With a man on third and nobody out in the top of the ninth inning, the Los Angeles Dodgers appeared ready to break a 3-3 tie with the heart of their lineup coming to the plate.
It’s hard enough to prevent a player from scoring from third when there are no outs, but Pirate’s closer Octavio Dotel was set to face the gauntlet of Rafael Furcal, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez. Surely, there was no denying these men the go-ahead RBI, right?
It was Dotel’s first major test of the season, and it’s safe to say he passed with flying colors. He was able to get Furcal to weakly ground out back to him, and followed that up with a brilliant battle with Matt Kemp that resulted in the Dodger’s All-Star looking at a called third strike. After a walk to Ethier, Dotel forced Ramirez to ground out feebly to second base.
It was a spectacular, dominating effort that reflected the Pirate’s bullpen as a whole during this extra-inning affair, one that would end with a bases-loaded single off the bat of Ronny Cedeno.
But while Garrett Jones smashed his third homer of the season, and Andy LaRoche redeemed himself from a disappointing Opening Day by drawing three walks and making two outstanding defensive plays at third base, the real story of this night was the Bucco’s bullpen.
I foolishly offered up that the ‘pen could be the Pirates' Achilles heel this season after a subpar opening day, but reader Jud Verno played devil’s advocate, and stated that the bullpen would actually be one of their biggest strengths this season.
He’s looking pretty smart right about now.
After starter Ross Ohlendorf allowed the Dodgers to tie the game with a three-run fifth inning and called it a night, the second straight game the Pirate’s starter has failed to last at least six innings, the bullpen was called upon for another long night of work, this time without the cushion of a big lead. They were more than up to the task.
The combination of Evan Meek, Javier Lopez, D.J. Carrasco, Dotel and Brendan Donnelly resulted in five scoreless innings, including just one hit for the Dodgers. While the six walks might be something the team wants to address, one of those was an intentional pass to Ramirez.
The entire fleet of relievers looked strong, including D.J. Carrasco who, after a disappointing appearance on opening day that resulted in three earned runs in less than an innings worth of work, had himself a 1-2-3 top of the eighth.
Evan Meeks two innings of work were another highlight, as was Donnelly’s 10th inning, as he was able to strand another Dodger at third base, setting up Cedeno’s heroics in the bottom of the inning.
None, though, were as impressive or telling as Dotel, who’s ninth inning masterpiece already has Pirate fans forgetting about the nightmarish meltdowns that too often accompanied their previous closer, Matt Capps, to the mound.
In all, Pirate’s pitching has been phenomenal throughout the first two games, and a big reason the team is 2-0 for the first time in three years. The heart of the Dodger’s lineup, Kemp, Ethier and Ramirez, three of the leagues’ most dangerous bats, are a combined 8-27 in the series, which is a great number considering how much damage they can do, and last night the entire Dodger’s lineup went a combined 2-15 with runners in scoring position, leaving a total of 12 men on base.
Those numbers are telling as to why the Pirate’s secured their first series win of the season, against a lethal Dodger’s club that will likely contend for a shot at the pennant, no less.
With Maholm taking the mound today, having the confidence of knowing this bullpen will back him up, there’s a good chance the Pirates can come away with the series sweep.
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