Pirates complete sweep of Rockies with comeback win at PNC
Clint Hurdle says “the 90s” are something he discusses with his players every day.
Not the 1990s; rather, Hurdle constantly harps on the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity to advance 90 extra feet on the bases. The extra 90s add up to extra runs, to extra wins.
There was no obvious star responsible for the Pirates' 5-3 win over the Rockies on Sunday, which secured the Pirates' second sweep of the season. There was no single party to credit for elevating the club to six games above .500, tying a season-best position.
Instead, the Pirates' third consecutive come-from-behind win was tied to an accumulation of aggressive baserunning advances. The Pirates (52-46) are in third place behind the Cardinals and Brewers in the NL Central.
“They are not free 90s. You have to make them happen,” Hurdle said. “You have to look for opportunities whether it's a dirt-ball read, a hit-and-run. … We have guys that are selling out and getting it done.”
Josh Harrison stole two of the Pirates' four bases, including a key advancement in the seventh.
Against Rockies reliever Matt Belisle and catcher Michael McKenry, the former Pirates backup catcher, Harrison walked, stole second and came around to score the go-ahead run on an Andrew McCutchen RBI single. The Pirates are well aware of McKenry's throwing limitations.
“We try to pick our spots to go and steal bags,” Harrison said. “Any time we can put pressure on the pitcher and catcher, we are in a good spot.”
Neil Walker followed with his 14th homer of the season, tops among NL second baseman, to give the Pirates a 5-3 lead. But Walker also offered some crucial baserunning advances.
With the Pirates down 3-0 in the second, Walker singled to right field. Gaby Sanchez read the play correctly and took an extra base, moving from first to third. Walker alertly watched Carlos Gonzalez throw to third and Walker took second base. Both scored on Jordy Mercer's following two-run single.
“Guys that have arms like that, you know any chance they think they have of throwing a guy out, they are going (to try),” Walker said of Gonzalez. “What let me (advance) was the ball flight. That's kind of an aggressive-type play. We've been heckled for our baserunning. … We are going to look stupid at times, but we are going to be aggressive.”
The Pirates tied the score at three in the sixth when Mercer walked, stole second and scored on Chris Stewart's second ground-rule double of the game.
The baserunning helped take Jeff Locke off the hook.
Locke's second half began Sunday much like his second half a year earlier — when Locke plummeted from All-Star status to a minor league demotion in late August.
Locke led all of baseball in walks last season. He entered Sunday having dramatically improved his control, but walked the first batter he faced postbreak in Brandon Barmes. The second batter of the game, Josh Rutledge, homered over the left-field wall to give the Rockies a 2-0 lead.
In the second, McKenry smashed a Locke changeup for a solo homer to give the Rockies a 3-0 lead.
After a rough early start, Locke settled down with four shutout innings. He struck out the side in the fourth, all on changeups, which is his new go-to off-speed offering. He recorded another quality start, allowing three runs over six inning. He walked two and struck out three.
“You just try to convince yourself ‘That's it' and be a little sharper,” Locke said of his turnaround. “We're never out of it.”