Pirates avert sweep with 7-5 victory over Rockies

Travis Sawchik
| Sunday, July 27, 2014, 8:32 p.m.

DENVER — Josh Harrison was the star of the Pirates' 7-5 win over the Rockies on Sunday.

He slammed the game-winning homer off reliever Rex Brothers in the eighth to break a tie at Coors Field.

“He's been getting ahead of me. He's been throwing first-pitch, hittable, fastballs,” Harrison said. “Today was one of those where I'm feeling comfortable, facing him for the sixth or seventh time, and I'm ready to hit anything.”

Two innings earlier, Harrison again provided Barry Sanders-like, stop-and-start moves to escape a rundown and eventually score the Pirates' fifth run. It was nearly identical to the maneuvering he used against the New York Mets on June 27.

“I knew I was safe on the steal (to second), but the ground was hard so I over-slid,” said Harrison of deciding to advance to third. “It was easier for me to make something happen as opposed to go back to second. ... It's natural. I do whatever comes to me in the moment.”

But sometimes games are won in hidden ways, in the forgotten middle innings.

Sometimes games are won with seemingly insignificant decisions made when a team is trailing. The Pirates' sweep-avoiding win over the Rockies offered an example of this.

On Sunday, with his team trailing by two runs, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had starting pitcher Edinson Volquez intentionally load the bases with one out in the fifth. Hurdle then elected to go to one of his best situational relievers, despite it still being in the middle innings and his team trailing. He called upon groundball specialist Jared Hughes, who has a 1.88 ERA and a 63 percent groundball rate.

“We'd already dropped two (games). There was a little more urgency to go where you have to go … to keep the score where it's at,” Hurdle said. “You're trying to win every game, and then you're trying to keep maintenance to the bullpen. You have a ledger and a balance sheet, and you're trying to make sense of it all.”

Hughes made three pitches — all 92-93 mph sinkers — but his final pitch was critical. Hughes got Brandon Barnes to ground into an inning-ending double play, keeping the deficit at two runs.

“I'm really just thinking ‘Hey, put it in play,' ” Hughes said.

It was a departure from Hurdle's decision-making Friday, when the Pirates were trailing by two runs. Hurdle called for struggling reliever Ernesto Frieri, an extreme fly-ball pitcher, to replace starter Charlie Morton in the seventh. The Rockies scored seven runs in the inning. Hurdle said after Friday night's game he would not go to Hughes when trailing.

Travis Snider pinch-hit for Hughes in the sixth inning. Snider tied the score at 4-4 with a two-run homer off reliever Chad Bettis.

Unlike the first two games of the series, the Pirates were able to chase a left-handed Rockies starter early. Franklin Morales walked five and allowed six hits over four innings. The Pirates' starter, Volquez, also struggled. He allowed six hits, four walks and four runs in 4 13 innings.

Two of the runs were unearned. With one out in the fourth, Pedro Alvarez's 22nd throwing error of the season allowed Wilin Rosario to reach. Barnes followed with a two-run homer to give the Rockies a 3-2 lead. Charlie Blackmon's RBI double extended the lead to 4-2.

After calling on Hughes early, Hurdle made another unconventional bullpen decision when he allowed Tony Watson to pitch two innings for the first time since Aug. 18, 2013. Watson allowed a homer to Nolan Arenado in the seventh that tied the score 5-5, but he rebounded with a scoreless eighth.

Gregory Polanco provided an insurance run with a solo homer in the eighth off Brothers.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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