What a way to close out the Pirates’ most successful first half in four decades.
The Pirates’ 2-1 win and home sweep of Milwaukee (32-48) featured 14 innings, five Brewers infielders, two chances for a walkoff walk and only one player left on the bench for either team.
Helped by a two-hour rain delay, the game ended six and a half hours after it began with last Pittsburgh (51-30) position player Russell Martin driving in Gaby Sanchez, who slid just ahead of a throw from Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez to wrap up the Pirates’ 9th-straight win. Sanchez spoke in the clubhouse while sitting on the couch, knee wrapped up.
“This is enough for one,” Sanchez said about his career-high 20 putouts at first base. “I’m tired. It’s been a long day.”
When the Bucs rolled into the clubhouse around 10:15 this morning, the team’s pet sharks were swimming laps around their tank. By day’s end, the Pirates’ Shark Tank bullpen had thrown 12 shutout innings for the first time in more than a century, those six relievers allowing a mere two hits and three baserunners over 121 pitches.
“They complement each other so well,” Pirates manager said about his bullpen. “You’ve got five guys you can go multiple innings with.”
Milwaukee’s Lone Run
The Brewers scored before the 2nd-inning gully washer rainstorm off starter Charlie Morton. Shortstop Clint Barmes, making his first start in more than two weeks, erred on a sharp grounder from Jean Segura’s bat. Martin Maldonado followed up with a single on his way to getting three of the Brewers’ four total hits. Logan Schafer recorded the RBI on a sacrifice bunt, an unearned run for Morton, who did not return following the 2-hour, 20-minute delay but could pitch again in the upcoming Phillies series after a team day off Monday.
Vin Mazzaro took the mound once the clouds cleared and needed only 44 pitches to throw five perfect innings. He retired 10 of his 15 batters on three pitchers or fewer to keep it a one-run game until the 8th inning.
Pittsburgh’s first hit was a Clint Barmes double in the 5th inning off rookie reliever Tyler Thornburg. Mazzaro followed with a single to right field, the third base hit of his five-year career. Barmes was held at third base, though, and both were stranded on Starling Marte’s flyout. Thornburg delivered five scoreless innings himself.
Bucs’ Offense Sputters
The Pirates did not get any hits in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 10th, 11th or 12th innings. But after Justin Wilson pitched a scoreless Top 8th, they got two hits in the bottom half to tie the score. Marte hit a ground-ball single through shortstop Segura’s glove. Neil Walker grounded out, then Andrew McCutchen lined a two-out RBI single off the glove of a leaping Segura but was thrown out trying to stretch it to second.
It only got worse for Segura three minutes later. As the 9th inning’s leadoff hitter, he beat the throw from diving second baseman Walker, but was called out by umpire Tim McClelland. Segura was demonstrably upset but was still the first out of Bryan Morris’ 1-2-3 frame. It would get worse for Segura later.
The best opportunity for the Pirates to end it came in the Bottom 9th. With two outs, former Bucco closer Michael Gonzalez allowed a single and two four-pitch walks to load the bases for Brandon Inge. The pinch-hitter got one ball away from a shrimpy walkoff walk but ended up whiffing on a full-count slider to send the game to extra innings.
And Only Two Outfielders
Once Gonzalez exited, Brandon Kintzler retired nine straight Pirates. Another Pittsburgh chance arrived in the 13th inning against Francisco Rodriguez. Marte hit a leadoff double to left and moved to third base on a Walker groundout. What remained of the 35,351 fans booed as Rodriguez intentionally walked McCutchen. The Brewers met on the mound and center fielder Carlos Gomez moved from center to become the fifth infielder.
Josh Harrison walked on seven pitches after originally getting a safety squeeze bunt sign in front of the five infielders. With the bases loaded and another potential walkoff walk, Pedro Alvarez (0-for-6) grounded into a threat-ending double play.
“I saw the safety squeeze,” Harrison said. “But when Cutch [stole second], I knew he was gonna be safe, so I just pulled back.”
Watson blanked the Brewers in the 12th, 13th and 14th with no hits and four strikeouts, more K’s than the Pittsburgh staff had totaled in the 11 prior innings. The Pirates’ fielders turned 23 of 27 groundballs into outs.
“Everybody went out there and competed, stayed aggressive,” said Watson, the winning pitcher. “I was just trying to keep Jeff Locke out of the game.”
Locke, the scheduled Tuesday starter no longer, only had to warm up instead of pitch to batters. The Pirates’ staff pitched 14 innings without allowing a walk for the first time since 1976, and 12 scoreless innings from relievers Mazzaro, Wilson, Morris, Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon and Watson kept the door to a win open before the Pirates finally pulled through in the 14th.
Gaby Runs To Victory
Gaby Sanchez, robbed of a possible game-tying home run by Brewers left fielder Logan Schafer in the 7th, led off with a hard-hit grounder bobbled by second baseman Rickie Weeks. He then got a good jump off Rodriguez for his first stolen base in over a year. Two batters later, Russell Martin came up with a chance to win following Sanchez’s sneaky steal.
“He actually did surprise me a little bit,” Martin said. “He got a great jump, heads up. K-Rod looked like he was a bit slow to the plate there and he took advantage of it. Smart baseball.”
Martin knocked a ground ball up the middle and past an outstretched Segura into center field. Gomez scooped the ball up and fired, but the threw sailed over the glove of catcher Maldonado and Sanchez slid his foot along home plate for Win Number 51.
“I’m the guy who put on the sign [for Sanchez to run],” Hurdle said. “I figured if he gets thrown out, it’s not a man left on base. We’ve had enough of those.”
A Long Day Not in Vain
The Pirates surrounded Martin, players who worked through more than 140 pitches high-fiving the man who only played two pitches. The hero of the moment gave the real honors to the bullpen that has threw 18 shutout innings in the sweep of Milwaukee.
“It’s fascinating how they go out there every time out and shut the door,” Martin said. “We’re getting used to it. We’re kind of I guess blessed right now.”
The Brew Crew only got past first base 4 times, and Milwaukee players not named “Maldonado” went 1-for-41 on Sunday. Marte’s 2-for-6 performance outdid those 11 hitless Brewers.
By the time the Bucs won the game at 8:08 p.m., every other afternoon-started game had ended, including the 2nd-place St. Louis Cardinals losing in Oakland to boost Pittsburgh’s division lead to two games. The Pirates will maintain baseball’s best record through until at least Wednesday. The franchise has not had a better record through 81 games since before the Great Depression. At the season’s halfway point, the Pirates have built a 10-game cushion to maintain a playoff spot.
It’s halftime in Pittsburgh. Three months left to play.