Reporting Chris Mueller
PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Admit it, you thought the following scenario was going to play out after the Pirates lost to the Nationals to stretch their winless streak to six. You thought the Pirates were going to go on the road to division leading Cincinnati, get rocked in two games, then limp back home seven games under .500 and get swept by the Detroit Tigers. At least, that’s probably what you thought would happen if you’ve been watching this team for the better part of the last two decades. With very few exceptions, the Pirates have seen most seasons slide into irrelevance with an interminable losing streak that seems to come out of nowhere.
This really was the perfect set-up for that kind of a streak to morph into something bad. Six losses in a row, punchless bats, a date with a red hot Reds team, and Johnny Cueto, who has owned the Pirates in his career. Two losses would have been more than reasonable to expect. Except this year’s Pirates, if for no other reason than the fact that they have a reborn Charlie Morton, didn’t start their free fall in Cincy. Morton delivered the one thing guaranteed to bust a losing streak–a shutout. He might not have the “stopper” mentality (which might be a good thing), but Morton is pitching like one right now.
The Bucs also got a big three-run homer out of Pedro Alvarez, and saw Andrew McCutchen continue his resurgence with a homer and two doubles in the two games. The importance of positive performances by both of those guys, especially Alvarez, cannot be overstated. Perhaps even more stirring than Morton’s great outing and Alvarez’s bomb was what happened yesterday–James McDonald battled through a 27 pitch first inning and shook off a Jay Bruce solo homer, and the Pirates solved Cueto and beat the Reds 5-3. They took advantage of base-running mistakes by the Reds, capitalized when Cueto didn’t get a 3-2 strike call on Garrett Jones, and saw their most consistent player this year, Neil Walker, deliver a full-count, two-out double. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ryan Doumit’s pop fly home run that proved to be the difference.
The Pirates could still lose three to the Tigers. They have the worst winning percentage in the majors in interleague games. That’s not a pleasant thing to think about. This could be one small positive blip on the radar. But the fact that they walked into Great American Ballpark with nothing less than their continued relevance and respectability on the line and walked out with two impressive wins speaks volumes about this team’s resiliency and character, and gives at least a tiny hope that maybe this year will be different, and a bit better, than so many seasons past.