When PNC Park was built in 2001 along the North Shore of the Allegheny River, the Pirates erected a sign on the right-field wall to track how many home runs the Bucs would hit into the river on the fly.
Twelve years later: 1.
After the Pirates (35-22) missed chances to score all weekend long, Garrett Jones left. No doubt. Jones ripped a slider from Cincinnati Reds’ set-up man Jonathan Broxton inside and above the right-field foul pole, and the ball flew 463 feet to its watery grave. Tie game in the 8th inning and redemption for Jones after leaving two runners in scoring position his previous at-bat.
“It was an anger, frustration swing,” Jones said.
Jones’ river shot puts him in an exclusive club with Daryle Ward as the only players to homer into the Allegheny without a bounce during a regular season game.
“That’s always a special thing and pretty cool to be a part of,” Jones said. “Hopefully [I get] a lot more.”
But Jones’ aqua-seeking missile would have been in vain had it not been for the Pirates’ bullpen throwing 10 shutout innings (Jones called them “the players of the game”) in relief of Jeanmar Gomez’s one-and-done start, as well as Travis Snider hitting the walkoff single to give the Pirates a 5-4 win and avoid being swept by their division rival Reds (35-22).
“You can’t express how valuable, great of a job they’re doing. They just kept us in the ballgame and we’re just able to scrape a few runs,” Jones said. “They’re doing an unbelievable job for us this year.”
Jeanmar Looks Tight
Gomez packed about three starts’ worth of regression into one inning. He hit Shin-Soo Choo to start then left a sinker down the middle for Zack Cosart to smack to the North Shore Notch for an RBI triple. After walking Joey Votto, Gomez served up three straight singles and long sacrifice fly to make it 4-0. Only a nicely-turned double play by Neil Walker and Jordy Mercer on Cesar Izturis stopped the steady floats of the Reds’ hit parade.
Gomez knew he would not return “about two outs” into the bottom of the 1st as he tried to work through elbow tightness. The relievers had to be ready for a busy afternoon.
“The bullpen guys have thrown quite a bit lately, said reliever Bryan Morris. “Obviously the worst-case scenario for today’s game was for Jeanmar to come out of the game early. But our job at that point is to get as many outs as fast as we can.”
Bullpen To The Rescue
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle inserted Vin Mazzaro. He gave up a walk and two singles right away, but the sinker-ball pitcher was bailed out by catcher Russell Martin throwing out Choo and ended up pitching three shutout innings.
“He’s never done that before… You get pushed into the opportunity,” Hurdle said. “[Vin] got better as the game went on, but he was drawing some things up in the dirt because he wasn’t completely rested.”
Bryan Morris followed up with three scoreless, hitless innings of his own even though every batter put the ball into play.
“My goal was to pitch to contact as early in the count as I could so I could go multiple innings,” Morris said. “That’s what we needed.”
Then came the strikeout guys: Mark Melancon loaded the bases in the 8th with a walk and two hits, but escaped with his cutter by striking out Choo looking. Jason Grilli struck out Zack Cosart, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, all on fastballs in the 9th. Justin Wilson struck out two more with his 96-mile-per-hour heat in the 10th then added a scoreless 11th to go to 5-0 on the season.
Runners Left On
The Pirates’ bullpen throwing 10 shutout innings reduced their Major League-best ERA to 2.67 on the season and provided the offense an opportunity for a comeback. Pedro Alvarez’s solo home run in the second inning took a bite out of Cincinnati’s initial four-run lead, but missed chances against Latos (6 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K) ruled most of the game:
- 3rd inning: Mat Latos walks Starling Marte with two outs and Marte swipes second base. Next batter Neil Walker hits a hard line drive right at shortstop Zack Cosart for the third out.
- 6th inning: Leadoff hitter Alex Presley reaches base on an infield single up the middle, then Latos walks Marte again. Neil Walker strikes out, but Andrew McCutchen hits an RBI single to score Presley. A Latos wild pitch moves both Marte and McCutchen into scoring position. But Garrett Jones struck out swinging instead of putting the ball into play, and Russell Martin grounded out to strand the tying run at second base.
- 7th inning: Jordy Mercer reaches base with one out as Votto can’t handle a throw from third baseman Todd Frazier. When right-handed pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez was announced, RHP J.J. Hoover entered the game and got both Sanchez and Presley to strike out looking and keep the Reds ahead 4-2.
In the bottom of the 8th, Broxton hit Marte with a 1-2 fastball, but it was erased by Neil Walker grounding into a double play. It seemed like another opportunity lost, but McCutchen singled to extend the inning. Then Jones turned on a 2-1 slider from Broxton and sent it packing with a swimsuit.
“It just felt like everything was on time,” Jones said. “One of those things you try to take on a consistent basis, having everything timed and smooth through the ball.”
Then Came The Winner
Grilli and Wilson kept the game tied into the bottom of the 11th. Reds reliever Alfredo Simon entered his third inning, despite closer Aroldis Chapman matching better against the two left-handed hitters due up. With one out, Russell Martin reached base on a poor throw by the shortstop Cozart and Alvarez drew a walk to move him to second. Then Jordy Mercer flew out. With two outs, the pressure was on Snider. Or was it?
“If you put the pressure of the situation on you — I’m starting to learn with more experience from pinch-hitting, you just have to go take it one pitch at a time,” Snider said. “The more you try to do, the less results you’re gonna be on it.”
Snider turned on Simon’s 0-1 low slider and looped it into right field. Jay Bruce’s throw to get Martin at home was wide up the third-base line. Game over. Sweep incomplete.
“It’s a believable win,” Hurdle said. “A lot of people say ‘unbelievable.’ It’s a believable win.”