Jeff Locke delivered another dominant start, and Andrew McCutchen had a role in all three Pirates runs in tonight’s 3-0 win over the Dodgers.
What else is there to say about Jeff Locke? He simply shut down the opposing team’s lineup, as he’s done so often this season. He needed just 75 pitches to get through seven innings, allowing just two hits and one walk. None of that added up to a Dodgers run. They also struck out five times against Locke. He earned the win to improve to 6-1 and lower his ERA to 2.19.
The Pirates’ side of the offense was a little more exciting and successful. They faced Stephen Fife, the Dodgers’ young starter who came into tonight’s game with a 1-1 record and a 3.78 ERA. He allowed one Pirates baserunner in the first inning and two in the second, but both times he was able to escape the jam without damage.
He wasn’t so lucky in the third inning. He allowed a single each to Alex Presley and Russell Martin to start off the inning, and Andrew McCutchen came to the plate next, still with no outs. Cutch came through with a double to right, scoring both Presley and Martin. The two runs were all the Pirates got in the inning though, despite a ground rule double by Pedro Alvarez.
Fife lasted just five innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits and three walks while striking out four. J.P. Howell took over and pitched two perfect innings until Matt Guerrier took over in the eighth inning. Once again, the Pirates started off the inning with two consecutive singles, this time by Cutch and Gaby Sanchez. And once again, they made the Dodgers pay.
They had to be a little more creative this time, though. Neil Walker came to bat with runners on first and third and hit a foul pop fly that first baseman Adrian Gonzalez caught. Cutch used some quick thinking and quick running to tag up and score on the play. Gaby also tagged up and advanced to second, and the crazy play was more than the Pirates would need. After the game, Gaby said it was a “strategy play” and wouldn’t give away any secrets. “It’s something we work on, something that we practice, and may only come up once or twice a year.”
Despite throwing just 75 pitches, Locke was lifted in favor of Mark Melancon for the top of the eighth. “I would have loved to be out there for the eighth,” Locke said, “but I’m pleased with the way things went. Guys went out there and got the job done.” Locke also credited the defense behind him, saying, “My hat always goes off to the defense,” but Gaby suggested other reasons for Locke’s success as well, saying that Locke was “pounding the zone with every pitch and keeping the hitters off balance.”
Melancon allowed two hits but escaped the eighth with no real damage, and Jason Grilli took over in the ninth. He allowed some excitement as the Dodgers started off the inning with two infield singles, but unlike the Dodgers, that was all he allowed. Grilli struck out Gonzalez, got Hanley Ramirez to pop out, and struck out Mark Ellis to end the game and get his 24th save, which leads the NL and is tied for most in MLB.
Why are the Pirates playing so well at home? “One, it’s our home,” Gaby said. “Two, the fans have been great. Whenever you have that, it gets our level of play even more than we’re used to.”
The Pirates improved to 40-27 with tonight’s win.
Tomorrow afternoon will see another Pirates pitcher make his major league debut. Brandon Cumpton is his name. He’ll face Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (5-4, 1.88 ERA).