The Pirates took full advantage of baseball’s worst team in their 5-4 comeback win Friday night, capitalizing on a pair of homer-ready fastballs and two Astros errors in right field.
Pedro Alvarez pulverized a first-pitch fastball served up by a Quad-A pitcher with a 6.00 ERA to tie the score in the 8th. Then Russell Martin popped up a ball that had “extra innings” all over it, until a rookie and a utility player collided in right to gift the Bucs (25-17) a walkoff error. The surprisingly loud contingent of 29,743 at PNC Park certainly played a factor in the Astros’ (11-31) bad-news mishap to end the game.
“We got really lucky,” Martin said. “It definitely feels like they probably lost the game more than we won the game.”
Lucky? Sure, but still a close victory over a team that could not prevent runs if we called them “jogs.” Andrew McCutchen homered off fringy starter Jordan Lyles in the 1st, but got his luck by seeing a routine fly ball become a three-base error via right fielder Chris Carter in the 6th. McCutchen scored the Pirates’ first two runs, helped by the Astros’ generosity, and added an opposite-field single to aid the Bucs’ ninth-inning comeback.
“It’s usually a sign of him getting to a good place,” Hurdle said. “That was good to see, there’s no doubt.”
When the Astros were still in the NL Central, these were the kinds of games the Pirates would lose. Instead, the Bucs picked up 10+ for the fifth time in eight games. The offense is stringing together more runs, and a pair of games remaining against Houston can only help their – ahem – upswing.
Gomez Can’t Hold Up
Starting pitcher Jeanmar Gomez began his fourth start well, despite leadoff hitter Robbie Grossman opening the score by coming around after a game-opening double. He said he didn’t have his best stuff, but Gomez used his sinker to retire 11 straight Astros hitters in efficient fashion.
The foundation crumbled in the 5th. Gomez served up a go-ahead solo homer to Matt Dominguez on what he called “a good pitch,” a sinker inside. The right-hander then allowed a single to Marwin Gonzalez. After Lyles bunted Gonzalez over, Gomez allowed his first walk to Grossman and an RBI single to Jake Elmore.
“When you don’t have your best stuff, you have to battle,” Gomez said.
Then things got weird. Elmore was dead on arrival trying to steal second, but Russell Martin’s throw was in the dirt in front of Clint Barmes. The ball skipped behind the bag to Neil Walker, whose throw home to get Grossman was off-target. Grossman scored to put the Astros up 4-1, as errors were charged to Barmes and Walker. Gomez went on to walk Jason Castro, and was promptly removed. Three of the Astros’ four runs were charged to the starter.
There were few signs that Gomez would labor through the fifth inning as he did. The right-hander completed the first four innings with a very low count of 36 pitches. Granted, he got only two hitters to swing and miss in the contest, but his command had been good prior to the home run, two singles and two walks.
Get ‘Em Back
The Pirates mounted a comeback effort in the 6th with starter Lyles’ pitch count climbing. Carter dropped the fly ball off McCutchen’s bat, then Garrett Jones drove in McCutchen with a double down the right-field line. A total of 89 pitches was all for Lyles, as left-hander Travis Blackley entered to face Neil Walker.
On the first pitch, Walker laid down a bunt (a decision he says he made himself) and it went right back to Blackley who tossed it to third base for the easy out of Jones. The free out didn’t stop the Pirates from loading the bases on Russell Martin’s and reliever Paul Clemens’ walk of pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez. Jordy Mercer popped out in the bases-loaded situation, though, keeping the Astros lead at two.
Another two-out scoring opportunity arrived in the 7th. McCutchen doubled off Clemens, but pinch-hitter Brandon Inge hit a ground ball right back to reliever Wesley Wright to keep the Pirates from causing any damage.
While Pirates’ reliever Vin Mazzaro, Tony Watson and Justin Wilson combined on 4.1 shutout innings, the offense kept pushing. In the 8th, Walker got aboard with a leadoff single, then scored on Alvarez’s explosive and team-leading 7th home run. The missile from Alvarez flew 462 feet, one-hopping into the Allegheny River.
“I’m surprised it bounced,” Travis Snider said.
The game-tying homer was the first of Alvarez’s career to find water, but he remains unsatisfied.
“I’m not going to take credit if it bounces in,” Alvarez said to laughs. “That’s cheating.”
Against Edgar Gonzalez, Starling Marte led off the 9th with a bloop single over Elmore’s head. Marte was thrown out at second on Snider’s check swing plop to third, but Snider reached. He went to third base on McCutchen’s single to right field. Brandon Inge reached when Gonzalez bobbled a comebacker, then Walker struck out looking.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Martin was a strike away from extras or a ball away from shrimp walkoff, but instead hit a pop fly into right-center. Jake Elmore and Jimmy Paredes collided as the ball flew in, and the E-9 sent the Pirates’ contingent of the 29,743 fans at PNC Park home smiling, their team tied with Cincinnati for the NL’s second-best record.
“Definitely not the way I planned it,” Martin said. “We’ll take it.”
Multiple players said the crowd noise played a factor in the game-ending error, as did the second baseman Elmore.
#Astros' Jake Elmore said crowd was too loud and "You can't hear anything." If Paredes called him off, he couldn't hear it.
— Chronicle Astros (@ChronAstros) May 18, 2013
Simple fact: Two teams play the game. One had to win it. This time, it was the one that didn’t have two inexperienced fielders plow into each other in the 9th inning.