Not much analysis needed in this Pirates win. Plain and simple: Charlie Morton and Clint Barmes.
An unlikely heroic pair, to be sure, in this 3-1 win over the San Francisco Giants early this morning, which held the Pirates lead in the NL Central over St. Louis at one game.
Morton pitched a splendid 7 2/3 innings and clearly elevated himself into the Pirates postseason rotation.
Barmes, the notoriously light-hitting shortstop who has lost his job to Jordy Mercer, delivered the only hit the Pirates needed, a three-run homer in the seventh inning.
Morton's return from Tommy John surgery is one of the best and most unheralded stories of the baseball season. He didn't join the active roster until June 11 and expectation of a return to top from were low. It often takes a pitcher a full year after returning to the lineup from TJ surgery to hit top form. But Morton has done it in two months.
He pitched 7 2/3 innings against the Giants and allowed one run, seven hits and one walk while striking out three. In his past four starts, his ERA is 2.28 and he's struck out 17 while walking six. The only run he allowed last night came home on a twisting pop fly into short left field that Mercer, starting at third base for the first time this season, did not play well.
Five weeks remain in the season, but Morton has elevated himself to the level that he's now the clear No. 3 behind Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett in any playoff pitching rotation.
Barmes, who started only because Pedro Alvarez got the night off and Mercer moved over to third, has been the consummate professional in accepting his backup role as the Pirates chose to go with more offense at shortstop.
He made the most of his occasional start. With Gaby Sanchez and Josh Harrison, both of whom singled, on base, he drilled a 1-1 pitch down the left field line and into the seats for his fourth home run of the season.
It was all Morton and the bullpen needed. Tony Watson got the final out in the eighth and Mark Melancon finished up with his ninth save.
The Pirates are 76-52 and lead the Cardinal by a game and Cincinnati by 3 1/2. Their edge over Arizona in the wild-card race is 10 1/2 games.
The Pirates play the Giants again tomorrow afternoon.