Grabow's sweet escape sets up Pirates' walkoff
The Pirates' Freddy Sanchez, center, is congratulated by Jason Bay, left, and Xavier Nady, right, after Sanchez hit a game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth inning of last night's game to give the Pirates a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park.
The Pirates' Brian Bixler slides into home plate to score the team's second run of last night's game as Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann misses the tag in the seventh inning at PNC Park.
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The Pirates were bouncing in unison and pounding Freddy Sanchez on the helmet, moments after his two-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning sunk the Atlanta Braves, 3-2, last night at PNC Park.
"A great moment," first baseman Adam LaRoche called it.
No one on the home side would dispute that, certainly not since it brought a four-game winning streak.
In reality, though, the defining moment came in the top of that inning, when one reliever bailed out another in spectacular fashion ...
The score was 2-2, and Tyler Yates was back on the mound after a trying eighth in which he allowed Atlanta to tie on Jeff Francouer's two-out single. It was the Pirates' first blown save of the season.
- Box score
- Game: Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Tom Gorzelanny (2-3, 6.91) vs. LHP Chuck James (2-1, 7.62).
- Key matchup: Atlanta's Chipper Jones has four hits in five career at-bats vs. Gorzelanny, including a double and two RBIs.
- Of note: Of Xavier Nady's 34 RBIs, nine have come when the score was tied, and seven have come in the seventh inning or later when there was no more than a run difference.
The ninth started no better: Gregor Blanco singled, and pinch-hitter Jeff Norton walked.
Manager John Russell summoned John Grabow, who long has been the bullpen's best at stranding inherited runners.
"It's tough in that situation," Yates said. "You want to see something good happen there. But man, the odds of someone succeeding are ..."
Kelly Johnson worked the count full off Grabow, but the next pitch was a slider that nailed the outside corner and froze him for the first out.
Grabow went right after Yunel Escobar with two changeups, his designated ground-ball pitch, and he got a 6-4-3 double play that brought the crowd of 21,050 to its feet.
"Unbelievable," Yates said.
"Phenomenal" Russell said.
The way Grabow saw it, he simply was paying back a favor. The previous day, in the 5-4 edging of the San Francisco Giants, Grabow stuck Yates with two runners in the eighth, and Yates got the third out.
"Yeah, but that was one out," Yates said. "This was three."
Grabow has inherited 10 runners this season, and two have scored.
Yates has had 11, and one has scored.
"We've been talking about this since the first day of spring training, but this is what a bullpen does," Grabow said. "We pick each other up. We're like family."
Ian Snell and Atlanta's Tom Glavine each had efficient starts, and Glavine took a 1-0 and a three-hitter into the seventh, when the Pirates finally got something going.
Xavier Nady led off with a hustling double and, by the time there were two outs, bases were loaded for Sanchez. He poked a double into right for two runs, and there might have been three except that Brian Bixler, trying to score from first, was thrown out at the plate.
Damaso Marte was entrusted with that 2-1 lead in the eighth, but two two-out singles chased him, and Yates gave up Jeff Francouer's single that tied it.
After Grabow's pickup, the Pirates had three big hits in the bottom of the ninth.
Jose Bautista's one-out single off Jeff Bennett set a spark, but he was forced at second on a Bixler groundout.
Pinch-hitter Doug Mientkiewicz, who had been beating himself up through a 4-for-33 slump, singled to right to put runners at the corners.
That brought up Sanchez, 8 for 14 since Russell moved him into the leadoff spot Tuesday, and he took Bennett to a 2-1 count before rolling a ball through the middle for the Pirates' first walkoff victory of the year.
"I didn't hit it too hard," Sanchez said. "It just found the hole."
Russell had hoped the leadoff spot would force Sanchez, a lifelong free swinger, to show more patience.
"I think he's been a little more selective," Russell said. "At leadoff, it's natural to take a few more pitches."
But all concerned gave more credit for Sanchez's improvement -- his average has soared from .212 to .261 in 10 days -- to minor adjustments made by hitting coach Don Long.
"We've been working really hard," Sanchez said. "I'm just feeling more comfortable."
Snell looked more comfortable, too, after acknowledging some serious frustration after his previous two starts in New York and Washington: He limited Atlanta to a run and two hits over seven innings, and those figures plus five strikeouts overshadowed his six walks.
"There were some issues, but I thought he looked more like Ian in attacking the zone," Russell said.
"It's still a work in progress," Snell said. "I was just making my pitches and letting my defense do the work. They made a couple great plays."
No disputing that: Nady and Nate McLouth made fine running catches in the second inning and, as a whole, the Pirates now have gone five games and 44 consecutive innings without an error. Even Bixler has begun to look less jittery at shortstop.
The Braves had entered on a six-game winning streak. Another victory for the Pirates tonight, and their streak will represent a season high.
First Published May 10, 2008 12:00 am