The Pittsburgh Pirates are tied for the best record and winning percentage in Major League Baseball. This is the first time since 1991 that the preceding statement is true after Memorial Day.
You can pretty much stop reading now. The important line is at the top. The details are meaningless. I can put anything I want here. Purple monkey dishwasher.
Okay, I’ll write more. The Pirates’ 4-2 victory in Seattle on Wednesday afternoon was a fine finish to a terrific road trip. They split an important series in Cincinnati, and were one Jay Bruce longball from winning it 3-1. Then the Bucs swept series from the Angels and Mariners to form the six-game winning streak they hold right now. Though the two five-run victories of the trip were more outwardly impressive, the Pirates should take pride that they earned the W in a game started by former Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez.
Just One Mistake
Completing that task was difficult, as it often is when you face one of the AL’s best pitchers. King Felix was his usual King Felix self, albeit with the reduced velocity this season has brought. Hernandez made Pirates hitters swing-and-miss 16 times (9 on his go-to sinker) and collected 11 strikeouts over seven innings. One of his only trouble spots was allowing singles to Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez to start the 2nd inning, but they advanced no further.
Hernandez may have built a bid for a shutout were it not for one mistake in the 4th inning. After walking Jones, Hernandez missed his outside spot on a hitter’s count sinker to Neil Walker. The Pirates’ second baseman clocked it over the right-center field fence to put the Pirates up 2-0. That is all the Bucs would get on Hernandez, who allowed six hits but earned a quality start.
Go For Gomez
On the other side, Pittsburgh starter Jeanmar Gomez sparkled (5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K) in his return from the disabled list. The only jam of his own creation was in allowing singles to Henry Blanco and Nick Franklin in the 3rd, but he escaped by striking out Kyle Seager with a slider.
Next inning, he got Raul Ibanez to whiff on the same pitch, but it bounced past catcher Russell Martin for a wild pitch to allow Ibanez to reach base with one out. Justin Smoak then grounded to first baseman Gaby Sanchez, but his throw to try to start a double play was not caught by Jordy Mercer to give the Mariners runners on first and third. The error was originally charged to Sanchez then swapped to Mercer. Ibanez scored on a sacrifice fly, an unearned run for Gomez, to cut the Pirates’ lead to 2-1. Ibanez homered later off reliever Justin Wilson on a high fastball to tie the game, his team-leading 18th round-tripper.
The Bucs have yet to lose when Gomez starts. The will to win.
How They Won
More late-inning magic? Why not. All tied up to enter the 9th, Pedro Alvarez hit a sharp single off Charlie Furbush, then was bunted over by Neil Walker (who struggles to hit from the right side). In came Yoervis Medina, who got Gaby Sanchez to ground out for the second out and intentionally walked Travis Snider to draw Jordy Mercer. Well, there’s a reason Mercer is hitting .286 in June, and he lined a fastball up the middle for the go-ahead run. Mercer, Alvarez and Walker were the three Pittsburgh batters to collect more than one hit.
Then the Pirates got their strikeout/wild pitch back. Starling Marte whiffed on a pitch in the dirt, but the ball bounced to the backstop and Snider scored to make it 4-2 despite Marte jogging most of the way to first base.
Mark Melancon entered for the save opportunity with closer Jason Grilli unavailable from his 28-pitch outing Sunday. He allowed a pair of singles to get the tying run aboard then only needed one pitch to get Kyle Seager to ground out sharply to Sanchez, who was hugging the first-base line like a newborn child. Seager was the beautiful loser. Pirates had home with a two-game sweep.
Pittsburgh is now 48-30 and are looking up at no one. When the St. Louis Cardinals lost in Houston, it created a tie between the Cards and Pirates for first place in the NL Central and baseball’s best record. On Monday, the Bucs will be at the 2013 season’s halfway point. These are facts that are true.