Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Buc Impatience, Rox Leather Lead To 5-4 Colorado Win

Ya wanna know how much balls fly around in Coors Field? When the contest was scoreless after 3-1/2 innings, it was the longest a game at Coors had went this year without a run scoring. Being a mile high has something to do with it, and whether caused by  the park or the arms, the Rox also have the worst ERA in the NL, which has something to do with it, too.

Don't tell that to LHP Jeff Francis, who held the Pirates to one run in five innings on six singles before he hit his 75-pitch limit (72, actually). He did what he does, spinning soft stuff on the edges of the strike zone, and the Pirates did what they've been doing lately, swinging at everything that comes down the pike. They didn't draw a walk off the lefty; couldn't wait long enough.

Alex Presley singled to lead off the game off a 3-2 change and moved to second on a passed ball with an out, but was left there. Neil Walker singled to start the second, but was caught stealing. Rod Barajas hit the rocket that inning, but Dexter Fowler showed his hops in center, leaping high to take away a home run, bringing the ball in from over the wall. Cutch had a one out knock in the fourth and was picked off first.

Karstens' only rough patch was  in the second inning. Michael Cuddyer doubled down the left-field line with one away, and with two outs Wil Rosario walked on four pitches.  Josh Rutledge flew out to end the threat.

Both teams got on the board in the fifth. With Pedro on first base after a force out and two down, Clint Barmes flared a ball into left center that a diving Carlos Gonzalez could only trap. Karstens followed with a chopper over first baseman Michael Cuddyer into right to plate Alvarez.  It was Karstens’ first RBI since July 5th, 2011 and put Pittsburgh up 1-0.

But the lead didn't last long. Tyler Colvin walked on a 3-2 pitch to start the fifth for the Rox. Rosario rolled a single into right to put Rockies on the corners. Josh Rutledge bounced a single up the middle, chasing home Colvin and moving Rosario to third.

Karstens was ahead of pinch hitter Eric Young Jr. 0-2, then wasted a couple before Young sent a sinker to right. Josh Harrison did the watusi trying to follow the ball, and it hit on the track and bounced off the wall as a pair of runs scored. Marco Scutaro’s singled with an out to make it 4-1. JK got eight batters in a row after that. He would go seven frames, allowing four runs on six hits with two walks and four K, throwing 101 pitches.

The Pirates tried to make some noise in the sixth, but the Rox tossed some leather at them. 3B Jordan Pacheco made a diving stop of Harrison's ball, followed by SS Josh Rutledge's spinner-ama play on Cutch. That was followed by a Casey McGehee single, so without those defensive stops, the Bucs may have had something cookin'. As is, Colorado reliever Josh Roenicke put up three zeros; the only other runner he allowed was via a walk and erased on a DP.

 The game was quiet until the ninth, although Tony Watson had the two out shakes. He gave up a knock to CarGo, who stole second, and then walked Mike Cuddyer on nine pitches after being up 0-2. But Watson came back to get Colvin swinging, feeding him three sliders.

Rafael Betancourt came on to close it out in the ninth, and a funny thing happened; the Pirate alarm clock went off. Cutch singled to open the frame, then a one-out Walker knock sent him to third. The rain, which had been misting throughout the night, got pretty heavy, and  crew chief Gary Cederstrom called for the tarp.

It took nearly an hour - 58 minutes, to be exact - for the game to resume. Time well spent, too. Lefty Rex Brothers took the hill to face Pedro, started him off with a 98 MPH fastball away and watched El Toro bury it about a dozen rows deep into the left field stands. Hot Rod kept it going with a single, but a Barmes DP ended the frame with the score knotted at fours.

Jason Grilli came on, and it looked like the Pirates had the Rox right where they wanted them. Well, that's usually so, but tonight Grilli's stuff was a little up in the zone. Even though for once he came in against the bottom of the order, his location would cost him.

Rosario lined a heater into left, but the Bucs caught a break when Rutledge K'ed trying to bunt. Grilled Cheese fed pinch hitter Jason Giambi nothing but gas, and he lined a 2-1 pitch into right center, sending Rosario to third. Dexter Fowler watched a pair of sliders and then lofted a 1-1 fastball into center; it was deep enough to score Rosario easily and repulsed the Bucco comeback effort to give the Rox the series opener 5-4.

A couple of things stand out: first, the Pirates are again entering a free-swing zone. They need to be disciplined at the plate. And that has nothing to do with the pitch count but pitch selection; they chase way too much late and watch too much early in the count.

Second, bring Starling Marte up, OK? The Pirates, as noted by both mainstream and web guys, haven't started three real outfielders since JT was sent down; we're talking July 1st. The team needs another OF'er, and if they're not picking one up from somebody soon, give the pitchers a break and quit trying to hide guys like Drew Sutton and Josh Harrison in the pasture. They try, but this is the show, and it's not like the team's hiding a huge stick in the corner. If you're not bringing Marte up, play Gorkys Hernandez or Garrett Jones.

 Erik Bedard takes on Christian Friedrich tonight in a battle of the lefties.
  • Neil Walker extended his hitting streak to 16 consecutive games. His career high is an 18-game string he put together in 2010. 
  • Last night was the first time the Pirates have lost back-to-back games since they dropped the first two games against the Phillies on June 25th and 26th.
  • After being so good at taking the opening game of a series, the Pirates have now lost the first match in three straight sets.
  • The Reds also lost, so Pittsburgh remains one game behind them in the NL Central race.

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