The Pirates have had a small trend this year with late inning comebacks. They’ve struggled against starting pitchers, but have managed comebacks against opponents bullpens. That appeared once again in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Pirates were riding a good start by A.J. Burnett, who went six innings, allowing two runs on five hits. Burnett struck out six and walked three. The only problem was the offense wasn’t there. Prior to the seventh inning, the Pirates had six singles on the night, with four of those coming with two outs, and one being erased by a double play. There was only one inning where the Pirates managed more than one hit. Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook wasn’t having a lot of trouble with the Pirates’ offense.
Westbrook, however, was removed after six innings, throwing 91 pitches on the day. In came Joe Kelly, and the Pirates immediately capitalized.
Pedro Alvarez tried to pull an outside pitch, and took it for a single up the middle to start off the frame. Russell Martin came up next and also saw an outside pitch. Rather than trying to pull it, Martin went the other way, launching his third homer of the year to tie the score. With Westbrook out, the Pirates needed just two batters to score two runs and tie the game.
It wasn’t over there. Clint Barmes followed Martin with a single to right. James McDonald failed to bunt him over, fouling off a strike three bunt. After Starling Marte drew a walk, the Cardinals switched to Trevor Rosenthal.
Rosenthal came in and had some immediate control problems. A wild pitch against Jose Tabata moved Barmes to third and Marte to second. Rosenthal loaded the bases by hitting Tabata with a 96 MPH fastball on a 3-2 count. The control problems continued against Andrew McCutchen, who battled with Rosenthal for an eight pitch walk, bringing in the go ahead run. Garrett Jones added some much needed insurance, grounding out to second to score Marte and put the Pirates up 4-2.
One more insurance run came in the eighth inning. Martin started things off again with a double. Two batters later, Martin moved to third on a wild pitch by Fernando Salas. He scored the fifth run on a Gaby Sanchez sac fly.
The bullpen came through once again for the Pirates. Tony Watson pitched a scoreless seventh, walking one and striking out two. Mark Melancon tossed a scoreless eighth, with one hit and one strikeout. Jason Grilli gave up his first run of the year in the ninth, thanks to an RBI double by Carlos Beltran, but converted his tenth save in ten attempts to give the Pirates a 5-3 win.
Prior to this game, the Pirates have had some strong numbers at the plate late in the game. They’ve combined for an .816 OPS in the 7th inning this year, and an .833 OPS in the 8th inning. The only other inning where their OPS is over .690 is the first inning, where they have an .817 OPS. That first inning is heavily fueled by Starling Marte, who has a 1.577 OPS leading off the game. Removing Marte’s numbers, the Pirates have a .614 OPS in the first.
The Pirates will need to do a better job against opponents starting pitchers. They can’t count on late comebacks every game. With that said, their late hitting has been excellent. They rank sixth in the majors with a .747 OPS after the sixth inning. The Atlanta Braves rank fifth with a .748 OPS. The late hitting is always welcome, but if the Pirates can start getting to a few starters, we could see even more impressive things from this 14-10 team.