PITTSBURGH — The Pirates’ messaging over this season has been consistent. They’re certain they’ve improved throughout the year, and they have a stat to tell you why.
Entering this week’s series against the Milwaukee Brewers, they’d played in an MLB-high 61 games this season decided by two runs or fewer. In those games, their record was 25-36. Since May 20 alone, 31 of the Pirates’ 41 losses have come by two runs or fewer. From the front office to manager Derek Shelton to the players themselves, the Pirates have pointed to that number to explain they’re closer than some may think if they could just figure out how to pull out the close games.
Perhaps, that tide is beginning to turn. The Pirates beat the Brewers, 5-4, in extra innings on Thursday, clinching a three-game sweep over their division foes, with all three wins coming by two runs or fewer, and, for the second game in a row, the win came via walk-off.
In the bottom of the 10th, after the Brewers plated one in the top of the frame, center fielder Bryan Reynolds wasted no time squaring things back up. He took the first pitch he saw and flew it into the right-field corner, scoring the automatic runner, Tucupita Marcano, from second. The Pirates then loaded the bases with an intentional walk to Ben Gamel, a flyout from Ke’Bryan Hayes that advanced Reynolds to third, then another intentional walk to Oneil Cruz.
That brought up Michael Chavis, and he didn’t have to do anything. Chavis got into an 0-2 count, then Brewers reliever Matt Bush uncorked a wild pitch through his catcher’s legs, allowing Reynolds to scamper home for the game-winning run.
That isn’t exactly how you draw it up, but the Pirates entered this game with a 2-8 record in extra innings. In other words, they’ll take it.
Really, the Pirates navigated the game pretty well. They taxed their bullpen the first couple games in the series, using six relievers to cover Wednesday night’s win and four others to pitch Tuesday. That left only a few completely fresh arms, and the Pirates used them effectively.
It started with some efficiency from right-hander Zach Thompson. He covered 4⅓ innings and looked better than his end result. He struck out five, walked one and allowed four hits. The only downside was two of those four hits landed in the seats, with a third-inning solo homer from Brewers catcher Victor Caratini and a fifth-inning, two-run bomb from right fielder Mike Brosseau. With that, Thompson was charged with three runs and chased from the game.
So, the Pirates then turned to fresh faces. First, left-hander Eric Stout, just called up from Triple-A Indianapolis before the game. He tossed 1⅔ innings and didn’t allow a run, striking out a pair. Then came right-hander Yohan Ramirez, called up before Wednesday’s game, who pitched an impressive shutout seventh inning, striking out two and erasing a hit with a pick-off move to first.
Right-hander Colin Holderman, one of the Pirates’ acquisitions at the trade deadline, entered and tossed a perfect eighth but found trouble in the ninth. The Brewers loaded the bases on a double, an intentional walk and a hit batter. Holderman got bailed out, though. He induced a hotshot grounder from Tyrone Taylor wide of third base. The ever-reliable Hayes sprawled to his right, nabbed the ball, stepped on third and threw over to first to complete the clutch, inning-ending double play.
That entire time, the Pirates kept chipping away offensively. They plated two key runs in the seventh to tie the game at three, with RBI singles from Marcano and Gamel.
With that, the defense and the pitching, extra innings were necessary, and the Pirates were clear to walk it off one more time against the Brewers. It will never be possible to say a team 19 games under .500 is on a roll, but the Pirates entered this series having lost seven games in a row and with the weight of close losses on their shoulders.
At least for the last three days, with a cast of new and young characters, they’ve begun to turn that trend around. If that doesn’t provide some more positive vibes, nothing will.©2022 PG Publishing Co. Visit at post-gazette.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.