PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rays broke open a tied game, scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh to pull away from the visiting Pirates and earn a 9-5 victory this afternoon at the Charlotte County Sports Park in the Grapefruit League opener for both teams.
Daniel McCutchen, a Pirates right-handed pitcher, yielded a two-out double just inside the third base line in the seventh to Robinson Chirinos that cleared the bases, made a 2-2 game a 5-2 Tampa Bay advantage and effective put the Pirates away.
It was the Pirates' second game in two days, but yesterday's 21-1 win against State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota was in an exhibition game, not classified as Grapefruit League play.
There was a definite bright spot for the Pirates in this one --- and it came right off the top.
Pirates right-handed starter Charlie Morton, who struggled mightily last season as he went 2-12 in Pittsburgh with a 7.57 ERA in 17 starts, worked a solid two innings in his start. After walking Rays catcher John Jaso to start the bottom of the first, Morton got Johnny Damon to ground into a double play and then Evan Longoria to ground out. Morton rolled a double-play ball to end the second inning as well. He faced the minimum six batters, gave up a hit and walked a batter.
"Two double plays, which was good; got some sinker movement going," Morton said. "Obviously, I'd like to be a little more consistent early in the count, but I am not going to be analytical about it. I got my work in and it went well."
The Pirates scored twice in the second, when Ronny Cedeno and Jose Tabata each collected RBIs by punching balls to the right side; Cedeno's stayed in the infield for a fielder's choice and Tabata's was a sharp single to right field.
Longoria, the Rays' standout third baseman, blasted a one-out, solo home run off Brad Lincoln in the bottom of the fourth beyond the center field wall to cut the Pirates' advantage to 2-1.
A Sean Rodriguez solo shot off Pirates pitcher Chris Resop in the fifth tied it at 2-2.
Thereafter, the Chirinos double gave Tampa Bay enough distance, even as the Pirates scored one run in the eighth when Gorkys Hernandez grounded into a double play that chased in Pedro Ciriaco.
An error by Pirates third baseman Josh Fields allowed another Tampa Bay run to score in the eighth, making it 6-3, then a sharp base hit later in the inning by Tim Beckham scored another run followed by another from Chris Carter that brought in another.
The Carter single forced Pirates manager Clint Hurdle to replace reliever Justin Thomas, who is fighting for a bullpen spot after spending some time with the major league club last season.
Garrett Atkins, a corner infielder for the Pirates, hit a double to left in the ninth that scored a run and catcher Ryan Doumit's groundout later in the inning scored Atkins, but it wasn't enough.
The same two teams will play tomorrow, clashing at Bradenton's McKechnie Field in the Pirates' Grapefruit League home opener.
Kevin Correia, acquired as a free agent in the offseason after going 10-10 for the San Diego Padres last season, is the scheduled starter for the Pirates. He is slated to pitch the first two innings.
Colin Dunlap: email@example.com