Another ballpark, Andrew McCutchen thought, and it might have been a homer. Anywhere else and his opposite-field drive in the eighth inning might have cleared the fence and McCutchen would have hit for the cycle. But, at PNC Park, the ball hit about 8 feet shy of the top of the right-field Clemente Wall.
“You know,” McCutchen said, “I’ll take the double RBI.”
McCutchen went 4 for 5 with three extra-base hits, Jordy Mercer drove in a career-high four runs, and the Pirates beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 8-2, Friday. The sellout crowd of 38,977 was the largest July 4 crowd in the history of PNC Park.
Those fans saw the Pirates bat around in the first and score four runs. They also saw Gerrit Cole leave the game early because of what he called tightness in his right lat — short for latissimus dorsi, the large muscle in the middle and upper back. They watched Stolmy Pimentel work himself into a colossal jam, then watched Jared Hughes celebrate his 29th birthday while extricating the Pirates from it to preserve a lead that ultimately grew and morphed into their 10th win in the past 13 games.
The Pirates amassed 13 hits, 10 against Phillies starter Roberto Hernandez. Five of those came in the first. Hernandez had walked 27 and struck out 29 in his previous eight starts. McCutchen said he did not pay attention to such things, but the team was cognizant of his control issues.
“We knew that going in,” Mercer said. “We knew we had to be patient but yet still stay aggressive at the same time.”
The Pirates epitomized that ideal in the first. Hernandez had to throw 45 pitches and only 22 were strikes. He worked a three-ball count against six batters and ended up walking two. Five singles, three of which scored runs, did the rest of the damage.
“I think guys are sharing information, came back in the dugout, of what he’s trying to do,” Mercer said. “It felt like he was trying to bust us in and go soft.”
The Pirates also stole three bases in the inning, taking advantage of Hernandez and catcher Koyie Hill, 35. Two of those steals led to runs.
Cole (7-4) made his second start since coming off the disabled list because of right shoulder fatigue. He said the lat tightness was in a different area and the two issues were not related. Manager Clint Hurdle said Cole mentioned the discomfort when he came into the dugout after the fifth.
“There’s no pain. It just got a little tight,” Cole said. “Instead of trying to push through it, coming back, it just seemed like the right thing to do was to take a step back for a minute.”
Cole allowed only one hit through five scoreless innings, walking one and striking out five. His fastball consistently hit 95-97 mph early. By the fifth, however, his fastball was in the 90-94 mph range.
“I’m not going to complain about scoring runs, but there were some long lulls,” Cole said. “I think that might have had something to do with it. There were a couple long innings where I just kind of had to sit there.”
Stolmy Pimentel replaced Cole and faced the top of the Phillies order in the sixth. He allowed the first four batters he faced to reach base. Ben Revere walked and took second on a wild pitch. Jimmy Rollins also walked. Chase Utley singled, scoring Revere, and Ryan Howard walked to load the bases with no outs.
Hurdle removed Pimentel and summoned Hughes, who had not allowed any of previous 15 inherited runners to score. Though that streak ended, Hughes will take the result: Marlon Byrd grounded into a double play on the first pitch of his at-bat, scoring a run. Cody Asche struck out looking on a sinker that caught the outside corner, and the Pirates were out of the inning with a 5-2 lead.
“Just get ahead of the batter, get ahead in the count,” Hughes said. “You know, with the bases loaded, you don’t have any room to fall behind.”
Justin Wilson, Tony Watson and Jeanmar Gomez each pitched a scoreless inning, and the Phillies finished the game with only two hits.
Hayes Gardner contributed to this report. Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.