The strange thing about big late-inning comebacks is that they've started before you ever fully realize what's going on. When Mike McKenry sent a Mat Latos pitch into the Reds' bullpen in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Pirates' win expectancy barely ticked up at all, going from 2.5% to 4.9%. I mostly filed it away as something that I was happy to see; remember that when the Pirates' signed Russell Martin, by biggest qualm wasn't that Martin wouldn't be worth the money that the Pirates were paying him, but that he wouldn't be worth that much more than McKenry. There was no way to know this winter how The Fort's power would translate to a new season, so seeing his first homer of the year was just one of those things I had on the radar. The same thing went for Starling Marte's single later in the inning; I was just happy to see his hitting streak continue.
After Marte's single, Travis Snider stood in the batter's box and I thought, "If he can hit a ball out of the park here, maybe we can start thinking comeback." Snider very nearly did that, ripping a shot to the top of the right field wall that a fan interfered with, obscuring whether the ball would've cleared the fence or not (if you watched the TV broadcast, Walk and Neverett were in disbelief that the umpires ruled fan interference after the review, but it looked to me like the fan reached a good ways out over the wall and I think the ball hit him over the field of play; I think the ball would've cleared the fence without interference, but there's not really any way to know for sure and so I don't think the umpires really got the call wrong). That was his second double of the day, and it scored Marte. Luckily the debate over the ruling turned out to be a moot point, because Andrew McCutchen doubled in Snider and Gaby Sanchez singled in McCutchen to make the game 5-4.
The Reds got a sixth run in the top of the eighth and I thought that might deflate the rally a bit, but it in no way slowed the Pirates down. Pedro Alvarez walked and McKenry homered again to tie the game. After a John McDonald out, Jose Tabata walked and Starling Marte crushed a homer down the left field line to give the Pirates the lead. They kept piling on until it was 10-6, which was good since Joey Votto opened the top of the ninth up with a huge homer to center off of Mark Melancon. Melancon put the Reds down without incident from there, though, to closeout the comeback win.
What can you say about this game? Phil Irwin was pretty shaky early on in his start and his poor control lead to a 4-0 Red lead after two innings. It seemed like today would be a lost cause at that point, especially when the Pirates failed to chip away at the lead. Irwin made it into the fifth, though, and Jeanmar Gomez did a nice job making sure that the Reds' lead never got too far out of control. McKenry and Marte and McCutchen (all of whom had two hits in the seventh and eighth) took over from there.
Coupled with Friday's exciting win, it's been quite a while since there's been a better or more satisfying weekend of Pirate baseball. On Friday, Andrew McCutchen came up huge when it seemed like everything was lost. On Saturday, Johnny Cueto's injury opened a door for the Pirates and they went through it. On Sunday, Mike McKenry dragged the team back into a tie and Starling Marte took his turn in the spotlight to put the Pirates out ahead. These Pirates are the ones that I'd hoped to see in spring training; a bunch of young hitters capable of pushing runs across and compensating for the rough edges around the pitching staff in the early part of this season. The schedule ahead is pretty daunting (the Cardinals and Braves are coming to PNC next, and they're pretty clearly the two best teams in the NL in the early part of 2013), but things certainly feel much different today than they did after that series in LA closed up. In the first week of the season, the Pirates went 1-5 and scored eight runs. Today they scored ten runs in the seventh and eighth innings, and they're 6-6.
Of course, over-reacting after a good week is just as bad as over-reacting after a bad one. The Pirates are back to square one. They've played some fun baseball games lately. This next week could be a doozy, though. Time to think about the Cardinals.