Going into the top half of the ninth inning of Sunday’s game, the Angels led the Pirates by three runs. Los Angeles had scored six runs, only three of them were earned, as the Bucs defense had an awful night in the field.
However, the Bucs had already benefited from defensive miscues themselves. In the top of the third inning, after the Angels poured in five in the top of the second, a ball slipped under second baseman Howie Kendrick’s glove, allowing the Bucs to score their second run of the game.
Later in the inning, Gaby Sanchez hit an RBI single. Sanchez’s single was the second unearned run scored on Joe Blanton in the inning and it brought Pittsburgh within two runs.
In the fourth inning, Charlie Morton gave up his sixth run of the game on an RBI single by Brad Hawpe.
In the top half of the ninth, with the game in the hands of Angels’ closer Ernesto Frieri, the Bucs rallied. Frieri blew his second save of the season and gave up three runs for the first time all year.
Pittsburgh’s first run in the inning was scored on an Andrew McCutchen fielder’s choice, which plated Neil Walker.
Russell Martin then doubled to deep left, on a ball that was misplayed by left fielder J.B. Shuck. Martin, who had the day off but pinch-hit for DH Tony Sanchez, scored on a Starling Marte single to left, to tie the game up at six.
After Mark Melancon had an easy seven-pitch ninth inning, the Bucs’ bats were back in the box for more.
Kevin Jepson started the 10th for the Angels after replacing Frieri to get the last out in the ninth. The red-hot Pedro Alvarez, who had homered for the fourth straight game in the first inning, led off the frame with a double.
Clint Barmes then successfully bunted Alvarez to third.
Jepson followed by intentionally (and ironically) walking Walker, to face the righty Sanchez. Sanchez worked a walk on a long at-bat to load the bases for Travis Snider.
Snider singled to left and once again, the ball was misplayed and ended up plating three runs instead of one or two.
With one out, Snider on first and the Pirates lead at three, the Angels yanked Jepson and replaced him with righty Dane De La Rose.
Andrew McCutchen continued the onslaught on the Angel’s bullpen with a single to right. Martin followed Cutch’s hit with a single of his own, which stretched the lead to four at 10-6.
Manager Clint Hurdle elected to go to closer Jason Grilli in a non-save opportunity for the bottom of the 10th. Grilli struck out Mike Trumbo swinging to start the inning, but then Grilli got hit hard for one of the few times this year.
Howie Kendrick tripled on a misplayed single to Snider and Alberto Callaspo singled Kendrick in to cut the lead to three. Erick Aybar followed with a single to center, to bring the game-tying run to the plate.
Hank Conger pinch-hit for Chris Iannetta and flew out to center, bringing Shuck to the plate with two outs to redeem himself.
Shuck singled to center to score Callaspo and all of a sudden the winning run was at the plate.
Brendan Harris stepped into the box next and slapped a single to shallow left, to plate Aybar. Shuck went to third on the play, while Harris advanced to second on the throw.
With the game-winning run standing at second, the big, bad Mike Trout stepped to the plate.
Trout showed little in the series with only one hit, and more importantly, he showed even less in the last at bat of Sunday’s game, as he struck out to end the game.
With the victory, the Bucs have successfully swept the Angels and are now the proud owners of a four-game winning streak.
The Pirates now hold the second best record in baseball at 46-30 and trail the Central Division leading Cardinals by one and a half games. The Cincinnati Reds have fallen into third place after losing two out of three against the Diamondbacks this weekend.
Since losing starters A.J Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez a couple weeks ago, the team is continuing to win ballgames.
There seems to be something different about this team—something that makes me think this is the year that the streak ends.
The last two years the team has collapsed in the final months and that continues to be the question about the squad across the league.
The Pirates have to prove they’re for real. All they have been doing of late is proving to each team that they face that they are just as good as anyone else in this league.
With all the injuries to the starting pitching and with all the overused arms in the pen, the team is finding internal solutions for each of their problems, taking on the “next guy up” method.
In Sunday’s game, the team used a pair of rookie relievers to get them from the end of the sixth to the ninth inning when Melancon entered the game. Ryan Reid finished up the sixth for Morton and pitched a perfect seventh, lowering his ERA to 1.50 in five outings this season.
Duke Welker, a 6’7” second round pick of the team in 2007, pitched a perfect eighth in his first major league appearance. Welker threw a fastball that touched 98 mph at times and a tight slider that he had no problem throwing for strikes.
At the plate, the Bucs have been led by their third baseman of late.
Alvarez has had an unbelievable month of June so far and is currently on a seven-game hit streak. Alvarez has eight long-balls this month, to go with 21 RBI and has raised his average 36 points to a much more respectable .234.
The rest of the offense hits well in the later innings, with guys like McCutchen and Marte providing similar sparks to Alvarez.
With the pitching staff that the Pirates have, the offense just needs to keep doing what they’re doing and hope to get some bats hot. The team has noticed a significant decline in homeruns, but are hoping that the ball will start carrying better for guys like Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez and Martin.
The organizational depth of the team this year is so much better than it was in recent seasons. Their depth out of the pen and in the rotation has kept the team close enough nearly every game to win and rarely gives up late inning leads.
If Alvarez makes that step into superstardom, which the organization always thought he could, the young offensive nucleus of Alvarez, McCutchen, Marte, Mercer and Walker could be part of a strong lineup in the National League. Right now, the team has vets like Martin, Jones and Sanchez still holding onto big roles, which takes some of the offensive weight off the younger players.
The team travels to Seattle next, starting a two-game series on Tuesday night. Hopefully by the time the team heads back to Pittsburgh to play a weekend series with the Brewers, the streak is at six and we’re looking for more.