Chris Stewart had two hits Sunday that became doubles via an abnormal interaction with the vagaries of PNC Park. The first one almost tied the score. The second one helped finish the job.
Stewart tied the score in the sixth, Andrew McCutchen put the Pirates ahead in the seventh and Neil Walker provided the cushion in a 5-3 win against the Colorado Rockies, giving the Pirates a three-game sweep. They improved to 52-46 after losing five of seven to division rivals on the road before the All-Star break.
"We're not trying to worry about too many games ahead, too many games behind, there's nothing we can do about those," Stewart said.
With the Pirates trailing, 3-0, in the second, consecutive singles from Gaby Sanchez and Walker put runners on second and third. Walker reached second on Carlos Gonzalez's attempt to throw out Sanchez at third.
"Guys that have good arms like that, you know that any chance they get that they think they can throw a guy out, they're going to let it eat," Walker said.
That paid off when Jordy Mercer singled, sending home two runs.
Two batters later, Stewart grounded a ball into left field that lodged under the padding on the left-field wall. Left fielder Brandon Barnes played the ball, throwing it in, and Mercer would have scored, but the umpires ruled it a ground-rule double and forced Mercer to stop at third.
Manager Clint Hurdle said the ball was dead once it lodged, and the fact that Barnes played it and didn't put up his hands didn't matter. That only comes into play in certain situations: "In Wrigley Field [and its ivy-covered wall], they let you know that when you exchange ground rules, and in any ballpark where the bullpens are in play and there's chairs where the ball might get underneath the chairs," Hurdle said.
PNC Park's ground rules list nothing about padding on the walls or the fences.
Jeff Locke and Rockies rookie Tyler Matzek provided almost identical starts, each allowing three runs and seven hits in six innings. The Rockies took a quick 3-0 lead in the second after home runs from Josh Rutledge in the first and Michael McKenry in the second.
"The runs come in early and kind of put the team and you in a bad spot," Locke said. "You come to the dugout after you get through it all and everybody says, 'Hey, that's all they're going to get. We're going to score some runs here and win the game,' and that's just kind of the mentality we've all been carrying on."
After the two home runs, Locke settled down. He allowed four hits, all singles, the rest of the way and let the Rockies put a runner in scoring position only once.
Matzek, making his eighth major league start, held the Pirates in check in the third through fifth innings but allowed the tying run in the sixth. Mercer walked with one out and stole second. Two batters later, Stewart bounced a double over the short wall in left field. This one scored Mercer, tying the score at 3-3.
"It's strange just to have two doubles for me, period," said Stewart, who had one this season before Sunday. "Not necessarily how they came about."
For the third game in a row, the Rockies bullpen failed to keep the Pirates scoreless. Matt Belisle was the loser for the second time in three games and allowed two runs and four hits in two-thirds of an inning.
"You make the pitchers, when they're down in counts, either get it out over the plate [or] work yourself in better situations," Hurdle said. "We were just able to maintain focus and execute, do some other things."
Josh Harrison walked in the seventh, stole second and scored on McCutchen's tiebreaking single. The Pirates stole four bases Sunday, two of which led to runs.
"Josh stealing second base, got himself in a position to score," Hurdle said. "Andrew got a 3-0 pitch that he could get the barrel to."
Walker hit his 14th homer into the shrubbery in center field to put the Pirates ahead by two.
"Huge hit by Cutch to give us the lead, but any time you can add on there in the eighth and ninth inning with more than a one-run lead is a good thing," Walker said.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.
First Published July 20, 2014 12:00 AM