Pirates rough up Cain, Giants to maintain division lead
SAN FRANCISCO — In franchise history, the Pirates have homered into a natural body of water three times.
Garrett Jones has done it twice ... this season.
Only June 2, the Pirates first baseman became the second player, and first in a Pittsburgh uniform, to homer on the fly into the Allegheny River beyond the right-field wall at PNC Park. In the Pirates' 10-5 win over the Giants on Thursday, Jones homered into a portion of San Francisco Bay known as McCovey Cove beyond the right-field wall at AT&T Park.
The shot was part of a rare and balanced Pirates' offensive outburst, and it allowed Jones to join Adam LaRoche as the only other Pirate to homer into the bay. LaRoche's shot came off Tim Lincecum and splashed down Aug. 11, 2007.
The Pirates hope Jones' home run, his 12th and part of their 13-hit effort, marks an offensive awakening.
The win allows the Pirates to maintain a one-game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central.
“This is a step forward in the right direction,” Jones said. “I felt better up there timing-wise. I had better at bats.”
The Pirates hope so as improvement from Jones' might be the club's best internal option toward upgrading a sluggish offense. Jones entered batting just .133 in August and .205 in the second half of the season. The anemic offense is from a player who batted .271 with 27 home runs and a .516 slugging percentage a season ago.
“I saw some real good steps in the right direction from Garrett (Thursday),” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He's been an important part in our offense since I've been here. Sometimes you do everything you can to let these things play out and give guys opportunities to get at bats. He took some real good swings tonight.”
Jones' swing on a full-count fastball from Matt Cain wasn't as decisive as Pedro Alvarez's two-run double off Jose Mijares in the fifth, scoring Jose Tabata and Neil Walker, to give him 85 RBI on the season, which ties a career high with 35 games remaining in the season.
Jones' swing didn't tip the balance like Tabata's three-run double off Mijares following Alvarez later in the fifth to give the Pirates a seven-run frame, tying their season-best output for an inning, and giving the Pirates a 10-3 lead.
But Jones' shot and a nine-pitch at-bat in the fifth when he drew a walk and scored on the Tabata double were, perhaps, the most welcomed sights of the evening.
Ironically, Jones said Wednesday he had become too pull-happy in the second half of the season leading to his slump. He said he had been working on letting pitches travel deeper to use the whole field. Jones said he wasn't trying to pull the pitch he hit for a 400-foot plus home run off Cain.
“That was just being on time,” Jones said. “Being on time for his best fastball, staying real short on a 3-2 count … It was just a reaction.”
His teammates have done a better job on this West Coast trip of adopting a whole-field approach. Andrew McCutchen went 2 for 3 and walked twice. Jordy Mercer had two hits, including a home run, and Tabata had a team-best three hits.
Alvarez plugged both gaps with ground-rule doubles. Tabata's three-run double split the left-center gap. The Pirates laced line drive after line drive off Cain, who left the game in the third inning after being drilled on the right forearm by a shot off the bat of Gaby Sanchez.
“We had a real good night offensively off a tough pitcher in Cain who has challenged us,” Hurdle said. “We took some good swings on pitches that were up in the zone.”
Despite the run support, Pirates starter Jeff Locke couldn't stick in the game long enough to earn a win. Locke's second-half struggles continued as he walked four and allowed five hits and three runs over four innings. His ERA rose to over 3.00 (3.01).
Locke said he has noted changed his approach in the second half of the season.
“I've pitched on the edge all season,” Locke said. “And I'll continue. … My approach or mentality hasn't changed. There's no reason for it to change. I made the All-Star team.”
Said Hurdle of Locke: “I saw the best fastball we'd seen in a while early. He was riding 92-93 (mph). There were some good sequences and some sequences that got away from him…. What Ray (Searage) and I are going to do is look at the tape, look at the misses. I think we want to take a good look at it and gather all the information we can before we try and figure out where to go next.”
Jeanmar Gomez was warming up before the Pirates' seven-run fifth, which is why he entered the game at that point. He picked up the win (3-0) pitching three scoreless innings.