The Pirates got a stellar start from Jeff Locke Wednesday afternoon, who bested Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-1, at PNC Park as the stakes continued to climb.
They also got another big swing from Ike Davis, whose two-run homer in the second inning stood as the winning hit. He delivered at three-run homer Tuesday night in the eighth to provide the winning margin.
The Pirates’ timing can’t be understated. By winning consecutive series against the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cardinals, the Pirates improved to 69-64 and inched closer to a wild-card spot after a seven-game losing streak nearly derailed their season.
The Cardinals lead the National League wild-card race by 11⁄2 games over San Francisco, and the Pirates are a game behind for the second wild card, pending the outcome of the Giants’ late game at home Wednesday against the Colorado Rockies.
“We’ve got a lot of grit,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We don’t have a perfect club. We don’t play perfect. I don’t manage perfect. But we play and we believe in each other and we trust each other. Wherever the game goes, we’re going to go with it. We’re going to keep fighting, scratching clawing … these guys love to play. They flat-out love to play.”
Locke gave up one run, six hits and two walks in 71⁄3 innings. He struck out three and went 2 for 3 at the plate. It was a marked improvement from his previous outing, when he walked a season-high six.
“He got the ball on the ground the whole time he was out there. Twelve groundball outs, got deep in the game. First-pitch strikes set up some things,” Hurdle said.
Locke said the groundball outs made the difference.
“I think the guys were just putting the ball on the ground. Guys were making early outs in the count, and it’s always going to help the starting pitcher, especially when the defense is making the plays they’re making,” Locke said. “Sometimes, you keep the ball down in the zone, round ball, round bat, they just keep the ball down in the zone.”
After Russell Martin was hit by a pitch in the second, Davis clobbered a first-pitch cutter off Wainwright to make it 2-0.
“It felt good. Cutter in, and just got the barrel on it, and it carried out,” Davis said. “You know what pitches he has. I’ve got a decent amount of at-bats against him … but every at-bat is a battle with him. He’s really good. You’ve got to hit his mistakes.”
Locke hung a changeup to Matt Holliday in the third, and he homered past the notch in left-center field to cut the lead to 2-1.
The Pirates loaded the bases in the third with three consecutive singles, and Andrew McCutchen hit a sacrifice fly to drive in what proved to be an insurance run. But Wainwright struck out Neil Walker and Martin to end the inning.
Davis had a chance for another big hit in the fifth when Josh Harrison led off with a single and Walker and Martin delivered two-out singles to load the bases. This time, Davis lined out to second. He had Walker and Martin on again in the seventh with two outs but flied out to left.
Wainwright went six innings, giving up three earned runs and eight hits. He walked one, struck out five.
Hurdle sent Locke out for the eighth, but he walked Matt Carpenter to lead off the inning. After Randal Grichuk flied to center, Hurdle brought in Tony Watson to face Holliday.
“With nobody on base, I would’ve given [Locke] Holliday, but, with one man on base, it was just the matchup. We had our best guy on their best guy in that situation. Matchups, numbers,” Hurdle said.
Watson had thrown 36 pitches in two innings Tuesday night, but he caught Holliday looking and got Matt Adams to ground out to second. Mark Melancon came on to record his 24th save.
“[Watson] has shown the ability to get really good hitters out, good power hitters out,” Hurdle said. “The fastball in glove-side usually can set up anything else he wants to go to, whether it be the changeup or the breaking ball or double up with a fastball in. It’s been his M.O., and he’s been so consistent with it. He’s a tough guy. To bounce back after 36 pitches [Tuesday] was real big for us.”
Jenn Menendez email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez. First Published August 27, 2014 3:26 PM