By Paul Zeise
The Pirates bats were red hot and the team was coming off a sweep of Detroit and hoping to build on that momentum as they began a 10-game homestand Friday at PNC Park against the Cleveland Indians.
And by the end, a soggy start and a long rain delay, wouldn’t be the only thing that dampened the spirits of the Pirates fans as the Indians pitchers did their best to steal the joy of the home crowd, too.
The Indians used five pitchers to stymie the Pirates bats and won, 5-2, in front of a sold out crowd of 38,840 at PNC Park in a game that lasted more than five hours and ended well after midnight.
“We’ve been doing this a lot lately so I don’t think it is a challenge,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said when asked if he thought the rain delay made it tough for his team to get refocused and finish the game. “We have some experience doing this.”
Rain notwithstanding, the Pirates managed only three hits in the game – two of them came in the fourth inning – and really didn’t even mount many credible scoring threats considering they only left three men on base.
On the other hand, Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton got off to a rocky start as all three hitters he faced he faced in the top of the first inning hit the ball hard but he right at Pirates fielders.
So even though Morton survived that inning unscathed, it was clearly a sign of things to come and sure enough the Indians got on board in the top of the second.
Indians outfielder David Murphy led off that inning with a single and then Brandon Moss followed with a two-run homer to left and all of the sudden it was 2-0 Indians.
Morton got into trouble again in the top of the fourth as Moss was hit by a pitch, advanced to third on a single by Yan Gomes and then scored on a double by Michael Bourn.
The damage in that inning would have been worse except Starling Marte made a great play on the hit by Gomes and threw him out at second as he tried to stretch his single into a double.
Meanwhile, Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer was perfect through the first three innings but he, too, ran into trouble in the fourth and that allowed the Pirates to get back into the game.
Neil Walker led off the inning with a single to right then Andrew McCutchen blasted his tenth home run of the season – this one over the centerfield wall – and all of the sudden it was 3-2 Indians.
Morton (6-2) never really settled in and he was bailed out several times by his defense and as a result he managed to dance through the rain drops – both figuratively and literally as it was raining on and off throughout the entire game – and minimize the damage done by the Indians offense.
And his line wasn’t terrible, either, as he went six innings and allowed only four hits and three earned runs, but he also walked three and he wasn’t efficient and ended up throwing 104 pitches.
Hurdle said Morton didn’t have his best game but battled through some things and turned in a very credible performance.
“He was able to get his ball down but early on his ball was elevated a little bit and he made the one pitch to Moss where he left the ball over the plate,” Hurdle said. “But he had 11 guys retired on three pitches or less and 11 ground ball outs so his overall volume of work was pretty good.
“He gave us a start and kept us the game. It was a little less of the command we have seen but we kept setting the bar pretty high for ourselves when we keep trying to dissect the guy who pitched six innings and gave up only three runs as if he came up short…he didn’t.”
Antonio Bastardo took over for Morton in the 7th and worked his way into a jam of his own as he walked pitcher Trevor Bauer and second baseman Jason Kipnis and the Indians had men on first and second with only one out.
But like Morton before him, Bastardo got out of it as he struck out Francisco Lindor and got Michael Brantley to fly out harmlessly to left to end the inning.
Andrew McCutchen walked to lead off the top of the 7th inning and then Starling Marte hit into a fielder’s choice as McCutchen was forced out at second.
That meant the Pirates had a runner on first and one out and that’s when the umpires decided that the steady rain that had been falling for a lot of the night had soaked the field sufficiently to stop the game.
And to the delight of the fans who stayed in the park, the Cardinals-Padres game was shown on the Jumbotron during the rain delay and Pirates fans were able to cheer Jedd Gyorko’s RBI single in the 9th to lift the Padres to a 2-1 win.
It was the fourth loss in a row for the Cardinals (51-28) -- their longest losing streak of the season – and meant the Pirates would have a chance to pick up a game on them in the standings for the fourth night in a row.
The rain delay lasted 2 hours, 8 minutes and when the game finally got going again, the once sold out crowd had dwindled to a handful of spirited diehards.
Bauer (7-5) had been cruising for most of the game as the Pirates only managed one more hit off of him after the McCutchen home run – a 6th inning single by Josh Harrison that was cleaned up by a nifty 3-6-1 double play off the bat of Walker.
He came out to start the seventh inning but the rain delay ended his night after he went 6 1/3 innings and gave up three hits, 2 earned runs and threw only 74 pitches.
Lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski started for the Indians after the game got going again and he faced Pedro Alvarez with one out and Marte on first when the game finally got going again.
Rzepczynski struck out Alvarez on three pitches and then was done for the night as Indians manager Terry Francona brought in righty Zach McAllister to face Francisco Cervelli and he drew a walk.
McAllister then ended the inning – and the Pirates threat – with a strikeout of Gregory Polanco.
Hard throwing reliever Arquimedes Caminero started the eighth inning for the Pirates but he didn’t finish it, or even close to finishing it, and that wasn’t good news for the home team.
The Indians used a walk and consecutive singles to load the bases against Caminero and then Bourn broke the game open with a two-run single to right center.
“It is all about location,” Hurdle said with regards to Caminero’s inability to get outs. “His balls have been elevated [recently] more than they have been in the past.”
Hurdle then relieved Caminero with Jared Hughes, who got the Pirates out of the inning without giving up any more runs, but the damage had already been done as the Indians pushed their lead to 5-2.
Indians closer Cody Allen worked a scoreless ninth to pick up his 16th save in 17 chances.
The Pirates (45-34), who remained six games behind the National League Central-leading Cardinals, and Indians (38-41) will play again today at 4:05 and Jeff Locke (4-4, 4.55 ERA) will take the mound against rookie Cody Anderson (1-0, 0.57).
INDIANAPOLIS (49-33) lost to Toledo, 4-1. RHP Chris Volstad (5-3, 3.62) left the game after 3 2/3 innings after he allowed 3 runs on 7 hits and walked 3 as he was saddled with the loss. 2B Alen Hansen (.296) was 2 for 4, while C Tony Sanchez (.208) was the only other Indians player with 2 hits as he went 2 for 3.
ALTOONA (43-37) lost to Trenton, 10-4. RHP Matt Benedict (3-3, 5.12) took the loss as he allowed 5 earned runs on 4 hits and 2 walks in two-thirds of an inning of relief. SS Adam Frazier (.374) was 2 for 2 with 2 doubles and scored a pair of runs. 3B Dan Gamache (.309) finished 3 for 5 with a double and both drove in and scored a run. 1B Josh Bell (.315) and DH Eric Wood (.220) each had 2 hits.
BRADENTON (38-41) came from behind in the bottom of the ninth to defeat Charlotte, 9-8. DH JaCoby Jones (.262) went 4 for 5 with a two-run homer, a double and scored the winning run on a wild pitch. CF Austin Meadows (.287), LF Barrett Barnes (.273), 2B Erich Weiss (.285) and C Reese McGuire (.267) each had two hits as part of a 13-hit attack. RHP Junior Lopez (1-0, 0.00) pitched 2 scoreless innings of relief as he picked up his first win since being called up from West Virginia.
WEST VIRGINIA POWER (44-34) lost to Kannapolis, 3-0, in a rain-shortened seven-inning game. RHP Alex McRae (4-5, 4.14) took the loss as he allowed 3 runs on 3 hits, walked 1 and struck out 3 in 5 innings. 3B Jordan Luplow (.230) and DH Chase Simpson (.255) had the only hits for the Power.
WEST VIRGINIA BLACK BEARS (6-8) lost to State College, 6-1. RHP Jonathan Brubaker (0-3, 7.71) allowed 3 runs on 6 hits in 5 innings as he took his third loss of the season. LF Ty Moore (.370) had 2 of the Black Bears 4 hits, while 1B Albert Baur (.297) drove in the team’s only run.
BRISTOL (3-6) game against Johnson City was postponed by rain.
GCL PIRATES (7-3) defeated the Braves, 2-0. RHP Luis Escobar (1-0, 2.53) tossed 5 innings of 1-hit shutout ball as he allowed one walk and struck out 4 for the win. LF Eric Thomas (.308) was 2 for 3 and scored a run. DH Raul Siri (.366) and C Yoel Gonzalez (.208) each drove in a run.
Here are some news and notes before tonight’s Indians-Pirates game. And the lineups:
Bats on Fire: The Pirates bats got extremely hot in Detroit and the result was a three-game series against the Tigers in which they produced 48 hits and scored 22 runs.
A key to the surge is that Jordy Mercer, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez have all busted out of slumps in the past week and the lineup became very difficult to pitch to.
Mercer said that hitting is indeed contagious and said that having Walker rolling is important because he drives in runs and can do so in many different spots in the lineup and from both sides of the plate.
