video thumbnail

STL@PIT: Mercer makes basket catch, tumbles over wall

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates showed up at PNC Park on Saturday night hoping to win a game over the Cardinals.

Eventually, they had to prevail for their own organizational convictions, too.

The Bucs won both battles, holding off the Redbirds, 4-3, and in the process avoiding some sideways glances for their decision to not add an outfielder when they had a roster spot open prior to this series.

This is how one turns a potential sinkhole into a plateau:

Pressed into using two infielders as novice right fielders and having to again cover for the early departure of a starting pitcher, the Bucs nonetheless willed their way to their fourth straight victory.

"A gritty team win. We dealt with a lot of adversity in a lot of different areas and pushed through it," said manager Clint Hurdle, less with elation than with emotional exhaustion at the end of the tense evening.

Because Andrew McCutchen missed the start of the game with a sore left foot and Starling Marte was removed midgame with tightness in his lower back -- and with Travis Snider serving his suspension -- the Bucs had to protect a one-run lead for the final five innings with Gaby Sanchez and Jordy Mercer taking turns in right field, the outfield debuts for both.

The Bucs held their respective breath watching the two play in a spot where a Chris Dickerson, a Jaff Decker or a Gregory Polanco would have looked far more comfortable. However, it was infielder Brent Morel who was called up from Indianapolis when this series began.

"It was just a weird situation to be in, just because I've never done it before," Sanchez said. "I'm not going to lie, I'm glad nothing was hit out there."

Indeed, neither Sanchez nor Mercer had to make a play -- with the sole, innocuous exception of Mercer picking up Daniel Descalso's single to right in the ninth.

"Everybody threw in something, everybody did their job, everybody had a hand on the baton," Hurdle said. "What a fun game to be a part of. We drew a lot of things up in the dirt tonight."

And they came out of it well enough to secure their third series win of this homestand. And winning series is their sole objective. Playing 'em three at a time, if you will.

Now, that might seem like a modest ambition for a team already significantly under both .500 and the division leader -- but only until you actually crunch the numbers and realize that continuing to take two of three would give the Bucs 100 wins at season's end.

By obeying the baseball law that states "everything evens out," the Bucs erased the Cardinals' three-run lead with four runs in the fourth. They loaded the bases with no outs, then made it 3-3 by clearing them without a ball leaving the infield -- making up for the chances they had squandered the two prior innings.

Groundouts by starting pitcher Edinson Volquez and Jose Tabata brought in the first two runs, then the third scored as Josh Harrison's comebacker caromed off pitcher Lance Lynn's glove and stopped dead at second baseman Mark Ellis' feet for an infield single.

The go-ahead portion of the same rally was more legit: Neil Walker singled Harrison to second, and Pedro Alvarez singled him home.

"That's a tough inning," said Lynn. "You give up four runs with only one ball leaving the infield in the air. I guess that's just baseball. They put together some good at-bats on me that inning and found holes. I made some pitches. They found holes."

The Bucs had staged a two-out rally in the second and a no-outs rally in the third, and both had the same outcome -- nothing. In the second, an Ike Davis double, Tony Sanchez's infield single and a walk to Mercer walk loaded the bases. The next batter, Volquez, grounded out. Leadoff singles in the third by Tabata and Harrison didn't lead anywhere, as Walker bounced into a forceout, Alvarez popped out and Marte grounded out.

Considering Volquez's well-documented and astounding lack of victories, he had a singularly maddening experience, as he had a one-run lead and had retired nine of 10 batters to get to two outs in the fifth with nobody on base.

But he never got the one additional out he need to qualify for the victory. Jhonny Peralta and Matt Holliday singled, and after walking Allen Craig to load the bases, Volquez had to make way for Jared Hughes, who induced Matt Adams to hit into an inning-ending grounder.

"It was all about what I was seeing," Hurdle said of the timing of Volquez's removal. "He got two quick outs in the fifth, then got strung out. He was sitting on 88 [pitches] with the biggest hitter of the night coming up. I wanted a fresh arm."

Hughes led off that familiar shuttle of relievers. One of the most traveled in the City of Bridges is the span from the Bucs' starter to their closer, and this time four relievers made up the bridge from Volquez to Mark Melancon.

Hughes (1 1/3 innings), Justin Wilson (2/3), Bryan Morris (1/3) and Tony Watson (one) blanked the Cards for 3 1/3 innings in order to get the ball to Melancon for his fourth save.

Said Hurdle: "To go seven zeros to finish it off ... Quality work by everyone. Really good stuff."

For the sixth time in the eight games of this homestand, the visitors scored first, with St. Louis putting up a three-spot in the second inning -- one on Ellis' RBI single, another on a double-play grounder, the third on a wild pitch.

The most alarming thing about that inning, though, was the two-out walk Volquez issued to Lynn. Bases on balls to an opposing pitcher are usually signs of slipping control.

Yet Volquez straightened himself out impressively until the abrupt and frustrating end to his night.

MLB.com Comments