July 3, 2012: Astros 7, Pirates 8

I was at PNC Park tonight…I was at PNC Park tonight…How was I at PNC Park tonight?

Tonight was an unbelievable experience. I mean that in its most literal sense. I’m worried I’m going to wake up, that it will be Tuesday, July 3rd, and that this will not have happened.

At the beginning of the game, there was only doubt and frustration.  AJ Burnett did not have “it” tonight. From where I was, it seemed like he didn’t have his fastball command tonight, but I didn’t have the best vantage point to judge pitching. Through three innings, the only Pirate to reach base against Lucas Harrell (surprise, it was Andrew McCutchen) had reached on an infield single. After the top of the fourth, it felt as if we were lucky to only be down four to nothing.

Then, in the bottom of the fourth, Drew Sutton’s groundball sneaked through up the middle and McCutchen came to the plate. He then proceeded to smack the 2-0 pitch over the right field fence. This was the first time of the night that the crowd all leapt to their feet. And there was hope.

AJ Burnett proceeded to breeze through the fifth. And this is where things got really frustrating for me.  AJ Burnett was due to lead off the fifth inning. I was really upset that he was allowed to hit. As I said earlier, he didn’t have “it” tonight, his pitch count was elevated early, and it was a close game. Instead of going to Brad Lincoln, Jared Hughes, or Tony Watson for two or three innings, he chose to let Burnett make an out and start the sixth inning. Even though Sutton singled, there was no real threat by the Pirates that inning.

The sixth was a disaster. After a double and two singles to begin the inning, Burnett was lifted without recording an out in the inning. Hurdle elected to go with Chris Resop with runners on first and second with nobody out. So, instead of getting a potential baserunner with a pinch hitter and giving a good reliever a chance to give you a few quality innings to keep it close and get it to your high leverage guys, the deficit has expanded, you are in a jam, and you are going to your worst right-handed reliever to get you out of it. One more run came across (Resop did a really fine job).

I calmed down a bit once I realized that the Astros were in more or less the same position with their pitcher and had also elected to let him bat and leave him in the game.  After giving up three consecutive singles (which yielded one run) the Astros lifted Harrell, who also failed to record an out in the sixth.  Rod Barajas struck out, at which point Hurdle pinch-hit for Barmes. In came Pedro Alvarez.

This was a huge spot. The Pirates were down three runs, with runners on second and third. Pedro quickly fell into an 0-2 hole. Anybody who follows the Pirates knows that Pedro tends to strikeout when in an 0-2 hole. What followed was the antithesis of what Pedro tends to do. He began to take pitches out of the zone and foul off pitches to work the count full.  On what I believe was his third 3-2 pitch, Pedro poked a single up the middle. PNC Park exploded. And I began to believe that the Pirates would win this game for the first time in the night.

Juan Cruz pitched a perfect seventh inning. After Sutton struck out to start the home half of the seventh, McCutchen hit his second infield single of the night.  Garrett Jones then proceeded to wallop a no-doubter that didn’t just clear the fence, but also the bleachers. I knew it was gone not because I saw the ball or the outfielder but because i saw McCutchen immediately start jogging towards second base cheering and pumping his fist.  The Pirates took a lead for the first time, and a Pirates win seemed imminent.

Jason Grilli pitched a perfect eighth. PNC Park was electric now. The Pirates went 1-2-3 in their half of the eighth as well, but nobody cared. In came Joel Hanrahan.

I was nervous. I think Hanrahan’s performance this year is troubling, his all-star selection notwithstanding. But that’s a topic for its own post.

Hanrahan struggled, and walked Jed Lowrie with one out. He then got Carlos Lee to fly out.  He got Jason Castro down to his last strike. Then, in a full count, Castro ripped a ball down the first base line. With Lowrie getting a head start with a full count, there was no chance.  Tie ball game. PNC Park deflated. And doubt dominated my mind.

The bottom of the ninth started with little fanfare. Gorkys Hernandez struck out, and looked bad doing it. As Drew Sutton came to the plate, my dad and I agreed that he needed to reach base so that McCutchen would have a shot against a left-handed pitcher. He proceeded to shock everyone in the building (himself included, judging by his post-game interview) by launching a walk-off homer to straight-away center field.  The building exploded. I had never been a part of a baseball experience like that. It was electric. It was exciting. It was improbable. It was perfect.

This game has made me believe in the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates. I have a feeling about this team that I’ve never had before. And so I’m going to ignore Hanrahan’s 4+ FIP, the fact that our rotation includes Kevin Correia, and the massive amount of playing time that Clint Barmes gets. Yes, this team has problems, but I believe in it now. I might (probably will) regret this and end up with my heart broken by this team but right now, as of this moment, I am on the bandwagon. Let’s go Bucs.

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