“When it is going like this you don’t want to be the guy to get out, you want to pass the baton and keep things rolling,” Mercer said. “I think we have had four or five guys get hot at the right time and when you can get five or six guys on a roll, I think the sky is the limit for this team.
“I think whether you put Neil in front of Cutch [Andrew McCutchen] in the lineup or behind him the other team knows they can’t just settle down on Cutch, they know they have to deal with Neil too and when you figure in Marte, who has been hitting, putting those three back-to-back-to-back it makes us really dangerous.”
Third baseman Josh Harrison said that the key to the Pirates success against Detroit and, he hopes, going forward is that all eight hitters in the lineup were tough outs.
He said if you look at the Pirates lineup, their strength is their versatility and the way they all seem to complement each other and in turn rely on each other.
“We have a good group of guys,” Harrison said. “And our pitchers have also had good at bats and have gotten some bunts down and things like that. So when you have guys one through eight and can do different things, guys who can run, guys who can hit for power, etc., it puts pressure on the other side.”
Pitcher moves: The Pirates have lost minor league pitcher Clayton Richard, who was acquired by the Cubs for cash considerations. Richard had a clause in his contract which stated if another team wanted him for their 25-man roster the Pirates had to trade him.
Also, highly regarded Jameson Taillon had another setback in his road to recovery from Tommy John surgery as the Pirates announced he will undergo surgery to repair an inguinal hernia late next week.
The typical return to competition after that particular surgery is two months.
International Prospects: Friday was the first day of the international signing period and the Pirates signed Dominican outfielder Kevin Sanchez, Dominican catcher Samuel Inoa and outfielder Larry Alcime from the Bahamas.
Sanchez, 16, will receive a $450,000 signing bonus, Inoa, 16, will receive a $240,000 bonus and Alcime, 16, will receive a signing bonus of $350,000.
A big fan in Harrison: Mo’Ne Davis became a 13-year old celebrity in the 2014 Little League World Series as she helped pitch her team from Philadelphia to an exciting run of wins.
She was the first girl to earn a win and pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history and while she was the 18th girl to play in the LLWS, she was the first African-American girl.
Friday she threw out the first pitch at PNC Park before the Pirates-Indians game to the delight of the crowd – and she also had a big fan in the Pirates dugout in Harrison.
“It was exciting to see [her pitch],” Harrison said. “And what she did last year was something that everyone took notice of and it is cool to see her [at PNC] because she is an athlete and you can tell she has fun in what she does and that is what it is all supposed to be about.”
A natural rival: The Pirates and Indians have very little history over the years as they have only played each other 33 times.
But as Clint Hurdle found out quickly, the Indians and Pirates don’t have to play often for it to be a rivalry as one team resides in Cleveland, the other in Pittsburgh and that’s enough.
“I hear this is the most important series of the year,” Hurdle said. “In fact, I heard that a couple of times coming in here today, actually from some Pirates employees. It was ‘you know, great job in Detroit but you really need to win these games!’
“So I found that interesting.”
Harrison - 3B
Walker - 2B
McCutchen - CF
Marte - LF
Alvarez - 1B
Cervelli - C
Polanco - RF
Mercer - SS
Morton - RHP
Kipnis - 2B
Lindor - SS
Brantley - LF
Murphy - RF
Moss - 1B
Gomes - C
Urshela - 3B
Bourn - CF
Bauer - RHP
INDIANAPOLIS (49-32) beat Toledo, 7-3. RHP Wilfredo Boscan (6-3, 3.89) was the winner, giving up 3 runs – 2 earned – and 7 hits in 5 2/3 innings. DH Corey Hart (.222) hit a 2-run homer. RF Jose Tabata (.354) doubled twice and scored 2 runs.
ALTOONA (43-36) lost to Trenton, 11-3. RHP Jason Creasy (8-2, 3.55) was the loser, allowing 7 runs and 8 hits in 4 innings. LF Jose Osuna (.298) went 2 for 4 with 2 RBIs. DH Stetson Allie (.206) homered.
BRADENTON (37-41) beat Charlotte, 7-3. RHP Tyler Eppler (1-1, 5.40) was the winner, allowing 1 run and 2 hits in 5 innings. 1B Edwin Espinal (.269) went 3 for 4 with 3 RBIs. 3B Wyatt Mathisen (.293) went 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs.
