The Pittsburgh Pirates returned to PNC Park on Friday with the best winning percentage in the National League, despite what looked like a Grapefruit League lineup because of injuries.
The San Francisco Giants countered with Madison Bumgarner, who was so dominant here in the 2014 NL wild card that the mere mention of his name still sends shivers down the spine.
What could go wrong?
For one, the Pirates lost three more players to injury.
After allowing only four hits in six innings, Jordan Lyles left the game after taking a line drive off his right hand. In the eighth, shortstop Erik Gonzalez and center fielder Starling Marte left the game after colliding while going for a fly ball.
That might make you think the Pirates lost. Instead, they held on for a 4-1 victory over the Giants to improve to 11-6 (.647) and take sole possession of first place in the NL Central.
1. Bum deal: When Bumgarner labored through a 38-pitch first inning in which he allowed four runs on four hits, you couldn’t help but think it was five years too late.
Bumgarner pitched a complete-game four-hitter in an 8-0 victory over the Pirates in the 2014 NL wild card, striking out 10 and walking one, and would go on to win the NLCS and World Series MVP awards.
But, with two outs on Friday, Bumgarner walked Jung Ho Kang, then gave up four consecutive hits. Josh Bell singled and Francisco Cervelli doubled to score Kang and Bell. Cervelli came home on a Pablo Reyes double before J.B. Shuck hit an RBI single to give the Pirates a 4-0 lead.
Bumgarner struck out seven of the next 16 batters and allowed only two more hits, but the damage was done.
2. Self-Cervy: Francisco Cervelli snapped out of a five-game funk at the plate in a big way, with a two-run double in the first off Bumgarner.
Cervelli was hitless in 24 at-bats since April 10, when he was 2 for 4 with a home run in a 5-2 win at the Chicago Cubs.
Not that it got Cervelli started on a hot streak. He struck out in his next two at-bats and flied out in the eighth. But his bat came alive again at the perfect time.
3. Got Melk?: One of the highlights – and turning points – came with one out in the second inning, when Kevin Pillar came to bat with Brandon Crawford at third base and Evan Longoria at second.
Pillar hit a fly ball to shallow right field, only to see Melky Cabrera charge to catch it on the run and throw to the plate. It was a laser that was on the money and beat Crawford by two steps, forcing the out at the plate to end the inning.
The best part? As he trotted off the field, cameras captured Cabrera blowing on his left fingers and holstering his hand.
Cabrera showed that he still has a strong arm, with a throw that raised eyebrows and killed the Giants’ momentum. He would be the Pirates’ steal of the offseason, if it wasn’t for the signing of Jordan Lyles.
4. Knocked out: Lyles was cruising through the sixth when he gave up a single to Steven Duggar followed by a screamer to Joe Panik.
Panik connected on a line drive that hit Lyles in the right hand as it sailed over his head. The ball was scooped up by Gonzalez, stationed behind second base in a shift, and he forced Dugar out and threw to first for an inning-ending double play.
When Lyles experienced numbness and swelling, he decided to call it a day. Afterward, Lyles said his hand is fine and he expects to make his next start.
But the Pirates had to wonder whether their fifth starter, who allowed four hits and had six strikeouts, would be their next player to spend time on the injured list.
And the worst was yet to come.
5. Scary moment: When Yangervis Solarte hit a fly ball to shallow center, Marte and Gonzalez had a full-speed collision that left both players sprawled on the grass.
Gonzalez didn’t move his left arm for a few moments, but finally got up and walked off. Marte, who was on the receiving end of the blow, remained on his back.
The Pirates sent a cart onto the field for Marte, but he managed to stand up on his own and refused to climb onto the back of the cart. Instead, Marte insisted on sitting in the passenger seat as the cart drove off the field.
That forced the Pirates to switch Jung Ho Kang to shortstop and replace him with Colin Moran at third base, and move J.B. Shuck to center and insert Jason Martin at left, leaving only Jacob Stallings and Adam Frazier on the bench.
Even though Clint Hurdle sidestepped questions about Frazier’s availability, the Pirates manager told play-by-play man Joe Block in a pre-game interview that Frazier was out with back spasms.
The Pirates keep winning, despite losing one player after another to injury. They started the season without Gregory Polanco and Lonnie Chisenhall in right field, then lost Corey Dickerson in left.
They can’t afford to lose anyone else, mostly because they don’t have many healthy bodies left.