'McCutch Clutch' caps Pirates' first walkoff
The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen celebrates with Jack Wilson after knocking in the winning run in the ninth inning against the Indians, June 25, 2009.
Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson loses the ball as the Indians' Ben Francisco slides under the would-be tag, June 25, 2009.
Pirates manager John Russell argues a no call when Nyger Morgan got hit by a pitch and home plate umpire Jerry Layne called it a strike in the 6th inning,June 25, 2009.
Andrew McCutchen celebrates with Nyger Morgan and Eric Hinske (rear) after knocking in the winning run in the ninth inning against the Indians during their game at PNC Park, June 25, 2009.
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen hits a walk-off single in the ninth inning of last night's 3-2 win against the Indians.
Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson steals third base in the ninth inning as Indians third baseman Jhonny Peralta attempts a tag.
Indians pitcher Matt Herges wipes his head while standing on the mound during the ninth inning.
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Nyjer Morgan wants the trademark on the term.
"McCutch Clutch," the Pirates' left fielder crowed from his stall, near that of Andrew McCutchen, whose walkoff single sunk the Cleveland Indians, 3-2, last night at PNC Park. "And I want $100 every time Cutch comes up big."
He might get rich.
McCutchen, performing in all facets well beyond his 22 years, went 2 for 4 with a double, walk and two RBIs, extended his hitting streak to 13 and raised his totals through 20 games of Major League Baseball to a .330 average and, perhaps most impressive, 18 RBIs out of the leadoff spot.
The key: In 21 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, he is batting .421 -- 8 for 19 -- with two walks and 14 RBIs.
Sure, on this night.
Forget the walkoff for a moment, even though it was the Pirates' first this season, even though it claimed the series from Cleveland, even though it brought quite the celebration from the 30,120 on hand.
Focus, instead, on the seventh inning ...
The Pirates trailed, 2-1, and reigning Cy Young winner Cliff Lee was getting groundouts at will. But bases were loaded with two outs, and it appeared this might be the crack in the wall when McCutchen -- who had doubled and scored on Freddy Sanchez's sacrifice fly the previous inning -- stepped to the plate.
• Game: Pirates vs. Kansas City Royals, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Virgil Vasquez (season debut) vs. RHP Gil Meche (4-6, 4.11).
• Key matchup: Switch-hitting third baseman Alberto Callaspo, Kansas City's leader with a .301 average, is the American League's third-hardest hitter to strike out, averaging one every 14.3 plate appearances.
• Of note: The Royals, visiting Pittsburgh for the first time since 2001, were the Pirates' first interleague opponent June 13, 1997, at Three Rivers Stadium, a 5-3 Pirates victory before 33,253.
"You just have to stay within yourself. Don"t try and do too much," McCutchen recalled. "I take a lot of deep breaths between every at-bat so I can calm down and get ready. Just trust my hands, trust my instincts."
Lee went right at him for an 0-2 count.
From there, he tried every pitch in his arsenal, but the count ran full.
"There was a really good curve he fouled off in there, too," utilityman Eric Hinske said.
On the eighth pitch, a high fastball, he walked and the score was tied.
"Even though I was behind, 0-2, you still have to stick within the strike zone," McCutchen said. "You protect a little more, but you know he's going to throw you some balls that aren't close to the zone. I just prepared myself for it and battled it out."
"Great at-bat," manager John Russell called it.
"I tried to picture myself at Cutch's age, having an at-bat like that," shortstop Jack Wilson said. "Are you kidding me?"
There would be more...
Wilson and Hinske -- as a pinch-hitter -- opened the ninth with singles off fresh reliever Matt Herges, Wilson's capping a 3-for-3 night. With McCutchen again at the plate at a pivotal point, Wilson aggressively stole third, setting up a simpler route to victory.
Herges got ahead, 1-2, but left a fastball up and over, and McCutchen reached out to pull it down the left-field line.
He had no sooner touched first base than he was given a bear hug by Hinske, a headlock by Sanchez and, while doing a live TV interview later, shaving cream shoved into his dreadlocks by closer Matt Capps.
"We know Cutch because we've spent a lot of time with him in spring training, so this isn't a surprise to any of us," Wilson said. "He always looked like he belonged, even as a teenager."
"We're not surprised but, still, give him credit: He had some large shoes to fill," Capps said, referring to traded center fielder Nate McLouth. "With how a lot of us in here felt about that, Cutch still came in here and did his thing."
Hinske compared McCutchen, in a sense, to former Tampa Bay teammate Evan Longoria, who starred as a rookie with the Rays last year.
"He doesn't have the same power and isn't the same player, obviously," Hinske said. "But, as far as the mental aspect, how they seem to handle the game ... Andrew doesn't seem to get stressed out by anything."
The opponent was wowed, too, after McCutchen had six RBIs for the series.
"I tell you, he's an impressive-looking young player," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. "Obviously, he has the tools. But what catches my eye is his tempo at home plate. He doesn't let it speed up on him. He's in control of his body. Sometimes, athletes such as that let their bodies speed up. I was really impressed."
Wedge was not nearly as impressed with Wilson's steal in the ninth, which came when McCutchen aborted a sacrifice bunt attempt with a 1-1 count, blaming third baseman Jhonny Peralta for being positioned incorrectly on the Indians' wheel play: Peralta was in front of the bag, rather than on it, so catcher Kelly Shoppach held the ball an extra second.
"If Jhonny goes where he's supposed to be, Wilson's dead out," Wedge said.
Another highlight: Morgan leaped at the short left-field fence in the eighth to rob Victor Martinez of what would have been a two-run home run off John Grabow. Three fans in the vicinity, each with a chance to interfere, backed up to give Morgan room.
Lee and the Pirates' Ross Ohlendorf each allowed two runs over seven innings. Ohlendorf allowed five hits and three walks, striking out two.
"I felt like I got stronger as the game went along," Ohlendorf said.
Ohlendorf still is not as strong as the Pirates would like, though, at least not in terms of velocity.
Each of Cleveland's two RBI hits, a Shin-soo Choo double and Martinez home run, came off fastballs ranging from 90-92 mph, well below the 96-97 Ohlendorf showed upon arriving in the Xavier Nady trade last summer.
Management is not terribly concerned about the drop: Ohlendorf began relying on his sinker heavily this season, and pitchers who use that as a primary pitch can show a drag on their regular fastballs, general manager Neal Huntington said. The Pirates want to take care, he added, that progress made in other areas is not sacrificed for speed.
First Published June 26, 2009 12:00 am