Pirates pitchers’ scoreless run ends, but win streak climbs to 7
CHICAGO — Don’t be sad the streak is over. Be glad it happened.
In the Pirates’ 3-2 win over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday, the fourth-longest consecutive scoreless innings streak by Pirates pitching came to an end. With two outs in the sixth inning at U.S. Cellular Field, Melky Cabrera doubled down the left-field line off Jeff Locke to score Adam Eaton, who had walked.
It was the first run the Pirates had allowed in 35 innings, dating to when the Philadelphia Phillies scored in the eighth inning Saturday. The streak was the longest since May 17-21, 1972, when the club held NL opponents scoreless for 36 innings. The Pirates also had a 45-inning streak in 1931 and a 51-inning scoreless streak in 1903, when they recorded a MLB record six straight shutouts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
While Cabrera’s hit came with two outs, such streaks cannot contain partial innings if a run was scored in the inning, according to the Pirates’ media relations staff.
Of course, a more important streak continued with the Pirates winning their seventh straight to push their record to 38-27.
While the streak ended with Locke, the left-hander — viewed as the weak link of the rotation — put together his second straight strong outing after six shutout innings Friday against the Phillies.
“I think (the improvement) has been since the start of the season,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s working better. He’s looking better. Last two games he’s pitched clean. The execution has been really good. … He had five masterful innings.”
Locke is perhaps proving peer pressure to perform well — whether on the mound or elsewhere — is a powerful thing.
“The way everyone is throwing the ball,” Locke said, “you really just want to pick up where they left off.”
Locke did something else few had seen before. The typically average-velocity arm hit 95 mph in the first inning against White Sox slugger Jose Abreu.
It was perhaps the fastest pitch of Locke’s career, who also threw one 94.8 mph fastball in 2013, according to PITCHf/x data.
Locke threw three fastballs at 94 mph or faster in a first inning at-bat against Abreu, the first time he ever had thrown at least three pitches of 94 mph or more in one at-bat, according to analyst Daren Willman.
“I definitely felt strong and confident with my fastball,” Locke said. “It’s definitely a lot more fun to go out and pitch with that stuff.”
Most important was Locke located some of the best stuff of his career down in the zone. Locke allowed just three hits, two runs and two walks in six innings. He struck out eight.
Locke was perfect the first time through the order, including striking out the side in the second when he got Avisail Garcia and Adam LaRoche swinging at changeups.
To end the second, Alexei Ramirez looked at a fastball for a called strike. Locke also struck out Ramirez looking at an inside fastball in fifth. For Locke to be successful, he must get his fastball inside to right-handed batters, which he did.
While Locke located well, left-handed White Sox starter John Danks left the ball up, a dangerous thing to do at the hitter-friendly confines.
Josh Harrison opened the game with a double, and with one out Andrew McCutchen singled him home. The next batter, Jung Ho Kang, batting cleanup, he lined the first pitch for opposite-field home run into the right-field bullpen to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead.
“He does his homework, and he can hit,” Hurdle said. “He’s hit his whole life.”
It was all the Pirates’ scoring for the night, but it would be all the scoring required as the starting pitching continued its remarkable run of effectiveness, and Mark Melancon’s streak remained alive as he converted his 20th straight opportunity.
Note: Starling Marte was removed from the game in the ninth inning with left ankle discomfort after jamming his foot earlier in the game while trying to beat out a ground ball for an infield hit. Marte indicated he was OK after the game.