PITTSBURGH – Clint Hurdle has consistently denounced the idea of September call-ups, but recognizes that he exploits it as much as any manager in baseball.
“I’m not a fan of it, but I will definitely use every player,” Hurdle said before today’s game.
And once again, the Pirates’ expanded rosters played a crucial role in their 5-4 victory over the Cubs in the first game of today’s day/night double-header.
Due to Starling Marte’s bout with illness, the Pirates have turned to September call-up Travis Snider to make two consecutive starts, in which he’s contributed key bases-loaded hits, driving in two runs in each of the past two games. Today, his big contribution came in the first inning, when he delivered a single up the middle against Cubs’ starter Jason Hammel and gave the Pirates an early 3-1 lead.
After the Cubs tied the score at four in the seventh, Pedro Alvarez led off the bottom of the eighth with a walk and designated pinch-runner Pedro Florimon ran for Alvarez. Florimon promptly stole second base, and Cubs’ catcher Miguel Montero’s throw sailed into center field, allowing the speedy Florimon to reach third base. Starling Marte, who was inserted into the game as a defensive replacement the prior inning, hit a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Florimon and giving the Pirates a late 5-4 lead.
The Pirates have a deep, versatile roster and the flexibility Hurdle has available to him late in the game has continued to play a big role.
“There’s a lot of trust in the player pool in what they do,” Hurdle said. “I believe that when they go in there they are going to get the job done. They are in there for a reason.”
Hurdle has virtually every weapon the team could possibly need at his disposal, and he hasn’t hesitated to use them.
** Gerrit Cole was dominant for much of the day and his final line was not indicative of his performance. He allowed an infield single by Dexter Fowler to begin the game, and Fowler came around to score the game’s first run after stealing second base, moving to third on a throwing error by Chris Stewart, and scoring on a sacrifice fly to center field.
After the first inning, Cole cruised through the next five innings as efficiently and as dominantly as he has all season. The Cubs were only able to muster two singles against Cole through that span and he struck out seven in the process.
Cole ran into some trouble in the seventh inning, however, after giving up two straight singles to Montero and Starlin Castro, followed by an RBI-double from pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella, putting runners on second and third base with only one out, and cutting the Pirates’ lead to 4-2. Joakim Soria relieved Cole, and threw two wild pitches, allowing both of the inherited runners to score and closing the book on Cole.
Overall, Cole pitched 6.1 innings, gave up a tough-luck three earned runs, walked zero and struck out eight.
“I felt fresh,” Cole said afterwards. “I had some good weapons today. I thought the stuff was pretty crisp, I just thought there was lack of execution in some key situations that could’ve kept the pitch count down and obviously could’ve gotten us out of the seventh inning.”
** Tony Watson and Mark Melancon did what everyone have become accustomed to. They each pitched a perfect inning, with Watson earning his fourth win, and Melancon picking up his franchise record-tying 46th save of the season.
** Game two will get underway at 7:05, as the Pirates will send out red-hot J.A. Happ against the Cubs and Jon Lester. With their win in game one, the Pirates have cut the Cardinals division lead to just two games, and extended their lead over the Cubs to five games for the top Wild Card position.