PITTSBURGH – It wasn’t pretty, but the Pirates got the job done again.
The Pirates defeated the Giants 5-2 tonight, taking three of four and putting San Francisco a daunting nine games behind them in the Wild Card race.
Francisco Liriano was not sharp and neither was the defense behind him, but Liriano and the bullpen found a way to get outs when they most needed them.
After the Giants’ Matt Duffy singled with one out in the fifth inning, Buster Posey followed by hitting a high pop-fly into shallow right field. A lack of communication by Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker allowed the ball to drop in between them. Walker retrieved the ball and fired to second with plenty of time to get Duffy but his throw bounced into left field, allowing Duffy to get to third base. Marlon Byrd then hit a routine groundball to Aramis Ramirez, who executed the easy throw to first, but Alvarez was unable to glove it and a run scored to give the Giants their first run of the night. With runners on first and second base and still only one out, Liriano was able to work out of the jam by striking out Andrew Susac and inducing a comebacker to the mound to retire Brandon Crawford.
Liriano was faced with a similar situation in the sixth inning. After striking out the first hitter of the inning, Alvarez made his second error of the night when he missed a line-drive off the bat of Gregor Blanco. Liriano then allowed two straight singles pulling the Giants to within one and ending Liriano’s night. Arquimedes Caminero relieved Liriano and was able to induce a groundball double-play to shut down the Giants’ rally and limit the damage.
Overall, Liriano finished the night allowing seven hits, three walks, and two unearned runs in 5.1 innings of work. He did not have his best stuff tonight, striking out only five batters, but was able to get through the outing and keep the Pirates ahead in the game.
“He had some sequences where he was lights-out and he had some sequences where he was pitching from behind,” Hurdle said of Liriano’s outing. “At the end of the night, he could’ve gotten out of there without giving up a run. You talk about a man’s grit on the mound, rolling his sleeves up and getting some things done in the dirt, he was able to do that tonight.”
Joakim Soria pitched a shaky seventh inning in which he allowed a two-out walk and a ground-rule double, but was able to retire pinch-hitter Brandon Belt to get out of the inning unscathed. Tony Watson and Mark Melancon combined to pitch two perfect innings to close the game.
The offense stayed hot tonight, led by solo home runs from Andrew McCutchen and Alvarez. Every position player reached base tonight and the Pirates recorded at least one base hit in every inning.
As I wrote about Tuesday night, the offense has been a huge difference maker so far in the second half of the season. In the first half, the Pirates’ offense ranked 27th in home runs (67) and 21st in OPS (.698). So far in the second half, the Pirates rank 10th in home runs (40) and 4th in in OPS (.770).
** Arquimedes Caminero has been one of the most dominant relievers in the Majors during the month of August. He has now pitched 16 straight scoreless innings, and is inducing groundballs at a 78% clip. Right now, Caminero is either striking out opposing batters or producing groundballs.
Hurdle has been using Caminero mostly in long-relief situations as of late, but he turned to Caminero when the Pirates needed a groundball or strikeout in a spot that has been usually reserved for Jared Hughes. Caminero got the groundball the Pirates desperately needed, and sustained their one-run lead in the sixth inning.
“That kept the game in check and kind of tipped it our way from a momentum standpoint,” Hurdle said.
** The Pirates have officially finished their toughest stretch of the season, and fared tremendously. Since August 4th, the Pirates have played the Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, Mets, Diamondbacks and Giants. If you remember coming into this stretch, the Pirates had just lost A.J. Burnett to injury, Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison were still two weeks away from returning, and many hoped that the Pirates would be able to tread water through it.
The Pirates went 13-5 during that stretch.
The schedule will ease up again for the next couple of weeks, with three last place teams over the next ten games. The Pirates will play only one team with a winning record until they meet the Cubs in the middle of September. They begin that stretch in Miami tomorrow night. Tim Williams will have live coverage of the series.