Hey, another lovely day, muggy with the sun popping in and out, a beautiful afternoon for baseball.
But it wasn't such an auspicious start for J-Mac. The first three Braves collected knocks, plating a run and leaving runners on the corners with no outs. But hey, a pop up and 4-6-3 cleaned up the frame pretty nicely, even if it did take 27 pitches.
The Bucs even threatened (that's about as far as they go lately) in the first. Steve Pearce singled with an out, and McCutch walked. And hey, Pearce even made it to third with two away, which is further than any Bucco reached last night. But there he stayed.
The second was quiet for Atlanta; nine pitches and three outs. The Pirates got a leadoff single; three outs later, there was still a runner on first.
The Tomahawk Choppers managed a two-out single in the third. Jose Tabata opened the Bucco half with a leg single to short, and he stole second. Pearce battled through an eight pitch at-bat and finally dropped one into left center for an RBI single, tying the game and ending the Bucco frustration streak at 21 innings.
Of course, the Bucs still weren't exactly in '27 Yankee offensive mode yet; McCutch grounded into a 4-6-3 DP and The Pittsburgh Kid whiffed.
McDonald put the Braves down in order in the fourth. The Pirates got a two-out double off the Clemente Wall by Lyle Overbay. Minor walked Ronny Cedeno intentionally, J-Mac whiffed.
Freddie Freeman led off the fifth with a true blue collar nine pitch at-bat, culminating with a double into left. With an out, J-Mac walked Minor on five pitches, but wiggled out of the inning without any further ado. Three up, three down for Pittsburgh.
With two away, McDonald fed Eric Hinske a 94 MPH heater right down the middle; he crushed it into the last row of seats in right field for his fifth homer, and it gave the Braves the lead again, 2-1. For Pittsburgh, Matt Diaz rolled a two-out knock into right, and Overbay smacked a single into center.
Fredi Gonzalez brought on Scott Proctor to face Cedeno; he figured ninety pitches from Minor was plenty. Proctor got the job done; RC grounded out to the right side.
Daniel McCutchen came on in the seventh, J-Mac had done a good job of keeping it together. He went six innings, giving up a pair of runs on six hits with a walk and six Ks, tossing 99 pitches.
D-Mac got a couple of balls lofted to left center, where long flies go to die, and a K to sit down Atlanta. The Braves brought in Eric O'Flaherty to work the bottom half.
With one away, Tabata collected his second single of the day. JT negated that knock by getting picked off on an early break toward second; he still has a ways to go to become a big time, big league base stealer.
O'Flaherty may have gotten a touch cocky after nabbing Tabata; Pearce took the next pitch, a heater, into the short seats in left just inside the pole for his third hit of the day and first homer of the season. Now it was Jose Veras' turn to serve baseballs to the Braves.
Jordan Shafer started off with a bunt single off Veras' mitt. Alex Gonzalez's swinging bunt moved him to second. JV got the second out by catching Chipper Jones looking. A splitter scooted past Dewey for a wild pitch, and Brian McCann finished the at-bat with a walk. Veras worked out of the jam by striking out Hinske and keeping the score knotted.
Jonny Venters took the hill for Atlanta. He got Walker to bounce one to second, where Dan Uggla booted it. Dewey made it a moot point when he bounced a ball delivered right down Broadway on a platter to Jones at third for an around-the-horn DP. Xavier Paul whiffed, and it was on to the ninth.
Joel Hanrahan climbed the mound for Pittsburgh. He came back to get Uggla on a bouncer to third after falling behind 3-0. Freeman pounded one deep to center; McCutch barely had the room to haul it in. Joe Mather tried Andrew next; his fly was corralled just in front of the track in center.
Overbay worked a full-count walk off Venters to begin the ninth, and Pedro Ciriaco took his spot at first. The Braves helped out again; Cedeno hit one back to the box, and Gonzalez dropped Venter's throw to second after bumping into Uggla. The 6'6" Chris Snyder came up to pinch hit; he laid down a textbook sac bunt. Tabata was intentionally walked to load them.
The walk worked like a charm, too. Pearce beat one to Jones at the hot corner, who came home; catcher McCann's relay to first doubled up Pearce. Sometimes the Pirates won't take a run even if it's gift-wrapped.
And riding to the rescue in the tenth was the multi-tasking Jeff Karstens, who was skipped over today to keep the rotation in sync. He nailed the Braves in order.
George Sherrill took the ball in the tenth for the Braves. He put the Pirates down in order, including an inexplicable whiff of Neil Walker, who looked at three 89-90 MPH four-seamers over the plate without lifting the bat off his shoulder.
With one away in the eleventh, McCann singled and Wilkin Ramirez ran for him. Pinch hitter Brooks Conrad picked up a stick. He fell behind 1-2, then JK gave him a slider that he cranked into right center for his first dinger of the season and a 4-2 Atlanta lead. Karstens struck out the next pair, but the heroics came a bit late.
Craig Kimbrel took over, and cruised to the save.
The Pirate pitching has been much better than expected in the early going; it's too bad the Pirate bats aren't. Just today, a runner was picked off before a home run; in another instance, a batter tried to pull a fastball that split the plate with the bases loaded instead of just lifting it into center; a possible walk-off sac fly became an inning-ending DP.
The Pirates are hitting.236/.311/.357 with an OPS+ of 86. That's pretty bad, and it has as much to do with approach as ability. It's part of the learning curve, and a painful part at that.
The Bucs are off tomorrow, then they go to Chicago to face the Cubs in a three game daylight set.