Pirates enjoy walk-off win in series finale against Reds
With the bases loaded, two outs and the score tied in the 12th inning Thursday, Pirates catcher Russell Martin jumped back from a 92 mph Tony Cingrani fastball headed for his knees.
The remaining fans from a crowd of 30,710 groaned.
The PNC Park crowd wanted Martin to endure some pain for the greater good. They wanted to go home and get out of the rain, to end another four-plus hour game, and avoid being swept by the Reds.
Several pitches later, Martin enjoyed a pain-free path to end the game. He literally produced a walk-off win with a walk, forcing home Gaby Sanchez for the winning run in a 4-3 Pirates victory.
Sanchez reached on a single, Josh Harrison walked and Clint Barmes — who had his first four-hit game since 2009 — was grazed by a Cingrani pitch to load the bases.
“Upon reflection, I did ponder (that) maybe if I would have got hit, the game would be over,” Martin said. “Typically if the ball is around my elbow or my shoulder, I'll tend to lean into it a little bit, but when it's at your feet, you just react.”
In a series that included controversial umpiring calls, Reds manager Bryan Price thought the ball-four pitch to Martin was a strike.
“The strike zone had already been established. The low strike had been called,” Price said. “I'm really, really angry with what happened here.”
Said Martin: “It's nice for a call to go our way for once.”
The walk-off win took the bullpen off the hook.
One year ago to the day, Jason Grilli blew his first save of the 2013 season. Grilli had converted his first 25 chances until allowing a home run to Jay Bruce on June 19, 2013.
On Thursday, Grilli's struggles continued. He blew his fourth save of the season when he hung an 82 mph slider to Punxsutawney native Devin Mesoraco, who slammed the pitch into the left-field bleachers to tie the score 3-3 in the ninth.
A day earlier, when asked about Grilli, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle suggested it was better to allow players to work through struggles than to overreact. But after the Pirates' major league-worst 14th blown save, has the bullpen arrangement grown untenable?
“I'll talk to who I need to talk to: the coaches involved, Neal (Huntington),” Hurdle said. “We'll make a decision that we feel is best for the ballclub.”
Justin Wilson and Jared Hughes combined for three scoreless innings of relief after Grilli.
While Hurdle might juggle his bullpen, he could be done juggling the top of his lineup.
In seven games with Gregory Polanco batting first, Starling Marte second and Andrew McCutchen third, the three have combined for a .377 average, 17 runs and 17 RBIs.
After Reds starter Homer Bailey balked to allow Barmes to score from third in the fifth, Polanco, Marte and McCutchen strung together consecutive singles. Marte's scored Jeff Locke to tie the score at 2-2, and McCutchen's line drive to center scored Polanco to give the Pirates a 3-2 lead.
Locke is competing with Vance Worley and Brandon Cumpton to remain in the rotation, because Gerrit Cole could rejoin the rotation as soon as June 28, Hurdle said, and Francisco Liriano has begun throwing.
Locke strengthened his case by allowing two runs and three hits in six innings. He walked one and struck out two.
Locke's command has improved. He has allowed two walks in 26 innings this season.
“This year, I'm trying to get ahead earlier in the count,” Locke said, “knowing that you don't have to throw a (perfect) first-pitch strike.”