Pedro Alvarez’s 21st Homer Powers Bucs to 6-5 Win

Russell Martin blocks pate
Pirates catcher Russell Martin blocks John Lannan from scoring on a Chase Utley double to end the 3rd inning. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

One way to break out of a team-wide offensive slump: Collect 11 hits off John Lannan. Sure you need to find your nearest John Lannan to do so, but it was worth it for the Pirates to swing a 6-5 home victory Wednesday start.

The Philadelphia Phillies starter allowed 18 of 32 Pittsburgh batters to reach base and one batter named Pedro Alvarez to demolish a baseball 409 feet for a three-run home run. Jeff Locke held up his end on the PNC Park mound, pitching five strong innings before trouble forced the Pirates starter out in the 6th. The bullpen continued its dominance, though, extending its scoreless streak to 27.1 consecutive innings before Domonic Brown snapped it with a home run.

Pedro Alvarez Fireworks
Fireworks are shot off for Pedro Alvarez’s three-run home run. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

On this night, the heart of the Pirates lineup bashed its way to a win. The 3-through-6 hitters combined to go 6-for-10 with two walks against the soft-throwing lefty Lannan. After leaving six runners on through three innings, their pièce de résistance was the four-run 5th inning. Andrew McCutchen plopped a ground ball down the left side for an infield single (his first of a team-high three hits), then Gaby Sanchez roped a single to left and Russell Martin reversed a changeup back up the middle to tie the game 1-1.

Then Alvarez stepped in, saw Lannan leave an 86-mph fastball down the middle and unleashed his fury to crush it into the right-center-field seats for a three-run lead. It was a dynamo that electrified the pre-holiday crowd of 33,197.

Despite Alvarez’s continued struggles against left-handed pitchers, his 21st home run (and 6th in the last two weeks) offered another glimpse of his one-swing-of-the-bat power.

“Obviously it’s a work in progress,” Alvarez said. “It’s one of those things where you can only improve with opportunities and experience. I feel very confident in myself to keep progressing.”

Padlocke (Nailed It)

Locke continued his fantastic season with another solid outing (5.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 K), completing the 18th consecutive Pirates start with three earned runs or fewer and his 16th consecutive start without a loss.

Jeff Locke Pirates
Jeff Locke only got two swings-and-misses but was still very effective. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The left-hander drew 10 groundballs and largely kept the Phillies from driving any pitch. His command was below-average with just 60% strikes, but Locke scattered his three walks (one intentional) to limit the Phillies to three at-bats with a runner in scoring position. His All-Star case? Locke’s 2.12 ERA is still second behind Clayton Kershaw in the National League.

“There seems to be no panic, no urgency,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He just continues to make pitches and focus on that pitch to that hitter.”

The only extra-base hit Locke gave up ended up poorly for Philadelphia. In the 3rd inning, Locke walked opposing pitcher Lannan on four pitches. After Michael Young lined out, Chase Utley powered a first-pitch fastball to the right-center-field fence. Lannan started chugging. McCutchen threw a hard hopper to cutoff man Neil Walker. Walker turned and fired home, where catcher Russell Martin cinder blocked the plate, caught the throw and tagged out Lannan to end the inning and keep it scoreless.

“I’m going to win some battles. They’re going to win some battles,” Locke said. “A night like tonight they’re finding some holes and hitting the ball pretty hard at points. You’ve just got to try to stay consistent.”

In the 4th, Locke gave up three singles and Starling Marte’s arm could not snipe Domonic Brown from scoring the game’s opening run. Locke labored again in his 6th and final inning, giving up his third hit to Delmon Young. After John Mayberry flew out to the warning track and Ben Revere popped out, Carlos Ruiz lined a single to left to remove Locke for Justin Wilson. The reliever gave up an RBI single to pinch-hitter Kevin Frandsen and another run when shortstop Jordy Mercer erred on a Michael Young ground ball. Quickly, the Pirates’ lead was down to one run.

Feel So Close To You Right Now

The Pirates’ sluggers added an insurance run on young reliever Phillippe Aumont. McCutchen drove an almost-stand-up triple to right, Sanchez was hit by a sinker and Martin turned on an RBI double to chase Aumont. A Jake Diekman fastball then got past catcher Carlos Ruiz, allowing Sanchez to score from third. Then Diekman turned on the charm, striking out all five hitters he faced with a thrilling fastball-slider combination.

Shutout innings from Jeanmar Gomez (7th) and Mark Melancon (8th) maintained the Pirates’ three-run lead. Jason Grilli got two flyouts to start the 9th-inning save opportunity. Jimmy Rollins doubled to left-center as Marte did not try to throw him out at second. Then the other guy in this game who can homer in any at-bat did so. Domonic Brown cranked out an 0-2 slider left up in the zone by Grilli for a two-run homer, his 22nd of the season to put the Phillies within one.

Grilli struck out Delmon Young with three whiffs to end the 24-hit, nearly three-and-a-half-hour marathon for Pirates’ win Number 52. The Bucs still own Major League Baseball’s best record and maintain a two-gave division lead over the St. Louis Cardinals.

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David Lewis

Compliments to Mr. Hague on a great picture up at the top. (Shall we call him “The Pic Collector”?)

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