Believe me when I say this: I left PNC Park after a Pirates’ extra-innings loss to a team that’s 10 games under .500 and was satisfied — pleased even — with the afternoon.
That last word is a big part of my feelings, since a Saturday afternoon baseball game in the summer is just about the most serene of atmospheres.
But, again, the Dodgers came into the afternoon with a 28-38 record and the Pirates had a chance to win a game in which they faced Clayton Kershaw, but still lost — none of which was all that off-putting.
After Brandon Cumpton’s first inning, I started questioning my pre-game thoughts on him and his expected performance in his big league debut. The guy struck out Skip Schumaker (meh), Yasiel Puig (OK, Brandon) and Adrian Gonzalez (wow!) by mixing a low-90s fastball with a tight breaking ball.
“What a start,” I thought. “But this can’t continue…”
Second inning: Cumpton punches out Hanley Ramirez and Mark Ellis.
Well, turns out the rookie righty did slow down once he hit the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, but he did a nice job limiting the damage overall. The Dodgers went 7-for-12 in their last 19 at-bats against Cumpton before he was pulled in the sixth inning, when he faced three hitters without getting an out. Despite that success, Los Angeles scored just three runs against Cumpton, whose final line reads: 5 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K.
Rather than be frustrated with a guy who faltered after coming out of the gates flying, though, I take this debut as an enormous success. Cumpton pitched almost exactly how I figured he would, the only exception being his five strikeouts. He walked just one (Kershaw, at that) and let batters put the ball in play against him. Five of the nine outs he recorded were grounders and he threw 50 of 76 (66 percent) pitches for strikes.
For how deep the Pirates have reached in terms of rotation options, Cumpton’s outing is incredibly encouraging. It was his major league debut against a team that, although terrible record-wise, is still chalked with talented batters and the Bucs’ starter certainly kept his team in the game.
In fact, the Pirates should’ve won this game. After L.A. took a 3-1 lead in the top of the sixth, Russell Martin clubbed a ball with two runners on. It looked like Martin was at least going to bring the Pirates to a one-run deficit if not give them the lead with a three-run tater. Then this Skip Schumaker catch happened and Kershaw and the Dodgers escaped the inning unscathed.
Though Neil Walker driving in Pittsburgh’s second run with a clutch, two-out RBI single in the eighth was an uplifting moment, it paled in comparison to the scene between innings.
Big Yellow, as he is recognized at PNC Park, turned in the greatest jumbotron dance routine I’ve ever witnessed. I’m so thankful this tweet/picture/video/GIF exists, because it’s too tough to put the moment into words. (It’s tough to hear the accompanying music, but it’s this
. Shout! Throw my haaaands up and shout!)
Big Yellow’s 60-second dance made the nearly four-hour afternoon worthwhile.
So when the Pirates entered the ninth inning down one and set to face the newly-minuted closer, Kenley Jansen, it didn’t matter if they lost. But instead Travis Snider smoked a line-drive homer to straightaway center field with one out. Andre Ethier, who I guess is inexplicably L.A.’s center fielder, moved about five steps before turning and watching the ball rocket over the wall. Game tied — great bonus.
Then Mark Melancon pitched the 10th, which is completely fine. He’s about as reliable as a closer, and he proved to be effective in the inning of work.
In the bottom of the inning, the Pirates could have won if Russell Martin was waived around third on a Neil Walker two-out double. He wasn’t, probably because it was Yasiel Puig firing the ball in, but the throw squeaked through the infield and a bit up the third base line. Pedro Alvarez was then intentionally walked and Michael McKenry failed to knock in a run as a pinch hitter.
So here’s where things begin to border on frustrating. Clint Hurdle sent out Vin Mazzaro to pitch the 11th and presumably any subsequent frames. And the issue is obviously that you don’t play for those possible innings and try to win ASAP. So put in Jason Grilli.
Even my mom, who was at the game with me, noted that Grilli should be pitching. Baseball is a simple game to watch. The leverage of the situation was no mystery, and the idea that your best pitcher should be present for it is an easy thought.
Mazzaro allowed two runs in the top of the 11th and the Pirates had the tying run at second in the bottom half of the frame, but Brandon League shut it down to finish the game.
Yes, it sucks that Pittsburgh couldn’t tie things again. It sucks that they lost this game. But it’s awesome that they were competitive despite Cumpton making his debut. It’s awesome that Big Yellow was straight rockin’ in right field. It’s awesome that my mom and I can share the same opinion on a game — even though my day is much more dedicated to baseball — just based on intrinsic feelings.
So thanks, Mom, Big Yellow, Mr. Cumpton and the Pirates, for a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Now, I’m content with the feel-good afternoons for awhile, so get back to this whole winning thing soon –please.