WEST VIRGINIA POWER (44-33) beat Kannapolis, 5-1. LHP Stephen Tarpley (4-2, 2.57) was the winner, giving up 3 runs and 1 hit in 7 innings. RF Michael Suchy (.279) went 2 for 3 with a home run and 3 RBIs. DH Jerrick Suiter (.317) went 3 for 3.
WEST VIRGINIA BLACK BEARS (6-7) beat State College, 7-1. RHP Stephan Meyer (3.38) allowed 1 run and 5 hits in 2 2/3 innings. LHP Andy Otamendi (1-0, 1.42) was the winner. C Christian Kelley (.192) went 2 for 4 with 3 RBIs.
GCL PIRATES (6-3) beat GCL Tigers, 3-2. RHP Chris Plitt (0.00) gave up 1 hit in 3 scoreless innings. RHP Gerardo Navarro (2-0, 1.80) was the winner. CF Michael De La Cruz (.297) and LF Eric Thomas (.261) each went 2 for 4.
BRISTOL (3-6) vs. Bristol, ppd.
LHP Francisco Liriano (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)
Game: Pirates (43-33) at Tigers (39-37)
Time: 1:08 p.m.
Site: Comerica Park
TV, radio: ROOT Sports, KDKA-FM 93.7
Weather: 72 and mostly sunny
1. Josh Harrison 3B
2. Jordy Mercer SS
3. Andrew McCutchen DH
4. Starling Marte CF
5. Jung Ho Kang 3B
6. Francisco Cervelli C
7. Neil Walker 2B
8. Gregory Polanco RF
9. Sean Rodriguez 1B
Francisco Liriano LHP
1. Rajai Davis CF
2. Ian Kinsler 2B
3. Miguel Cabrera 1B
4. Victor Martinez DH
5. Yoenis Cespedes LF
6. J.D. Martinez RF
7. Nick Castellanos 3B
8. Bryan Holaday C
9. Jose Iglesias SS
Kyle Ryan LHP
• Clint Hurdle was asked, again, if he had any stories about growing up as a Tigers fan. He did, of course, and it was good. It’s never not good.
"My story would always be the trip we'd make from Big Rapids. My mom and dad would pile us in the car, and we'd come up here, make the drive, and show up for a weekend series. It was very similar to heading to the Wizard of Oz. We were headed to the Emerald City. Not a lot big buildings in Big Rapids. When we'd get outside the city limts, you'd see the big buildings and think, man, this is going to be great. You'd get to the stadium, Tiger Stadium, and it was a museum on top of being a ballpark. I can remember the smells like they were yesterday. The peanuts, the popcorn — well, I guess you can't smell peanuts 'til you crack them open — the smell of the grass, the fresh unis, the old English 'D' on your chest. It takes me back to when I was young, and I have those same feelings every time we drive in here coming into the city. It never gets old, and it's never not good."
• It’s the Pirates’ annual fathers’ trip here in Detroit. Plenty of new (yet eerily familiar) faces around the clubhouse. Sixteen fathers — dads of the trainig staff, coaching staff and players — seeing how their sons live. Here’s Hurdle: "They've got a big responsibility tomorrow night. They're all going to go out and throw out the first pitch against the Indians before the game, so they've all been loosening up, getting their arms ready. Got to make sure we don't have anybody bounce it or overshoot it. And then it's just baseball talk. My dad and I get up every morning and walk over (in Birmingham) to have coffee. We chat things up, we chat things up on the way home. It's fun to hang out. It's fun to have him in the office. I know the kids out there, the players, feel the same way. Their dads have a much better understanding of what their sons walk through and go through on a daily basis. We had them involved in our scout meeting the other day. They all come out like, 'That's what you guys do all the time?' Yeah, that's what we do and how we do it. They are memories that will last a lifetime. They're always precious when you can get a father and son together for three or four days. You need to take advantage of it."
• Gregory Polanco making just his second start vs. a left-hander today. He had three hits last night, so this is a chance to try to keep him in a rhythm and see if his success will translate against a lefty. "We're going to find out,“ Hurdle said. ”That's why he's playing. I like the way he's swinging the bat, so we'll run him out there and see."
• The Pirates had 21 hits last night for the first time since 2004. That last time? It happened against Hurdle’s Colorado Rockies. "We talked about it on the bus last night,” he said. ”I like to tag things, and I can remember walking out of the ballpark after being beat up by them. I was going, 21 hits, that's Clemente's number, I'll probably hold onto this one for a while. Unfortunately, I'll remember this for a while. So, yeah, I've seen the last two 21-hit games by the Pirates, 11 years apart.“