when they return.

It’s unlikely Sanchez or Welker will remain with the Pirates far past today’s Major League debuts. Sanchez may be sent back down after the Seattle series to fine tune his catching defense, and Welker may simply be the casualty of the return of Jeanmar Gomez or Wandy Rodriguez. But both showed they should be called on again later in the season. Sanchez passed his first at-bat with a flying line drive that got stuck in the scoreboard for a double instead of being a possible RBI. Welker pitched his 8th inning 1-2-3, including a strikeout of Chris Iannetta in which the batter did nothing more than stare at two sliders and a 98-mph fastball.

4. Travis Snider has The Clutch Gene™

Travis Snider

What idiot named him Travis Snider instead of Andrew McClutchen? (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Alvarez, Starling Marte, Gaby Sanchez and Russell Martin (off the bench, including his own clutch two-out double in the 9th) all collected two hits in the winning effort. But Snider specifically flashed his distinct Clutchness™ in the 10th inning after he had left five runners on base in the regular ol’ innings.

Jepsen intentionally walked Neil Walker then unintentionally walked Gaby Sanchez to draw Snider with the bases loaded. Snider worked to a 3-1 hitter’s count but would not settle for being walked as the go-ahead RBI. Jepsen put a fastball low and away, and Snider knocked it opposite field into the grass for the go-ahead run. But wait, there’s more! Left fielder J.B. Shuck misplayed the bounce to allow two more runs to score and put the Pirates ahead by three  in the 10th.

Snider entered Sunday as 2013’s most clutch hitter, and only figures to go higher after Sunday’s big hit. Past clutch performing is not predictive of future clutch performing, but there are players out there that hit a little better in high-pressure situations. Maybe Snider just has ice water in his veins. He should really see a doctor.

5. Even Jason Grilli tosses a dud.

When the Pirates’ closer exited the bullpen to finish off the four-run lead the Pirates created in the 10th inning, my issue was with manager Clint Hurdle using him in such a low-leverage situation. After Grilli struck out Mark Trumbo with a Grilli-esque fastball-slider combination, the Angels decided to make it high-leverage.

Snider misplayed a flyball Howie Kendrick hit in front of him, transforming a single into a triple. Then four singles sliced their way onto the grass and Grilli was faced with having to retire Mike Trout with the tying run on third base and the winning run at second. No problem. The future MVP whiffed on a slider to end the worst outing in Grilli’s tenure as Pirates closer. His ERA is still under 2.00, his strikeout rate is still sparkling, but Grilli is not immune to allowing a series of hard-hit balls to put Pittsburgh fans in a state of near-cardiac arrest.

Final Thoughts

Any road series sweep is a terrific accomplishment, especially since the Pirates have struggled so mightily on the West Coast over the years. Being able to out-hit and out-slug an offense as prolific as the Angels becomes yet another achievement on which the Bucs can hang their caps. The Pirates’ lineup was taking its lumps before they headed out Californi-way, but now they can hope the Alvarez-powered 21 runs in three games will be a bellwether for better hitting in the coming weeks.

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/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Not sure that many of those balls vs Grilli were hit that hard. A couple were, but that’s about it.

    Still…a win is a win is a win.

    • emjayinTN

      Either mentally not sharp due to the mop-up duty, or starting to feel the weight of a lot of innings – that hanging slider thrown right down the middle to put runners at 2nd and 3rd and Trout coming to the plate was one of the worst pitches I have seen him throw in 2 years. Day off today and another day off Thursday – should we be thinking of an extended rest for JG?

      • IC Bob

        No! Most closers struggle from lack of use. Sometimes guys are not sharp. It was bound to happen to Grilli and it looks like this road trip is his time. I didn’t think he would have an ERA under 1 the entire year. Glad he got the final out, that was a tough one.

  • IC Bob

    I have no problem using Grilli in a non save situation. Bucs are off tomorrow he did not pitch the previous night. The overuse argument is really lame. As long as he is not pitching 4 nights in a row or 6 out of 7 then I hope we have the opportunities to use him a lot.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD

    You but far too much of the blame for Morton’s struggles on the defense behind him and not enough on Morton himself – namely walks. Five walks in 6 or less innings is unacceptable for any pitcher, shy of Nolan Ryan.

    Yes, the infield made three errors behind him, which definitely hurt. But, without the walks, those errors have little impact.

    I don’t understand the high esteem some people place on Morton – he has NEVER been a consistent starter. If he proves me wrong, I will be thrilled. But, I am skeptical. I’d rather they waive Morton or move him to the bullpen, then send Cole down.

    • maguro

      The walks certainly didn’t help, but if Alvarez doesn’t boot a tailor-made doubleplay ball hit by Chris Ianetta, Morton gets out of the second inning with one run allowed. That’s a big deal.

  • buccotime57

    What would you think about sending mckenry down to get some everyday ABs, his plate appearances are starting to look terrible. I think Sanchez will benefit more from an extended period with martin and the pirates coaching staff.

    • jon6er

      You are making way to much sense with that statement and you will be vaporized, lol!