This latest Pirates win -- the one that might get those of little faith to stop worrying about the Washington Nationals -- had a sweet historical balance to it.
The runs were provided by players acquired in one of the first trades, more than five years ago, and one of the most recent, less than a month ago, made by general manager Neal Huntington. And it was all wrapped up by the highest-profile player ever drafted by Huntington.
The Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs, 2-1, Saturday night at PNC Park on home runs by Jose Tabata and Marlon Byrd and the pitching of Gerrit Cole.
There's much to discuss about this game, but, first, a word about Tabata, who was dealt to the Pirates in late July of 2008 by the New York Yankees. Tabata, no fan favorite, has become somewhat of an unsung hero in the Pirates drive toward the postseason and beyond. This is not to suggest he has fully replaced the injured Starling Marte, but he certainly has made what could have been a devastating blow to the Pirates' hope more of a minor one.
Marte's last game as the team's starting left fielder was Aug. 18, a loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, which left the Pirates 7-9 for the month. Without Marte, and with Tabata getting the vast majority of the starts in left field and often batting leadoff, the Pirates are 14-11.
Since Aug. 18, Tabata is batting .282. Since Aug. 20, he is batting .308. He is no Marte. He is nowhere close to Marte's match in the field or on the bases. But he has made Marte's absence a minor distraction, as opposed to the calamity it might have been.
When Tabata came to bat with one out in the sixth inning and the Pirates trailing, 1-0, Cubs starter Scott Baker was in command. He had allowed only two hits, one of them in the infield, and had retired nine in a row since Cole's single to right in the third. Tabata lashed Baker's first pitch for a 410-foot home run to center field to tie the game.
The Pirates will welcome Marte back with open arms as soon as he's ready to start -- and that could be any day -- but there will be no complaints with the production Tabata has provided.
And certainly none with what Byrd has done since coming over from the New York Mets on Aug. 28. He's batting .325 (20-for-62) with an OPS over .800 and two homers and 10 RBIs. That second home came with one out in the seventh and was the game-winning run.
Cole made it all happen. For the second consecutive game, he was exceptionally sharp and is presenting manager Clint Hurdle with problems involving how to set up his postseason rotation -- if he has a choice.
Cole pitched seven innings and allowed one run, in the first, five hits and three walks while striking out seven. In his past two starts, he has pitched 14 innings and allowed one run and eight hits while striking out 16.
Cole finished with 101 pitches so there was reason to believe he was tired when the seventh began with a four-pitch walk to Brian Bogusevic and a first-pitch single by Welington Castillo.
No doubt, the chroniclers of Hurdle's so-called managerial gaffes were ready to pounce when the bullpen was not summoned. A sacrifice bunt advanced the runners to second and third. But Cole responded to Hurdle's confidence by striking out Darwin Barney and getting Dioner Navarro on a grounder to shorstop.
After that, Hurdle went to his bullpen, and if Tony Watson had faltered in the eighth, no doubt the response from the anti-Hurdle crowd -- the ones who were ready to pounce on him for not removing Cole -- would have been: 'Why did he take out Cole?'
And if Mark Melancon had faltered in the ninth, no doubt the response from the anti-Hurdle crowd would have been: 'Why does he always manage by the book? He should have stuck with Watson.'
Admittedly, the previous two paragraphs were a bit petty. They were written to point out how easy it is to second-guess the manager. He can never win with some.
The win, coupled with a St. Louis Cardinals loss to Seattle, moved the Pirates back into a first-place tie. The Cincinnati Reds also won to stay 2 1/2 games off the lead and still very much a contender.
The same might not be said of the Nationals, who lost to Philadelphia, and now trail the Pirates by eight games with 14 to be played. If the Nationals finish at 12-2 -- and they have three games with Atlanta and three with St. Louis -- they'll finish with 90 wins. Which means all the Pirates must do to finish ahead of them is go 5-9.
The Pirates have no plans to finish in such a manner. Their sights are set on a division title and it is well within their grasp.bobsmiziksports