The Pirates beat the Atlanta Braves Sunday to take three out of four from the hottest team in baseball and complete a terrific 7-2 homestand against three good clubs. They won despite getting three innings from starter Jonathan Sanchez. They came back to hand Braves starter Kris Medlen a loss for the first time in 29 regular-season career starts in which he held a lead. They scored a valuable insurance run in the seventh inning off a Braves bullpen that hadn't given up one in 132/3 innings. They even threw out two baserunners trying to steal.
None of that, though, was the most improbable part of the 4-2 win at PNC Park.
Shortstop Clint Barmes got an RBI.
Two, actually, including the winning one in the sixth inning.
Barmes singled sharply to right field in the second inning, driving in Russell Martin to tie the score, 2-2. It was Barmes' 48th plate appearance of the season. In all of baseball, only Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton had been less productive. He also drove in his first run Sunday against the Cincinnati Reds in his 57th plate appearance.
Forget the RBI, Barmes said.
"Just to get a hit -- period -- was good."
There had been just four all season for Barmes.
"It's been a pretty good test of my confidence and trying to stay sane," he said.
The .093 batting average next to his name was bad enough for Barmes. Boos from the home crowd made things worse, not that they weren't warranted. Barmes is in the second year of a two-year, $10.5 million contract. Fans have a right to expect more. They booed Barmes brutally Saturday night when he struck out in the fifth and seventh innings with runners in scoring position.
"Yeah, that was probably the loudest it's been for me here," he said, quietly.
Barmes refused to lash back. He didn't ask for sympathy. He isn't looking for any breaks.
"I get it. Look where I am. Look at what I've done," he said.
"I'm not happy with what I've been doing on the offensive side, especially at home. I'm not happy with the results at all. That just makes me work that much harder to throw up better results."
This same thing happened to Barmes last season, his first with the Pirates. He hit .149 in April and .189 in May before finding his game and batting .255 the rest of the way. He talked all spring about getting off to a better start this season. It hasn't happened, though maybe Sunday will be the start for him. He has played solid defense all along.
"He was out there grinding today," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Nothing breeds confidence like success."
Hurdle loved seeing Barmes' first RBI. The Braves had taken a 2-0 lead in the second inning off Sanchez, who was awful again and shouldn't get another start. It was easy to think that might have been enough for Medlen, who had been 16-0 with 12 no-decisions after his teammates had given him a lead.
But no, not this time.
"Three minutes later, we're back tied," Hurdle said of Barmes' hit, which followed a run-scoring double by Martin.
Barmes' winning hit was an infield single up the middle with two outs, scoring Neil Walker from third. Walker had set up the inning with some great baserunning, tagging from first base on Pedro Alvarez's fly ball to the wall in left field. "As soon as he hit it, I thought it was going to be a home run or it would be caught," Walker said. He moved to third on an infield out and scored on Barmes' dribbler.
"We hung around," Hurdle said. "We scratched ...
"We're capable of playing pretty good baseball. It's good to beat good teams."
Hurdle had a right to be elated. The Pirates swept three games from the Reds and split two with the St. Louis Cardinals before doing a number on the Braves, who came to town with a 12-2 record.
"I wouldn't say I'm surprised at all," Barmes said. "We expect to do big things this year. Look at the talent in this clubhouse. We believe we can play with anybody. It doesn't matter who's on the mound [for the opponent]. We show up. You never know who's going to do something big."
Sunday, it was the bullpen again. It tossed six scoreless innings, the final one by closer Jason Grilli, who is 7 for 7 in save chances and has given up no runs and only three hits in eight innings.
It was Martin, who is starting to hit better after a tough start. He had a single to go with that double and stretched his hitting streak to six games (9 for 20, .450). But that wasn't the best part of his day. He threw out runners at second base in the first and seventh innings to complete strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double plays. "We didn't have that club in our bag last season," Hurdle said.
But perhaps most of all, it was Barmes. To say his teammates were thrilled for him would be an understatement.
"He's the consummate professional," Walker said. "I'm his biggest fan."
Barmes didn't have many before Sunday. He probably has a few more today.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published April 22, 2013 4:00 AM