McCutchen's walkoff brings Pirates' most uplifting win
Pirates' Andrew McCutchen leaps into his awaiting teammates after scoring the game-winning run against the Phillies at PNC Park tonight.
Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf went 61/3 innings, giving up 2 runs on 5 hits with 3 walks and 6 strikeouts.
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Time will tell if the Pirates' excruciating-turned-exhilarating 6-4 triumph against the Philadelphia Phillies last night, by far the best game of the summer at PNC Park, will mean much to this young group, so many of whom contributed.
Time will tell, too, if Andrew McCutchen, whose two-run home run ended it, will become the good player that has been unanimously forecast for years, or a great one.
Only this much is known: The great ones, in any sport anywhere, respond to adversity exactly as he did in this one.
"This," as third baseman Andy LaRoche would say in an ebullient clubhouse, "says a lot about Andrew McCutchen."
The adversity came in the top of the ninth.
Ross Ohlendorf, Joel Hanrahan, Phil Dumatrait and Jesse Chavez had done quite well to limit the World Series champions to two runs through eight innings and, thanks to home runs by Ryan Doumit and Steve Pearce, turned over a 3-2 lead to closer Matt Capps. It would not last: After one out, back-to-back doubles by Carlos Ruiz and Ben Francisco tied the score.
• Game: Pirates vs. Philadelphia Phillies, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (7-7, 4.74) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (7-8, 4.78).
• Key matchup: Philadelphia's top three players -- Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins -- bat a combined .200 -- 8 for 40 -- off Maholm, with no home runs.
• Of note: Garrett Jones, Delwyn Young and Andrew McCutchen homered off Hamels in a two-inning span July 11 in Philadelphia, and Hamels gave up at least one home run in six of his next seven starts.
After another out, Shane Victorino lasered a ball to center, and McCutchen, not fully gauging its ferocity, took one step in.
"One step in, and I was done," McCutchen said. "No way I was getting it after that."
It zipped to the fence for an RBI triple, and Philadelphia led, 4-3.
Several teammates absolved McCutchen, including the one with the best view.
"No way he catches that ball," right fielder Garrett Jones said. "I was yelling for him right away to break back, but I don't think it would have mattered."
It visibly bothered Capps, who had blown a four-run lead in his previous meeting with the Phillies July 11, but apparently not McCutchen, even though he admitted, "I was mad that it happened." He was not kicking the grass or smacking his glove. And, upon returning to the dugout, his only reaction was to approach Capps.
"My bad," he told Capps, as Capps recalled.
Imagine that. Capps was giving up screamer after screamer, and the 22-year-old rookie was soothing one of the team's few veterans.
From there, McCutchen's turn was coming third in the bottom half, so he turned his attention to Philadelphia's All-Star closer, Brad Lidge.
"I tried as hard as I could to just focus on the now," McCutchen said.
First, light-hitting Luis Cruz lined a single into left and, after a wild pitch, Brian Bixler pinch-ran. Immensely slumping Brandon Moss shot a single through the right side that scored Bixler after a bobble by outfielder Jayson Werth, and it was 4-4.
Moss, batting .171 in August, went to the plate essentially looking to extend his slump.
"I'm looking to hit a ground ball to the right side and move up the runner," Moss said.
McCutchen was next, and manager John Russell acknowledged thinking briefly about a bunt. But he changed his mind, and McCutchen instead was told to swing away.
"He's one of our best hitters," Russell explained.
"I was, like, 'OK,' " McCutchen said. "Just hit it to the right side. That's all I told myself."
Expecting one of Lidge's patented sliders, McCutchen instead saw 93-mph heat right down the middle, and he did, indeed, hit it to the right side but not by much. It traveled with the same ferocity of Victorino's ball and, somehow fighting off gravity the whole way, reached the seating section beyond right-center.
"He gave me a good pitch," McCutchen said, before laughing adding, "I still hit it to the right side, but it went out."
Lidge, whose nine blown saves is most in the majors, was pitching a fourth consecutive day. The three hits off him came on just five pitches.
"The last three days, the ball was jumping out of my hand," Lidge said. "Tonight, it wasn't there."
McCutchen raised his fist as he rounded first, pumped it again past second, then leaped into the pack of waiting teammates at home plate, as the 50 percent or so of the 17,049 on hand who came to cheer the Pirates leaped along with him.
It was their sixth win in seven games, and this, specifically, was a scene no one could have predicted during that 1-13 stretch earlier this month.
Asked if it was his best win as manager, Russell did not hesitate: "It was. It was a great game."
Even through the ominous stretch, McCutchen, now batting .287 with eight home runs in his first 70 games, ranged from steady to spectacular.
"He's capable of doing these kinds of things," Russell said. "You're starting to see that he likes being in the big situations, and you like to see that in a young player."
"You can see Cutch has a lot of focus," Moss said. "I mean, he's out there facing Brad Lidge, he's thinking -- like I did -- about hitting it to the right side of the field. But he sees his pitch, and he hits it out."
McCutchen was asked how he envisions his future, being so young and having such a promising start.
"I want to be the best player I can be, simple as that," he replied. "I want to be able to say when my career's over -- 15 or 20 years from now, who knows? -- that I was the best player I could possibly be, that I did everything to make that happen."
And what, exactly, is that?
"It's waking up thinking about baseball, showing up to the field ready to put in my work, and studying the game. Don't just think you're going to make it off your ability. I want to be that guy who can do it all, offensively, defensively, on the bases. That's the player I want to be."
The only downer, of course, was Capps' blown save. This one was no fluke, as even the Phillies' outs off him were struck with authority.
"I'm not really sure what happened," Capps said. "I'm glad Cutch picked us up, but we never should have been in that situation."
Ohlendorf finished with a 6 1/3-inning line of two runs and five hits, each of those on Jimmy Rollins' first-pitch home runs in the first and third.
And therein is another gem from this extraordinary evening: When was the last time the first and last pitches of a game resulted in home runs?
First Published August 26, 2009 12:00 am