Jordy Mercer was struggling at the plate through July when he came up in the 11th inning with two runners on. The Pirates’ now-second baseman stepped in 4-for-31 over the month with no extra-base hits.
No time like walkoff time to stop a skid in front of 39,036 fans, PNC Park’s largest crowd since Opening Day.
Mercer knew that Andrew McCutchen would score from second base if his hit found outfield grass, and he grounded a pitch past the debuting Gonzalez Germen and the dives of Mets middle infielders Daniel Murphy and Omar Quintanilla to that green spot. McCutchen speeded through third and beat the throw from center field replacement Juan Lagares to win yet another extra-innings contest, the Pirates’ 6th this month and third-straight to go past 10:30.
“We were all ready to go. We’ve had some long games, man,” Mercer said after the 3-2 victory. “You always want to be that guy. You always want to get the game-winning hit.”
Alvarez Doesn’t Take Long
His RBI single broke a span of nine scoreless innings for Pittsburgh, Pedro Alvarez provided the only other runs by floating Jeremy Hefner’s low fastball for a two-run home run to the bullpen in left-center field. The 1st-inning bomb was Alvarez’s 24th homer and his 46th in the last 177 games. There is lyrical significance that it was the first pitch Alvarez saw since Mets’ third baseman David Wright named him as a Home Run Derby injury replacement. The Pirates dugout seemed to understand the narrative.
“I heard guys bumping gums in there about all that,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Alvarez added little gravitas to the importance of his home run coming against Wright’s team nor to his pre-game conversation with the NL Home Run Derby captain.
“Just saying hello,” Alvarez said. “We’ve been friends ever since we’ve been playing against each other… just like I say hello to anyone else.”
Pirates fans heartily booed Wright all five times he stepped to the plate for snubbing Alvarez in the first place, but the Mets veteran took the jeers in stride.
“It’s kind of cool that they’re that passionate about their players,” Wright said. “I’m not going to lose any sleep getting booed a couple games in Pittsburgh. Seems like they’re knowledgeable about what’s going on… made for a nice atmosphere.”
Morton and a Salty D (Pun)
Hefner’s lone mistake was the pitch to Alvarez, but he pitched seven strong. He then retired the 14 straight Pittsburgh hitters and 19 of his last 20. The outing for Pirates starter Charlie Morton had just one true hiccup: leaving a 7th-inning sinker down the middle to Kirk Nieuwenhuis for a game-tying home run.
In the cliché Morton vs. Hefner pitcher’s duel, “Ground Chuck” generated 12 ground balls, five fielded by Mercer plus an over-the-shoulder basket catch in shallow right field.
“It’s awesome to watch,” Morton said. “To turn around and see him and [Barmes] behind me is really awesome.”
Morton pitched a season-high seven innings for his first quality start of 2013, and his manager says the starter is looking better and better. He allowed six hits and one walk (including a double just inside the line from Eric Young, who scored on a Wright single for the first Mets run), struck out four and looked in command with his fastball for 61 strikes on 93 pitches.
“I’m in a good spot, but I think I still have a lot of ways that I can improve on command and stuff overall,” Morton said.
More Offensive Struggles
We must not overlook the Pirates bullpen of Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli, Tony Watson, Bryan Morris and Vin Mazzaro combining to deliver four shutout innings, now the NL’s second-best relief ERA at 2.86, to give the offense more and more chance to bring a man to touch the little white pentagon.
The lineup needed plenty of chances, going 6-for-37 (.162) on the night against the Mets staff. Starling Marte was the only Pittsburgh batter with more than one hit, leading off the 9th with a double to left field and just beating Young’s throw. Hurdle called for Jose Tabata to sacrifice Marte over, then Aardsma intentionally walked McCutchen. Left-hander Scott Rice entered, struck out Alvarez, then exited. Right-hander Greg Burke walked Russell Martin to load the bases, then exited. Lefty Garrett Jones drew lefty Josh Edgin, so Hurdle pinch-hit Gaby Sanchez, who drew two balls then grounded out to go to extra innings.
Clint Barmes hit a one-out single in the 10th, then moved into scoring position on Josh Harrison’s hit-and-run groundout. Marte was intentionally walked for his first time in the big leagues, and Edgin got Tabata to ground out. Before Mercer’s winning hit, the Pirates went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Pittsburgh’s pinch-hitters now have the NL’s 2nd-lowest OPS at .534 this season.
“It’s not the time of the year to call people out,” Hurdle said. “Everyone in there is busting their backside to get better.”
And yes, he did say backside.
The bench gets a reprieve from Mercer on Friday Night, putting the Pirates nine games ahead of any team scratching and clawing for a playoff spot.