It's fitting that the Pirates played a game that's emblematic of their entire 2011 season in their national TV debut against the Braves tonight. They beat the Braves tonight with pitching, defense, and by taking advantage of some poor play in the field by the Braves. That's how the Pirates win most of their games, really, and it was particularly fitting to do it on ESPN tonight.
James McDonald was just excellent. He didn't last long (I'd guess that's partially due to the rainout, which often keeps starters warming up through the entire delay), but in 5 1/3 he struck out nine and walked none, which helped mediate his eight hits allowed. The Braves never really threatened until the sixth, though, and whenever the Braves put someone on he had the ability to reach down into his reserves and get a strikeout. The durability's obviously still a concern with him, but I think this was a heck of an effort for a rain delay game.
When he did get into trouble, loading the bases in the sixth in part because of a flukey catcher's interference call, Chris Resop came in and slammed the door on the Braves with two easy outs. And when Dan McCutchen got into trouble two innings later with a Chipper Jones homer followed by a walk, Jose Veras came in and slammed the door shut again. It's impossible to overstate how much Veras and Resop have meant to this club this year: they've had their ups and downs, but both of them have gotten some huge, huge outs during this team's hot stretch since mid-May and tonight was just another example of it.
The Pirates didn't get much offense tonight, but the Braves made one big mistake on the defensive side and the Pirates capitalized on it. Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez drew walks to open up the second inning, then Lyle Overbay hit a fly to shallowish left-center. Nate McLouth lined up like he was planning to gun down McCutchen at third (yeah, right), and Pedro Alvarez read the play perfectly and tagged up to move to second. As a result, Ronny Cedeno's ground ball to short resulted in a run and not an inning-ending double play, and Mike McKenry's double resulted in a second run.
I said before the game that I thought the Pirates had to get a win with JMac on the mound. They got it. At the 100-game mark in 2011, they're just four wins behind last year's 162-game total. What else even needs to be said? This is fun.
I think it's important to state how well McKenry played behind the plate on defense. All those breaking balls all night breaking into the dirt, he didn't allow one passed ball. The catcher interference was a weird call (one you almost never see) but can't really blame him, he's reaching for the third strike and the pitch was a little up and inside. But overall, the team played great and this is how they've been doing it and need to keep doing it.
I think the announcers made a good point during the game too. We hopefully can look at Alvarez as kind of a deadline pickup coming back from injury. If he starts to light it up, we're in good shape. Regardless, if the team keeps hustling and playing smart ball and getting good pitching, i see no reason why they can't keep this up.
This is that stretch (and into the next few weeks) where they can prove their mettle. I think they'll continue to be exciting to watch and keep getting it done.
Anybody watching the game had to start hurting when they showed the footage from 92'...that hurt bad. Keep it up bucs! We believe.
While JMac's innings total is definitely a concern, it was great to see him pitch like a staff ace tonight. My one complaint with the pitching staff this year is that it seems like strikeouts have been few and far between, and McDonald was exactly the kind of pitcher I wanted to see tonight. His pitch count is definitely a concern, but I'll take it any day of the week if it means nine strikeouts.
As for the rest of the pitchers, I though Resop had a good performance (he seemed shaky in two recent appearances, so it would be good to see him string together about seven or eight scoreless appearances) and McCutchen seemed fine, although he was left in for too long. Veras was interesting--the brilliant fastball followed by deep flyball against Uggla drove me up the wall, and to follow it up with the strikeout of McCann had to be the ultimate good Veras / bad Veras / good Veras appearance of the year. Hanrahan was solid as usual, too. Overall, I think this might have been the best team pitching performance of the year.
I thought Alvarez looked fine tonight--the error was bad and the strikeout on the low-and-away slider wasn't good, but he looked nice in his first at-bat and on the base hit. He did a great job of being aggressive on the basepaths--I wonder if some of that has to do with his weight loss, because he looked like a completely different person to me. McKenry's aggressive baserunning was also good to see, although he's got to be more careful behind the plate--he looked very shaky on that one popout in the later innings, and the batter's interference was not good to see.
Overall, this was a pretty big win for the team. Even though they'll be facing some very good pitchers for the rest of the series, I think there's going to be an opportunity for Correia to get back to form on Thursday--Atlanta's offense did not look so hot, and I think that could favor guys like him and Maholm (who hasn't struggled as much but could use a good start after his last appearance against the Cardinals). It'll be a tough game tomorrow, but I'm interested in seeing what Karstens can do against that lineup.
@rtjr822 McKenry has been a relief. When/if Doumit and Snyder return (what is there status?) they will probably send him back to the minors, but he definitely should get some recognition.
@nickjuneau24 I wouldn't be surprised if Snyder stays on the DL until rosters expand, and then the Pirates carry three catchers.
@whygavs @nickjuneau24 @rtjr822 Even if Snyder isn't done for the year, I'm not sure I would put him in front of the Fort anyhow. He'll be rusty and slowed by the injury, he's an ice wagon on the bases and he hasn't showed much of anything to justify that ridiculous salary Arizona decided to give him