This game had “loss” written all over it for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates trailed the Oakland Athletics 3-0 through two innings, and Jeff Locke was starting on the mound in a road contest.
As good as Locke has been at home — posting a 2.96 ERA — he’s struggled mightily on the road; he has a 7.36 ERA (36 earned runs allowed in 44-plus inning pitched) to show for it. And, tonight, after three innings Locke was already at 72 pitches. It had the makings of a short outing.
But, after a slow start, Locke regrouped and retired the final nine hitters he faced, while the offense picked him up to give Pittsburgh a 7-3 victory over the A’s. The win snapped a 1-11 record the Pirates had against Oakland.
Locke (8-5) has already tied last season’s win total in Friday’s game, his 16th start of the season. Last season, Locke went 8-11 in 30 starts; his eight victories represent the second most in his career.
Against the A’s, ground-ball outs helped tell Locke’s story — he had nine in his five-inning, 95-pitch outing and didn’t get a single fly-ball out.
Locke got into trouble with the first two batters he faced. He first walked Oakland’s Jed Lowrie after leading him 0-2 in the count. Marcus Semien was the next batter, and he and Locke faced off in an 11-pitch at-bat that included six foul balls. When the dust cleared, the scoreboard read “2-0” in favor of the A’s as Semien connected on his 17th home run of the season.
Lowrie bested Locke once more in the second inning, doubling on an 0-1 changeup that scored Yonder Alonso.
While Locke was trying to find himself, the offense picked up, starting with this at-bat from Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer against Oakland starter Sonny Gray (3-7, 5.42 ERA).
— Pirates (@Pirates) July 2, 2016
Mercer had two hits in three at-bats against Gray, but the above at-bat where the shortstop made the quick adjustment to the high up-and-in pitch seemed to change the game.
An after Mercer scored, the Pirates scored again, this time in a more unconventional manner. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen recorded a one-out double (his 15th of the season) and advanced to third base on a ground out. He broke home when Gray threw a wild pitch. Oakland catcher Josh Phegley’s throw was on target but Gray couldn’t get his glove down in time, allowing for McCutchen to score.
The Pirates took the lead for good in the fifth inning after both DH Matt Joyce and second baseman Josh Harrison singled to lead off the inning. That brought Mercer up to bat, and his single tied the game at 3.
With Pittsburgh catcher Chris Stewart next up to bat, Harrison stole third base, his 13th steal of the season. Stewart then grounded into a fielder’s choice, which scored Harrison and gave the Pirates the lead.
A three-run sixth inning concluded the game’s scoring — Joyce singled in one run and Harrison two. Gray finished the inning for the A’s, but the damage had already been done.
With Locke out of the game after five innings, it was on the bullpen to preserve the lead. Reliever A.J. Schugel was first and allowed a hit, but otherwise it was a spotless sixth.
Reliever Arquimedes Caminero took the ball in the seventh inning and was effective, earning a second inning on the mound. Caminero ended his outing striking out the last four batters he faced, good signs of his 2015 form. Pittsburgh turned to its closer, Mark Melancon, to pitch the final inning in a non-save situation, and he retired the side in order.
It’s been a below-average season for the Pirates bullpen, but currently, they’ve thrown 24.2 consecutive shutout innings.
Saturday evening, Pittsburgh’s Chad Kuhl (1-0, 5.40 ERA) will face Oakland’s Rich Hill (8-3, 2.25 ERA). It will be Kuhl’s second Major League start — his first came Sunday when the rookie bested Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
Image credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images North America