Braves' error, Sanchez's sacrifice fly in 9th help Pirates snap long skid
Pirates outfielder Starling Marte knows it isn't easy to patrol the vast left field at PNC Park. Now the Atlanta Braves know it, too.
A two-base error by Braves left fielder Justin Upton set up the winning run Wednesday as the Pirates rallied for a 3-2 victory.
Jordy Mercer got it started with a single off reliever David Carpenter. With one out, Marte hit a fly ball to left-center field.
“I thought it was going to be an out,” Marte said. “But I kept running.”
The Upton brothers — Justin in left, B.J. in center — converged on the ball.
“There was a huge gap there,” Justin Upton said. “We covered some ground, (but) we just couldn't get there. There was nothing we could do.”
At the last instant, Justin Upton cut in front of his older brother and lunged for the ball. It ticked off the end of his glove. Marte went to second base, and Mercer got to third on the error.
Gaby Sanchez pounced on Carpenter's next pitch and hit a fly ball to center field. B.J. Upton caught this one, but Mercer scored easily on the sacrifice to win it.
The Pirates snapped a seven-game losing streak by posting their 32nd comeback win.
“We've been doing it all season, so it's become part of us now,” Sanchez said. “We know that even when we're down late, we can still come back and do some special things.”
With 35 games remaining, the Pirates are six games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central. The teams begin a three-game series in Milwaukee on Friday.
“We play for the now,” Sanchez said. “We're not trying to get ahead of ourselves.”
Still, with the season in danger of slipping away, the victory could not have come at a better time.
Although he did not figure in the decision, Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole came off the disabled list and pitched like his old self. He went seven innings, allowed two runs on five hits and four walks and struck out six.
“It felt good,” Cole said. “I was a little shaky in the first with my location, but it got better as the game went on.”
Cole had been out since July 9 with a sore right lat. Although velocity was a concern early in his rehab process, Cole's fastball Wednesday reached the upper 90s and stayed there. His 93rd pitch of the game was clocked at 98 mph.
The Pirates did nothing against Braves left-hander Alex Wood until the eighth, when they scored two runs on one hit to tie the game at 2-2. Sanchez drew a leadoff walk and went to third on Travis Snider's ground-rule double. Right-hander Jordan Walden replaced Wood.
Stewart's groundout scored Sanchez and moved Snider to third. Neil Walker walked, and Snider scored on the wild ball four that bounced away from catcher Evan Gattis.
The Braves took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on Justin Upton's RBI single.
After serving up Evan Gattis' leadoff double in the second inning, Cole settled in and retired 12 batters in a row.
Not every pitch was perfect, but Cole was resilient enough to adjust on the fly. In the third inning, after throwing a near-miss ball to Freeman to run the count full, Cole came back with a breaking ball, which Freeman fouled off.
“I was trying to keep him off balance as much as I could,” Cole said. “At that point, it was either execute a fastball or probably get burned.”
Cole fired a 97 mph fastball on the outside corner. Freeman watched it then took three steps toward first base as if it was ball four.
Except it wasn't. Umpire Paul Nauert rung up the strikeout.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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