PITTSBURGH — Going into the bottom of the 7th, the Pirates were down 5-3 and seemed to only be able to crack the Dodgers’ pitching staff. There were signs of life with Francisco Cervelli’s triple in the 2nd and Andrew McCutchen’s bomb to straightaway center in the 5th, but McCutchen’s force out with the bases loaded in the 6th inning seemed to take a lot of wind out of the Pirates’ proverbial sails.
Then came the 7th inning.
Jim Johnson entered the game to pitch the 7th for the Dodgers, and he struck out Aramis Ramirez looking to begin the bottom of the frame. That was about all Jim Johnson was able to do correctly in the inning.
He proceeded to hit Jung Ho Kang, then allow consecutive hits to Pedro Alvarez and Francisco Cervelli to score Kang. After a Neil Walker sacrifice fly, the Pirates went single-walk-single-single-single before Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly finally removed Jim Johnson from the game.
The book was not quite closed on Johnson, who was responsible for two runners on base as Jung Ho Kang sent a Joel Peralta first-pitch fastball into the right field bleachers.
After all of the dust settled, the Pirates put a nine-spot up in the 7th inning to completely turn the game around, going from down 5-3 to leading 12-5. Clint Hurdle had a similar reaction to that incredible display of offense in the 7th.
“Wow,” Hurdle exclaimed when asked if the 7th inning was fun. “Yeah, it sure was. It just continues to be a testament of how these guys play the game. They don’t let things get in the way, and they don’t get distracted. They get out there and play baseball.”
When you look at the final line of what the Pirates did tonight, you would think that the Pirates dominated the game; however, through six innings, it felt as though it just may not be their night.
Charlie Morton scuffled through five innings, not anywhere close to the guy who went seven strong innings without allowing a run or walk last Sunday in Cincinnati. With Joakim Soria and Mark Melancon unavailable for the night, the other pieces in the Pirates bullpen had to step up.
Enter the Pirates bullpen. Enter Arquimedes Caminero.
Caminero came in and did exactly what Joe Blanton was able to do yesterday – hold things together when it seemed as though it all was about to fall apart. Blanton came in for Francisco Liriano yesterday and threw three scoreless innings, and Caminero came in tonight to bridge the gap with two scoreless innings after Morton exited the game.
“All those guys deserve a ton of credit,” Charlie Morton said about the bullpen. “It’s a big deal to know that you can go four or five innings, and you have a bullpen that can do what they do.”
Caminero echoed Morton’s sentiments, saying that it’s their job to pick up the starter when they may stumble.
“That’s what we do,” Caminero said. “We pick everybody up and back up each other. When a starter goes out, that’s what we are there for.”
Caminero kept the Pirates in the game long enough for the offense to figure things out. The bullpen has been essential to the Pirates success lately.
Looking back at the trade deadline, many people wanted Neil Huntington to go out and get a major piece to add to the rotation. Instead, he made moves like adding Joe Blanton and Joakim Soria to the bullpen.
You can then look at the dugout across the field from the Pirates on this beautiful Sunday night. The Dodgers picked up Jim Johnson and starter Alex Wood to bolster their pitching staff as they make another run for the playoffs. Johnson pitched 48 innings in Atlanta before the trade, only allowing 12 earned runs in that time. In four games for the Dodgers, Johnson has allowed 12 runs in 3.2 innings.
During a night like tonight when the offense explodes, it is easy to forget how important these bullpen guys are to this team. It is also easy to forget how well Neal Huntington has constructed this team – especially the bullpen. Each pitcher has played a very important role, and some are getting stronger as the season wears on. Caminero, for example, has gone five straight outings (6.2 IP) without allowing an earned run.
“We’ve had some guys that have had to work through some challenges and issues,” Hurdle said after the game, “but the bullpen has really given us a shot in the arm. They have shown up for us throughout the season and this was a great weekend for them to give us a shot in the arm.”
Arquimedes Caminero was able to stop the Dodgers offense and keep the Pirates close for two innings, giving enough time for the bats to wake up and do their damage. The offense in the seventh inning will get all of the attention tonight, but Caminero’s role was just as important.
**The Pirates are now 19-3 when hitting multiple home runs in a game.
**The Pirates’ victory tonight gave them their Major League leading 12th sweep of the season. It was the first time they swept the Dodgers in Pittsburgh since 1999.
**The Pirates are now 14-2 against NL West opponents, and they have swept four of the five series played against NL West teams.
**Francisco Cervelli made his 81st start of the season on Sunday night, which is a career-high (80 starts for the Yankees in 2010). Cervelli also leads the Pirates against left-handed pitching this season, batting .404 against lefties.
**The Pirates are 38-19 when they play errorless baseball, as they did not commit an error on Sunday night against the Dodgers.
**Neal Huntington spoke on A.J. Burnett before the game. Burnett has thrown both yesterday and today after receiving a PRP injection on Monday.
“We’re testing out where he is,” Huntington said. “How quickly is that inflammation going to get knocked out of there? A.J., of course, would like to come back in much less than four weeks, and we want to make sure we put him in a position to be successful. He’s felt good so far, and we’ll see how the build up process goes from here.”