Gene Collier: Pirates' offensive outburst sends message to St. Louis



For the first of what will include no fewer than 19 meetings with the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals between here and the far end of September, and some would say beyond, the Pirates turned up with a list of batting averages that, read aloud, sounded like bingo numbers.

Before the 12-2 drubbing, 0-67 was Pedro Alvarez's number, and a couple of other batters were out there somewhere on the infamous Interstate, I-82 in particular.

Not only did Clint Hurdle's team average fewer than seven hits in an otherwise successful, three-game season-opening series against the Chicago Cubs, only three of their hits went for extra bases.

At game time Friday night, delayed an hour and five minutes by the threat of rain and then by, of all things, actual rain, St. Louis masher Matt Adams already had three doubles on the young season. The Pirates, all of them, had two.

Thus, it was clearly past time for some corrective measures, or at least it sure seemed that way to Pedro Alvarez.

It was Alvarez, quite properly, who demonstrated the impact hits of some length might have, drilling Shelby Miller's 2-2 pitch some 426 feet to left-center field for a 1-0 Pirates lead in the second, then rifled his 1-2 pitch some 400 feet to the seats in right-center field for a 2-0 Pirates lead in the fourth.

He's not the first Pirates player in 40 years to lead the league in home runs for nothing, after all.

Starling Marte mixed in a triple off the center-field wall in between, and Travis Ishikawa, the de facto first baseman, smacked another 1-2 offering from Miller over the Clemente Wall for a 3-0 lead.

Miller had seen this kind of thing before, lest you've forgotten. He was 0-4 against the Pirates in 2013 with a 5.32 ERA, but he stuck around Friday night long enough to see teammate Matt Carpenter tee off against Gerrit Cole in the fifth. In fact, Miller was standing on first at the time, having swatted a one-out single to right. Carpenter's two-run home run soared right over Miller's head, no doubt making him think he was still in this thing.

Of course, that was the problem. He was.

So in the very next frame, the Pirates finished fitting him with a typical Miller-versus-Pirates pitching line: 51/3 innings, 6 hits, 5 runs -- all earned -- 3 walks, 2 strikeouts, 3 home runs. Essentially, the Pirates took him long, took him short and took him out.

Andrew McCutchen, bingo-ing at 0-83 when he came up in the sixth, lashed a single to start the inning, then Alvarez, after hitting into a forceout, stole second to cue an extended cadenza of little ball that blew out to a three-run inning.

Russell Martin's single to center chased Alvarez toward the plate, where he scored the fourth Pirates run on an exquisite slide in which his left hand beat Yadier Molina's glove to the plate by what somebody used to call a gnat's eyelash.

I know who. Don't email me.

That was it for Miller, but the Pirates weren't done.

When Walker singled Martin to third and bolted toward the second stolen base of the inning, Molina came up throwing toward Martin, who had wandered far from third. Molina's throw pin-balled off Martin's back wildly into foul territory, allowing Martin to score and Walker to be awarded third.

Gaby Sanchez singled home Walker (who has scored in all four of the club's games) to make it 6-2, and the Pirates had their first fully formed offensive eruption of the young season, the very kind they so often constructed behind Cole in his rookie season.

For a team that had failed to score in 29 of the season's first 35 innings, scoring in five of the first eight Friday night represented not just a relief; it was the kind of focused effort that should shake loose some runs for the remainder of the series. Further, it might well have reminded the Cardinals, overwhelming favorites to win the NL Central Division yet again, that it was these Pirates who nearly pushed them off a cliff in the 2013 National League Division Series.

The Cardinals probably would require such a reminder, as they escaped that series primarily because the Pirates offense suddenly went dark after Game 3. Hurdle's team scored once in Game 4, once in Game 5 and the long wait for any chance at atonement for that was underway.

In Chapter 1 of 19, at least in the regular season, there wasn't anything to suggest the Pirates' time hasn't come.

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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