Cook: Rare sights are things of beauty for Pirates
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The best sight in baseball is a three-run home run for your team. The Pirates got their first of the season Sunday in a 10-4 win against the Chicago Cubs.
The second-best sight is a two-out run-scoring hit. The Pirates had four Monday in a 4-1 win against the first-place Cincinnati Reds.
Is it any wonder the boys felt pretty good about themselves as Memorial Day started to wind down and they headed home knowing they had just won their fourth consecutive game and made it back to .500 at 24-24 for the first time since April 10 when they were 2-2?
"Games like today and yesterday, they're going to help us a lot," second baseman Neil Walker said.
The Pirates blasted the Cubs Sunday with three home runs. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez's first-inning shot was their first three-run homer of 2012. Almost unbelievably, it came in their 47th game.
"I like 'em. I'm a big fan of 'em," manager Clint Hurdle said of the three-run big flies.
The Pirates didn't hit a home run Monday, but it didn't matter. Alvarez had a two-out RBI-double in the first inning and right fielder Garrett Jones followed with a run-scoring single for a 2-0 lead. Walker made it 3-0 in the second with a two-out double. Catcher Rod Barajas bumped the lead to 4-0 in the third with a two-out single. Barajas also drove in the only run in the Pirates' 1-0 win Friday night against the Cubs with a two-out single in the second.
"They're right up there with three-run homers," Hurdle said of big two-out hits. "When you're in the other dugout, they hurt. They really hurt. We always talk about finishing in any sport. They're like a punch to the gut in boxing. You take enough of 'em, your hands drop and you start getting hit in the head. Then, you can't finish. You're done."
So it was for the Reds, who had won eight of nine games coming in.
They lost because they couldn't match the Pirates clutch hit for clutch hit. Twice -- in the third and fifth innings -- they put runners on first and second with no outs but couldn't advance them. Give credit to Pirates starter James McDonald, who has moved to the front end of the team's rotation. He pitched out of the jams and worked eight scoreless innings.
"I think if you check the boxscores every night, the team with the most two-out RBIs probably wins most of the games," Walker said.
The past two games didn't happen by accident, Walker said. He talked about the Pirates' "better approach at the plate." He mentioned a guy won't swing at the first pitch if the previous batter made an out on the first pitch in order to stretch the inning and make the opposing pitcher work harder. He talked of moving runners along with productive outs, scoring a runner from third base with fewer than two outs, working deep into counts and turning over the lineup by finding a way to get the pitcher up to the plate with two outs.
"Those are important things for a team like ours that's been scuffling to score runs," Walker said. "The two-out RBIs are another sign of it."
It's no secret that every Pirates hitter not named McCutchen has been ridiculed this season. Despite the four-game winning streak, the Pirates have scored just 144 runs, 14 fewer than the San Diego Padres, the next worst offensive club in the National League. Walker said the hitters don't take the abuse personally. It's hard to argue with the numbers.
"Trust me, every guy in here wants to be the guy to hit the two-out, three-run double to open the flood gates every single night," Walker said. "We're still battling to find our identity as an offensive team. If we keep having good at-bats and taking good swings, the results will be there. We feel like it's coming.
"When it does, we're going to have a lot of fun around here."
Certainly, the past two games were enjoyable. It wasn't just that the Pirates won. It was the way they won. As good as McDonald was against the Reds and starter Erik Bedard was Sunday against the Cubs, the hitters matched them. How long have you been waiting to see that?
It all could end tonight, of course. The winning streak. The string of good at-bats. The home runs and the clutch hits. There are no guarantees in baseball. It's not as if Reds starter Homer Bailey isn't good enough to shut down the Pirates.
Still, there was a different feeling -- a better feeling -- in the Pirates clubhouse late Monday afternoon. It was clear Walker, Andrew McCutchen and the other hitters are looking forward to the challenge of facing Bailey. They're looking forward to the rest of the season now that they've fought back to .500.
Amazing, isn't it?
Amazing what a three-run home run and a bunch of two-out RBI-hits can do for a team.
First Published May 29, 2012 12:00 am