It was the very definition of putting your team on your back and carrying it to victory, and it was done with the greatest of ease.
Almost as though he was taking batting practice, Andrew McCutchen homered twice -- once to tie the game in the ninth and once to win it in the 11th -- against the Cincinnati Reds Saturday night. Rather than walking off the field with a crushing defeat -- they led 4-0 through 5 1/2 inning -- the Pirates had a glorious 6-5 victory.
McCutchen is taking not just another step toward a second consecutive MVP award, he is taking the step from being an excellent player to being one who soon will be mentioned in Hall of Fame discussions.
Now, of course, to salvage anything from this crucial road trip, McCutchen and his teammates must win again this afternoon, which won’t be easy because the Reds are pitching Johnny Cueto.
The win Saturday night gave the Pirates a 2-4 record on this seven-game swing. Finishing 3-4 would be acceptable. A record of 2-5 much less so.
But Cueto stands in the way of a win and he is a large obstacle. He ranks among the best starters in the National League, along with Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. His 2.03 ERA is third-best in the league, his 0.88 WHIP second-best and his .180 batting average against is No. 1.
Already this season he is 2-0, both complete games, in three starts against the Pirates with a 1.13 ERA and a .159 BAA.
But the excellence of Cueto is a secondary story in this game. This game is all about Francisco Liriano, the onetime Pirates ace. He comes off the disabled list to start after having a hugely disappointing first half of the season. In 14 starts, he was 1-6 with a 4.60 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. He has not pitched for the Pirates since June 10 when he left a start with an oblique strain.
In that start and the ones before it, he had shown little of the form that made him one of the best pitchers in the National League last season.
Serious injuries to key players with St. Louis and Cincinnati have widened the Pirates‘ chances of making the playoffs. But to be a truly serious challenger they are going to need at least one of last year’s aces, Liriano or Gerrit Cole, to return to that form. Cole remains on the DL. It’s Liriano’s turn. He needs to start shining.
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People who complain about the caliber of players on the Pirates bench need to take a look at some of the Cincinnati reserves. They include: Kris Negron, Neftali Soto and Donald Lutz. It happens -- to all teams
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Interesting but meaningless statistics: The individual records of Pirates players when they start:
1B - Ike Davis (31-26), Gaby Sanchez (14-13), Travis Ishikawa (4-6)
2B - Neil Walker (39-39), Josh Harrison (7-5), Clint Barmes (2-1), Michael Martinez (1-0)
3B - Pedro Alvarez (44-40), Harrison (5-4), Barmes (0-1)
SS - Jordy Mercer (38-37), Barmes (10-7)
LF - Starling Marte (37-34), Jose Tabata (4-7), Harrison (5-4), Travis Snider (3-0)
CF - McCutchen (47-45), Marte (2-0)
RF - Snider (10-15), Gregory Polanco (18-11), Harrison (14-9), Tabata (7-10)
C - Russell Martin (30-21), Chris Stewart (10-14), Tony Sanchez (9-10)
DH - G. Sanchez (0-3), Alvarez (1-0), Davis (0-1), T. Sanchez (1-0), Snider (1-0), Martin (0-1)
First Published July 13, 2014 12:00 AM