Rios, Pirates battle back for 70th win of season
Armando Rios did his best work Tuesday night when he wasn’t on the bases, and that was good enough to help the Pirates score a 6-3 victory over the New York Mets at PNC Park.
Rios atoned for a questionable baserunning decision that defused a fifth-inning rally by coming through with an RBI single in a four-run eighth that capped the Pirates’ comeback from a 3-0 deficit and sent them to their 70th win of the season.
“Anytime you get hits and RBIs that help you win a game, it’s big,” Rios said. “It’s good for your confidence and for the team when you’re able to come back.”
The one-out single was the third hit of the game for Rios and tied the score 3-3. It set the stage for pinch-hitters Abraham Nunez and Adrian Brown to finish off the Mets. Nunez drove in the go-ahead run with a grounder to second, and Brown followed with a two-run single off the glove of shortstop Rey Ordonez.
Scott Sauerbeck (5-4), the fifth of six pitchers used by manager Lloyd McClendon, worked out of a two-on, one-out jam in the eighth for the win.
Mike Williams pitched a perfect ninth for his 45th save in 49 chances.
Until the Pirates rallied in the eighth, the focal point of the game centered on Rios’ baserunning in the fifth.
He opened the inning with a single to left and held at second on Kevin Young’s single to right. Rookie Tony Alvarez followed with a fly ball over the head of center fielder Timo Perez.
The ball bounced off the base of the wall, but Rios had his viewed blocked by Perez and moved only 20 feet off second base. Young nearly collided with Rios and had to retreat to second while Alvarez turned around and went back to first. As for Rios, he had to hold at third. He remained stationed there as Mets starter Steve Trachsel retired the next three batters.
“From the angle I had, I didn’t know where the ball was,” Rios said. “KY saw the ball because he was coming from first base. The worst thing for me to do was go halfway to third and then have to come back if he catches the ball. Then, it’s first and second with one out. We still had the bases loaded with no outs, and you can’t go too crazy about that.”
McClendon didn’t, siding with Rios on the matter.
“We’re like every other team,” he said. “In that situation, you teach kids that with nobody out you hover in the area of the base until you see what happens. You have to know you’re going to get to third. The important thing is to get to third.”
The play loomed large when pitcher Josh Fogg and second baseman Pokey Reese struck out and shortstop Jack Wilson grounded to third, keeping the Mets’ 3-0 lead intact. It was magnified when the Pirates pulled within a run in the seventh on Rob Mackowiak’s pinch-hit RBI double and Reese’s RBI single.
But the Mets couldn’t build on their one-run lead in the eighth despite having runners on first and second with one out. Sauerbeck, who had just entered the game, caught Roberto Alomar trying to steal third. He then escaped by striking out Mo Vaughn.
The Pirates opened their half of the eighth with singles from Jason Kendall and Brian Giles.
David Weathers replaced Mark Guthrie and got Aramis Ramirez to hit a popup for the first out. But drove in Kendall with a single up the middle. Perez’s throw to the plate was offline, and Rios hustled into second while Giles took third. Young was walked intentionally, setting up a force possibility.
Up next was Alvarez, who was 2 for 3 with a double. Many fans in the crowd of 13,249 booed when they saw Nunez emerge from the dugout as a pinch-hitter.
“I prefer to have a veteran player up there against a pretty good right-handed pitcher,” McClendon said. “I manage to win games, not to please anybody.”
Nunez, who was 5 for 41 off the bench as he stepped in, hit a sharp grounder to second. Alomar, who was playing in, knocked the ball down but had to settle for the out at first.
“It gives you confidence when the manager wants you in that situation,” Nunez said. “It’s a pressure situation, but I try to be mature about it and make the most out of those situations.”
Rios’ three-hit game was just his second of an injury-filled season. But he is batting .375 (18 for 48) in his past 23 games.
“I feel good up there,” Rios said. “It’s been a while, but getting the chance to play gives you confidence and helps you play better. I’m not trying to press and hit home runs. I’m just being me and trying to hit the ball hard.”
Fogg received another no-decision after giving up two earned runs and three hits in 5 1 / 3 innings. A third run was unearned because of a two-base error by Giles in the fifth.
Fogg has a 12-11 record, but he has won just once in his past nine starts. He is 3-5 with a 5.04 ERA in 15 starts since the All-Star break. In the first half, he was 9-6 with a 3.56 ERA in 17 turns.
“I think he’s done fine,” McClendon said. “People made a lot out of the fact he hasn’t won a lot of games and the number aren’t as impressive. But nobody in this locker room is surprised. We all knew that was going to happen. He’s a young kid and this is a tough league. The second and third time around is tough on you. He’s still learning the league and learning the hitters. As he gains that knowledge and becomes more familiar with hitters in this league, you’ll start to see his second-half numbers get better.”