As impressive as it was -- a 10-2 pasting of the first-place Milwaukee Brewers at dreaded Miller Park -- it was just one win for the Pirates. But this one win carried with it a promise of the future that the Pirates and their fans have been waiting for most of the season. It's a future that could carry the Pirates back from the brink of extinction to a legitimate shot at winning the National League Central Division.
Pedro Alvarez, the reluctant slugger, homered twice and drove in five runs last night. It was the first multi-homer game for Alvarez since April, when he did it twice. With this two-homer game, he hit as many home runs in one day as he did in the previous 53.
His three-run homer in the fourth gave the Pirates the lead for good. His home run in the fifth, following Russell Martin’s three-run homer, added to the rout, which cut the Brewers lead over the Pirates to four games. Alvarez did all of this while playing first base for the second time in his career.
The two homers gave Alvarez 17 for the season. He hit 36 last year, to tie for the lead in the National League, and 30 the year before.
The question of the day is: Can he take this one game and turn it into one his famous tears, during which he's been known to carry a team? He has not done that since April, when he hit five home runs in six days, sparking the belief that he might be on his way to the best year of his career.
The days, weeks and months that followed proved otherwise. And they serve as a stiff reminder not to expect anything special from Alvarez in the days ahead. But fans can dream and they know what Alvarez is capable of doing.
It is somewhat amazing that the Pirates are having the kind of offensive year they are with such a minimal contribution from Alvarez, who, even with his big night, ended the game with this meager batting line: .233/.314/.403 -- .717.
But there’s no disputing the Pirates are a high-end offensive team in what has become a pitching-dominated era. They are third in the National League in runs, just five behind the Brewers. They are first in on-base percentage, third in slugging, second in OPS and fourth in home runs. Since the All-Star Game, they are first in runs.
Add a torrid Alvarez to that mix, and the Pirates offense would be even more of a force than it has been. And make no mistake, it has been the team’s ability to score that has been mostly responsible for it remaining competitive. The defense has fallen off a cliff and the pitching, both starters and relievers, have declined over 2013.
The Pirates won 94 times last season while average only 3.9 runs per game. This season, on pace to win 84, they are averaging 4.3 runs.
Pirates starter Edinson Volquez wasn’t fooling too many Brewers -- 11 hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings -- but pitched out of two monumental jams. After Scooter Gennett led of the second with a home run, the Brewers had runners on second and third with no outs but did not score. In the fourth, they had the bases loaded with one out, but Volquez got Ryan Braun on a pop up and struck out Aramis Ramirez.
When the Brewers got three straight singles after one out in the sixth, Jared Hughes came on to retire Ramirez.
With right-hander Mike Fiers pitching for the Brewers this afternoon, as the Pirates go for a sweep of the series, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Alvarez will be in the lineup. Until he proves otherwise, in fact, he should be the starting first baseman against all right-handers.
Of course, Alvarez’s slumps are of such epic proportion that it might not take him long to ‘prove otherwise.’
Still, it was a big night for Pirates baseball.
Pedro is back!