Pirates benefit from mistake-filled inning, sweep Mets
NEW YORK — Baseball can be a tedious game. Focus is often tested, especially on muggy, 90-degree afternoons like Sunday at Citi Field. In getting to know Aramis Ramirez over the past three weeks, what has stood out to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is the veteran deadline acquisition’s ability to concentrate.
For instance, Ramirez — who drove in three runs Sunday — noted to Hurdle during Saturday’s game how Gregory Polanco’s three hits had all come on first pitches. Hurdle doubted many major league players, particularly younger ones more prone to distraction, would pick up on such a detail.
The New York Mets, newcomers to important August baseball, were unable to sustain focus coming out of a rain delay Sunday as the Pirates and Ramirez capitalized on a gaffe-filled, concentration-wandering seventh inning to break a tie game en route to an 8-1 win and series sweep.
The inning helped the Pirates (69-46) go 7-2 in a nine-game stretch against all three NL Division leaders.
With the Cardinals and Cubs losing Sunday, the Pirates hold a 2 1⁄2 game lead over the Cubs for the top wild-card spot. The Pirates are five games back of the Cardinals.
“Clint came through (the clubhouse) the other day and said, ‘What’s all this talk we hear about dog days? The tough days in August?’ ” said Pirates starter Jeff Locke, who matched Matt Harvey on Sunday. “ ‘The only days that are tough is when your team is not in it.’ ”
Some took Hurdle’s Sunday lineup, which was without Andrew McCutchen and Jung Ho Kang, as something akin to raising a white flag against Harvey and the Mets. The hype — “Harvey Day” T-shirts were seen around the ballpark — was warranted as Harvey entered with a 1.45 ERA since June 6.
“It just lets you know it’s not an ‘I’ type of ballgame. It’s a ‘we’ ballgame,” McCutchen said.
While Harvey allowed only one run in six innings — a Pedro Alvarez home run — the Pirates made him work and if the rain had not knocked out Harvey, his pitch count would have, Mets manager Terry Collins said.
“The eight that went out there today battled their backsides off against Harvey,” Hurdle said.
After the rain delay, Pedro Florimon, starting in place of Kang and batting .063, began the seventh by drawing walk versus Mets reliever Bobby Parnell. Michael Morse followed by grounding a ball back to Parnell, who tried to cut down Florimon at second and made an accurate throw there. However, no Met covered the base. Florimon advanced to third on the error.
Polanco followed and Parnell apparently had not watched Saturday’s game.
Parnell left a first-pitch fastball out over the plate, which Polanco slashed into center to score Florimon and give the Pirates a 2-1 lead. Two batters later, Sean Rodriguez, pinch-running for Morse, scored from third on a passed ball by Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud, another lapse.
Polanco advanced to second and Ramirez drove him in with a single. Ramirez alertly advanced to second on a poor throw in from the outfield and scored on an Alvarez single off Eric O’Flaherty to stake the Pirates to a 5-1 lead.
In the eighth, Ramirez, remaining focused, rocked a first pitch from Carlos Torres off the center-field wall to score two and give the Pirates an 8-1 lead.
Ramirez was better Sunday and so was Locke away from PNC Park.
At home, Locke has a 3.19 ERA.
On the road, Locke entered with a 6.51 ERA.
Perhaps it is tied to Locke’s habit of nibbling around the edges of the zone, and pitch-tracking data has shown umpires have bias toward home teams on borderline strike calls.
Locke began the day with a 26-pitch first inning but was efficient after that, really only hurt by a d’Arnaud home run in the second. Locke allowed four hits, one run and walked two in 5 1⁄3 innings.
“Every one of the starters improved across the board,” said Hurdle of his weekend pitchers.
The 40-minute, sixth-inning rain delay might have come at a good time as Locke was due to face d’Arnaud with runners on first and second. After the rain, Arquimedes Caminero struck out d’Arnaud with a 98 mph fastball. He got Ruben Tejada to ground out to end the threat.
Caminero recorded the win. It was the 16th straight decision won by the bullpen, the longest streak in baseball since 1909, according to Elias.