There was nothing special about how the baseball came off the bats during the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ninth-inning rally Wednesday night at PNC Park.
The trigger of the 6-5 victory – the Pirates’ third in a row against the Chicago Cubs — was a one-out walk on a 3-2 count to Elias Diaz by closer Craig Kimbrel.
— Christopher Horner (@Hornerfoto1) July 4, 2019
Then, Jung Ho Kang hit an opposite-field fly ball that turned into a double when Wilson Contreras, a catcher playing right field for only the second time this season, let it deflect off his glove.
The winning RBIs? A groundball by Adam Frazier and a sacrifice fly by Corey Dickerson, who recorded the fourth walkoff at-bat of his career. If second baseman Addison Russell throws to first to get Frazier instead of trying unsuccessfully to nail Diaz at home, the game might have gone into extra innings.
But there’s more than luck behind the Pirates’ current 12-5 surge (.706 winning percentage) since they lost seven in a row.
“It’s been going on for a while,” said manager Clint Hurdle, who watched his team (42-43) move into third place in the National League Central, three games behind the Milwaukee Brewers and two short of the Cubs (45-42). “It was going on when we weren’t winning.
“There also has to be some community when things aren’t going well. It’s just as important then to stay together and stay cohesive and don’t judge and don’t point fingers and just continue to work together to get better.”
Dickerson knows what Hurdle means.
“It just speaks to the type of people we have in the locker room,” he said. “A lot of humble guys, guys that just work hard.
“We can lean on one another. We’re pretty good buddies in here. We’re not scared to talk to one another.
“We all know how hard this game is. We have a lot guys in this clubhouse who’ve been through it all and some guys who haven’t been through much at all. You kind of feed into them.”
There were moments in the game when many in the crowd of 17,831 might have thought the Pirates were destined to lose.
In the eighth inning, Starling Marte, who was representing the potential tying run after his third hit of the night, was picked off first base by relief pitcher Pedro Strop.
Josh Bell struck out and Melky Cabrera, another Pirate who had three hits, doubled. But Cabrera was thrown out at home plate by Contreras after Jose Osuna’s pinch-hit single.
“Marte gets picked at first. That’s a punch,” Hurdle said. “And then we just move on.”
The Cubs led, 2-0, when starter Chris Archer allowed the first of two home runs by Victor Caratini in the second and an RBI single by Addison Russell after two walks in the fourth.
The Pirates seized a 3-2 lead in the fourth on back-to-back doubles by Marte and Bell and Cabrera’s fifth home run of the season. But Archer lost it on Javier Baez’s solo homer, his 22nd and the 20th allowed by Archer this season. He was gone after five innings, with the score, 3-3.
“Obviously, I want to pitch a little bit deeper,” he said. “But the main focus right now is helping the team win the game.”
He did strand two runners each in the third, fourth and fifth innings, four of them in scoring position.
“I made some big pitches when I needed to,” he said.
But he also acknowledged his mistakes.
“Biggest mistake, probably two of them, I shook (catcher Jacob) Stallings, threw a different pitch and both pitches were home runs.
“But overall my stuff was great. I felt good. We walked away and it was a tie score. Right now, that’s all I’m trying to give the team.”
Bell often erases his teammates’ mistakes and his home run in the sixth gave the Pirates a 4-3 lead. It was Bell’s 59th extra-base hit of the season, the most in the National League since 1933.
The Pirates needed their ninth-inning rally after Caratini’s second homer of the game and fourth of the season – a two-run shot off Francisco Liriano in the seventh – turned the lead back to the Cubs, 5-4.
In the end, the victory was the Pirates’ sixth this season when trailing after seven innings.
“I just love watching them play, regardless of what happens,” Hurdle said. “They move forward and they do it as a group.
“Guys picking each other up, man, it’s fun to watch. Like kids in the backyard, six years old.”