Daniel McCutchen is still fighting himself, like every other Pirate starter not named Zach Duke. The Pirates often field the ball like it's a live hand grenade. Batters strand runners as if RBI is a four-letter word. And they're winning games.
The Bucs took a second straight walk-off victory from the Reds tonight by a 5-4 score, making the 25,000 fireworks fans glad they stuck around to the boisterous end.
Garrett Jones sent a 3-2 heater from Francisco Cordero off the right center field fence to score Ronny Cedeno to clinch the win, but the game was won by a lot of little victories notched during the course of nine innings.
One was earned by McCutchen, who is nothing like the guy we saw last September. He's turned into a nibbler, and his stuff doesn't work well deep into counts. But he wiggled out of a couple of jams that could have let the game get away early, and deserves some props for keeping the Bucs in it.
The wildly inconsistent (and already overused) bullpen rode to his rescue tonight, and at one point retired 13 straight Reds. DJ Carrasco, Evan Meek, and Jack Taschner put together five innings of one-run ball, giving the batters time to put one good inning together.
And they finally did, in the ninth. After a lead-off homer by Ronny Cedeno in the second, the Pirates had one hit until the ninth, and that was a legged-out chopper by Daniel McCutchen. But Lastings Milledge strapped on his Superman cape and was the key figure in the Reds' downfall.
He doubled home a run in the first inning and later scored. His ninth-inning walk may not sound like much, but it was the difference between winning and losing.
The Bucs had the bases loaded with one away. Cedeno drew a walk off Cordero to juice them, his first of the year and the first yielded by the Red closer (and guess who scored the winning run) sandwiched around a Ryan Church single and Aki Iwamua walk.
Andrew McCutchen, who seems born for moments like this, strolled to the plate and drilled a liner into left. Unfortunately, it was smoked right at left fielder Chris Dickerson, who was a well-timed defensive switch for Johnny Gomes, and was too shallow to tag Church. Two away, and the fate of the game was on Milledge's shoulders.
He worked the count to 3-2, taking two Ruthian swings at Cordero's sinking stuff. Pumped to the max, he called time, took a walk and a couple of deep breaths, and laid off ball four, a pitch that split the plate but dove down.
It was a tough offering to lay off in that situation, especially for a young guy like Milledge, but discipline is a key to winning. He came to Pittsburgh with a rep of being undisciplined; maybe he and the team are starting to grow up.
Along came Jones, and he fell behind 0-2. But he refuse to bite on the next three pitches, running the count full. He fouled off a heater, as if the game needed a little more drama, and then clobbered the next sinking fastball off the padding. Like Milledge, he had a rep, too. His was for choking with runners aboard; maybe he's also growing up a little.
So tonight's win was a team effort - Milledge, Jones, Cedeno, and the bullpen all came through. Though they stranded nine runners, the Pirate batters continued a process they just started last year by drawing nine walks.
It's also the first time since 1992 that the Pirates have taken the first two home series of a season. The Pirates can't pretend to match the talent of that club; they don't have the gloves, pitching, or power. But they are beginning that long journey of learning how to win games instead of letting them get away from them, and that bodes well for an interesting season - and future.
-- It appears that Daniel McCutchen will take the fourth spot in the rotation until Ross Ohlendorf returns from the DL. That's probably why they kept Brian Burres around; they'll need a fifth starter on again on April 24th. Ohlie can come off the DL on April 27th.
-- Andy LaRoche will be out until Tuesday with a stiff back. It's probably a good time to show some caution with the weather as it is. Delwyn Young took his place today; Bobby Crosby also plays the position and will probably go Sunday.
-- Andrew McCutchen was caught stealing yesterday, the first time this season. He's now 6-for-7 in the stolen sack category.
-- Quinton Miller, the Bucs' 20 year-old pitching prospect with West Virginia (he was drafted in the 20th round of the 2008 draft out of high school and signed for $900K) pitched only one inning because of tendinitis in his right biceps, reports Dejan Kovacevic of the Post-Gazette. No prognosis yet on how much time he's expected to miss.