Friday, September 25, 2015

Bucs Hold Off Cubs To Take Opener 3-2 & Open 4-1/2 Game Gap On Chicago

Jon Lester had an easy first; all three batters squared up on him, but all the liners found leather. Cole Train issued a one out walk, but a strike 'em out, toss 'em out DP carried him through what has been perilous first inning waters. It was a quiet second for Pittsburgh. The Cubs made some noise with one out when Chris Coghlan walked and Addison Russell bunted for a single. A tapper moved the runners to second and third, then Cole K'ed Lester.

With two outs in the third, Mercer drilled a gapper to left-center field. The wind knocked it down, and the ball tangled in the ivy for a ground-rule double. Gerrit helped his own cause by rolling a single into center to make it 1-0. This time the Cubs went down without a peep.

The wind, blowing straight in all afternoon, held up Andrew's shot to center, and the next two Buccos went down routinely. Cole Train ran into trouble with his command in the fourth. Kris Bryant pulled a fastball into left for a leadoff single, then Anthony Rizzo blooped a ball into right, both hits on three ball deliveries. Russell's grounder didn't have enough oomph to get turned, and the force tied the game.

Michael Morse opened the fifth with a leadoff single, but never got off the bag; Chicago was retired in order. The Bucs had a quiet sixth, and Kyle Schwarber dropped a single into shallow right field to open the Cubbie half. He, like Morse the inning before, stayed anchored.

Gerrit Came Up Big For Win #18 (photo via Baseball America)
The Pirates small-balled the go-ahead run in the seventh. Aramis Ramirez led off with a double into left field. Ramirez still isn't running well and was replaced at second by Keon Broxton. Fran bunted him up. With the infield in, Morse fought off a pitch on the hands and softly singled to right field to put the Bucs up 2-1. Cole put the Cubbies away easily.

Pedro Strop took the ball in the eighth, and two wrongs equaling a right was key to adding some needed insurance. Jordy K'ed, but reached first base on a wild pitch. Pedro pinch-hit for Cole and lined a knock to right, chasing Mercer to third. An out later, Starling hit a chopper with the infield in; Castro fielded it by the mound, looked home to see Jordy hustling down the line, and decided to take the out at first. It would have been a bang-bang play, but as it turned out, probably a shot Castro should have taken.

In the bottom of the eighth, Tony Watson took the hill. He made a sharp play to retire Javier Baez (he was originally called safe on the field but ruled out after review.) An out later, Tony walked Austin Jackson and Bryant singled. No sweat; Tony struck out Rizzo. Fernando Rodney took the ball in the ninth and gave up a Fran knock, but no more runs.

Mark Melancon came in looking to close. Chris Denorfia led off with a double. With one out, n Castro tripled to right on a ball El Coffee had problems digging out. The Pirates drew the infield in, but there would be no more balls to field.

Jorge Soler struck out swinging at a curveball, and Javier Baez struck out the same way, causing fist pumps and chest thumps from the Shark and Fran. The guys may play it cool in the clubhouse, but this one meant something. And give Cervelli his props; he was unafraid during crunch time to call for balls in the dirt, and dug 'em all out.

Cole gave up one run on four hits, walking two and whiffing eight, sticking mainly to the number one (which averaged 98 MPH). Lester was tough, too, yielding up five hits with six K. If these two clubs do hook up in a winner-take-all game that ends up with the drama of this match, let's hope the paramedics know their stuff.

Francisco Liriano takes on Jason Hammel tomorrow afternoon; it'd be nice to open up some late September breathing room.
  • Gerrit is the Pirates pitcher with 18 wins since John Smiley had 20 in 1991. Cole also has worked 201 IP with 200 K, both career highs.
  • From a Peter Gammons tweet: Watching Gerritt Cole last week two very good scouts -both ex-pitchers - predicted Cole could be the Madison Bumgarner of the '15 playoffs.
  • The Bucs are 94-60, the most they've been over .500 this year. It's just the 16th time in Bucco history that the Pirates have won that many games.
  • The win moved the Pirates 4-½ games ahead of the Cubs, and the Bucs pulled to within 3-½ games of the Cards, who play Milwaukee tonight. With eight games to go, the magic # to clinch home field for the wildcard is five.

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