Joe Musgrove, Pirates get last laugh as benches empty in 2-1 win over Cubs
Wherever you turned at PNC Park on Wednesday night, Joe Musgrove was there.
On the mound, at the plate, on the basepaths, even smack dab in the middle of a much-anticipated Pirates-Cubs on-field scrum.
Musgrove was the recipient of not one but two of those walk-off-the-mound ovations that engaged fans give in recognition of a strong effort by the starting pitcher.
He worked seven innings, scattering 11 baserunners and overcoming a precarious beginning of his outing to lead the Pirates to a 2-1 win to salvage a game in this series against the Chicago Cubs.
The Pirates had lost their past four and nine of their previous 11.
“Musgrove stopped the direction we were headed,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Strong win for us. … Just a good team ballgame, a good win.”
Much of it can be credited to Musgrove, who even picked off a runner at second base. Both of the former American League pitcher’s plate appearances were productive, too: a single and a sacrifice bunt. And much of what earned part of the applause from the announced crowd of 14,126 was his baserunning.
Musgrove sprinted to first on his fifth-inning sacrifice, a rarity for a pitcher. But it was three pitches after his third-inning single to right that maybe most endeared him to his new team.
Two days after Anthony Rizzo slid into and onto the ankle of Pirates’ catcher Elias Diaz in a since much-discussed attempt to break up a double play, the 6-foot-5 260-pound Musgrove slid hard into second base to do the same.
Cubs second baseman Javier Baez said something to Musgrove after he got up and was beginning his jog back to the dugout, triggering Musgrove to turn around and walk back toward Baez.
“We’re not trying to fight anybody here; we’re not trying to cause any problems,” Musgrove said. “But you blind-side our catcher when he’s got no chance to defend himself — I thought he had cleared a lane, MLB decided that it was a bad slide — (conversely) I slid directly into the bag.”
Players from both dugouts and bullpens ran to congregate near the two, between whom Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks and Pirates third-base coach Joey Cora stood to prevent an escalation.
“We jawed back and forth a little bit,” Musgrove said, “but I think that we cleared it up pretty quick.”
As far as his “day job” goes, Musgrove was far less efficient than he had been five days prior pitching in his MLB season debut. It took 67 shutout pitches for seven shutout innings May 25; Musgrove used 100 pitches Wednesday.
But perhaps that made it more impressive in that it showed the confidence Hurdle and the Pirates have in their new 25-year-old starter.
It was notable enough that Hurdle stuck with Musgrove — then at the 86-pitch mark — to pitch to pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella with two on during a one-run game in the sixth.
After a visit to mound by pitching coach Ray Searage, Musgrove rewarded the Pirates when La Stella chopped out weakly to first to end the inning. Fans gave him a warm hand, thinking Musgrove’s night was surely over.
But it wasn’t. Hurdle let him pitch the seventh, too — the dreaded third time through the order that most of modern MLB managers won’t let young pitchers touch. Musgrove got the first two outs on five pitches, but then walked Bryant.
Searage again came out to talk with Musgrove, who was going to face one of the game’s better young hitters, Rizzo, with the game on the line and at 98 pitches. Rizzo popped out.
“The stuff was real, the stuff was playing and I felt he was our best guy in both those situations to finish those innings,” Hurdle said.
Hurdle couldn’t stop praising Musgrove after the game: “He has a ballplayer feel to him… He is a very fierce competitor… We are really glad to have him.”
Such a strong outing by Musgrove appeared anything but likely when the first batter of the game doubled off of him, eight pitches in it was already 1-0 and 18 pitches in the bases were loaded with one out.
But Musgrove got out of the jam. When Harrison led off the bottom of the first by homering over the Clemente Wall, the Pirates never trailed again.
Closer Felipe Vazquez danced around two Cubs singles in the ninth to earnhis first save since May 17..
Starting for the first time in three days, Gregory Polanco drove in the go-ahead run in the third inning with a sacrifice fly.