Pirates Open 11-Game Homestand with 3-1 Victory

While the Chicago Cubs took an early 1-0 lead Thursday night, the Pirates (85-61) appeared in control of the team’s series-opener throughout. Jeff Locke tossed his best start since the All-Star Break, and the Pirates cruised to a 3-1 victory despite falling behind in the third inning by a one-run margin.

Locke kept the Cubs from recording a hit until Darnell McDonald led off the third with a ground-rule double into the Notch, and then scored from third on two-out single by Starlin Castro.

Jeff Locke Pirates

Jeff Locke posted a Game Score of 71 as he earned his first win since July. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

After that, though, Locke settled in and retired the final 10 men he faced to post seven innings of one-run baseball in which he allowed only three hits and walked a single batter while striking out five Cubs.

“It’s just better stuff,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “You saw the rhythm, the tempo, the command. He was able to stabilize himself the last time out and find some rhythm, find some confidence.”

In support of Locke, the Pirates took the lead back from Chicago in the bottom of the fourth when Jordy Mercer singled with one out and Andrew McCutchen doubled on a ball that bounced off the third base bag. Mercer was cut down at home, though, when he broke on contact on a tapper to the mound by Justin Morneau.

Marlon Byrd then singled up the middle to score McCutchen, and Pedro Alvarez clanged a pitch from Chicago starter Chris Rusin off the bottom of the Clemente Wall to drive Morneau home from second and give the Bucs a permanent lead.

The game remained quiet the rest of the way, as Rusin (2-4) made it through seven innings as well and allowed two runs on four hits. But Locke (10-5)  was a tad better Thursday, and he earned his first win since July 21 as a result.

While Rusin pitched well, the Pirates were able to capitalize when balls were left over the plate.

“He pitched well, there’s no doubt about it. But he left some pitches out there in that one inning and we put some good swings on it,” Jordy Mercer said. “We moved the bases pretty well, went first to third a couple of times. It was fun.”

Pittsburgh tacked on a spot of insurance in the eighth with a little bit of two-out lightning sparked by Clint Barmes’ basehit. Jordy Mercer followed with a double that went the opposite way to right-center, on which Barmes scored and the Pirates went ahead 3-1. Mercer, hitting out of the two-hole, finished 2-for-4 with a RBI.

The Bucs had a chance for more, as McCutchen was intentionally walked and Morneau drew another free pass on his own accord. With two outs and the bases loaded, Marlon Byrd struck out.

After Locke exited the game, Tony Watson worked a clean eighth innings and Mark Melancon came on for the save. Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo both got on base to lead off the inning, but Donnie Murphy popped a bunt up to Russell Martin, Junior Lake flew out to left, and Welington Castillo hit into a fielder’s choice which gave Melancon save no. 14 on the season.

Tonight, the most positive takeaway has to be for Locke, who hadn’t won a game in over a month and a half.  If the Pirates get a version of Locke closer to the one they received in the first half than the one who posted a 8.02 ERA in the month of August, that will be a massive boost as they play their final 16 games.

“It definitely feels good to have that kind of game tonight, and like I’ve always said, most importantly we won,” Locke said. “I know it’s just the Cubs and not the Cardinals we played tonight, but we know that all these games are important from here on out.”

 

Nate Barnes

Author: Nate Barnes

Nate covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects, and is an English Writing major at the University of Pittsburgh and is the Sports Editor of The Pitt News. Nate has covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report, and covered Pitt Men's Basketball, Duquesne Men's Basketball, and Pitt Baseball beats prior to this summer. You can find Nate on Twitter @NateBarnes_TPN where he'll keep you updated on each and every time Clint Barmes breaks up a no-hit bid with one-out in the third inning of ballgames.

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  • smurph

    If you look at what Jordy Mercer has brought to this team, who would have predicted it? Yes he had a hot streak when he was first promoted, but then cooled off for a little bit as most of us predicted he would. However, lately he is not just hitting for average but also coming up with a lot of clutch hits in close games. I do believe him splitting time with Barmes has helped both of them and Barmes being the consummate professional has helped Mercer improve his defense. Huge defensive play last night.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

      Jordy Mercer crushing left handers has been awesome. I don’t know if he has cooled off in that regard yet. I think maybe Mercer getting more at bats against right handers has given the impression that he has cooled off since he is probably around a .250 hitter against righties. You may be right smurph about Mercer splitting time with Barmes as Barmes seems like a different player than when he was getting everyday duty.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

    Anyone else being driven insane by Hurdle putting Morneau in the lineup against left handers while Sanchez is on the bench? I mean sure the Pirates traded for Morneau for him to play but come on, they traded for Sanchez too! Sanchez has a job too, to hit lefties and he does his job very well. How does a manager not take advanage of that.
    .
    Sometimes I feel like Hurdle secretly wants to get fired. Why? I have no clue because it’s certainly not true.
    .
    This imaginary reality that Hurdle secrectly wants to get fired has me imagining what Hurdle is thinking. Hurdle was thinking, I’ll be the coach for a few years, the Pirates will keep losing, I’ll get fired, then go somewhere warm like southern cali or Florida to coach first base or something. But something went wrong, the Pirates started winning, oh crap, now I got to stay here and keep coaching.
    .
    Completely irrational and I know it’s not true but when Hurdle bats a .500 OPS hitter against lefties over a .900 OPS hitter against lefties, I think crazy things.