It’s approaching five years since the infamous game that gave baseball fans the phrase, “Jerry Meals says it’s safe.” The play happened in the 19th inning where it appeared that then-Pirates catcher Michael McKenry clearly tagged the Atlanta Braves’ runner out. But Meals, the umpire, disagreed.
Ever since, Meals hasn’t been a welcome name to Pirates fans, who boo him each time public address announcer Tim DeBacco says Meals’ name.But, Friday night, those same Pirates fans couldn’t help but cheer the umpire.
Getting wins has been a struggle for Pittsburgh, so when Meals called Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez out on strikes because of a check swing, the 28,226 in attendance at PNC Park erupted in approval as the Pirates (35-39) defeated the Dodgers, 8-6 score.
The Pirates were 6-20 in their last 26 games, and the Dodgers (41-34) had won six in a row, including a sweep of the NL East-leading Washington Nationals. So, it didn’t seem like the odds were on the Pirates’ side.
Add to the fact that Pittsburgh starting pitcher Jameson Taillon was pulled after four innings, and the odds appeared even longer. Then consider the fact that Taillon’s struggles added more of a burden to an already taxed bullpen.
But instead of making excuses or using anything as a crutch, the Pirates rallied together on Friday night — a fitting way to give manager Clint Hurdle his 1,000th career victory.
Pittsburgh right fielder Matt Joyce had a phenomenal day at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a double and a home run, which provided much-needed separation in the seventh inning and raised Joyce’s batting average to .305 on the season. But, as good as he was, the credit for tonight’s game belongs elsewhere.
Tonight, the game ball goes to the backend of the bullpen. Recently, the bullpen has been catching flak for its struggles, and it’s usually only mentioned when something goes wrong. Friday, however, its effort couldn’t be ignored.
After Taillon was pulled, this game had “loss” written all over it. Nothing the Pirates have shown recently suggested otherwise (especially when you consider the problems the team’s middle relievers have had.) Oh, and this was a hot Dodgers team that walked into PNC Park.
Again, the team’s middle relievers didn’t provide much help. Jared Hughes gave up a home run to Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig, who was recently activated off the DL. The homer landed in the left field second deck, a spot typically reserved for a power hitter in batting practice, not in-game off a pitcher who has a ground ball label attached to his name. In 1.1 innings, Hughes allowed two runs off two hits.
Relief pitcher Kyle Lobstein didn’t fare much better, allowing two hits and recording no outs.
So it was on the backend of the bullpen to rescue the game. And they did. The numbers were simple: 3.2 innings of one-hit baseball and zero runs scored. That’s huge for this team.
To put this game in context, the Pirates were trying to prove they belong.
Saying this team is missing its identity is absolutely unfair, and Friday proved this team still has plenty of fight. All you had to see was closer Mark Melancon’s reaction after earning his 21st save of the season.
This team cares. Don’t assume otherwise.
Tonight, the Pirates proved they still belong in talks about playoff teams. Sure, the record doesn’t show that at the moment, but a game such as tonight’s provided plenty of hope that things are about to change.
The Pirates made several moves Friday. First, pitcher Juan Nicasio was activated off the restricted list; the team stated he will return to a bullpen role. Nicasio was 5-6 with a 5.83 ERA as a starter.
And infielder Adam Frazier, the Pirates’ third-round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, was promoted in time for Friday’s game. Coming in as a pinch-hitter, Frazier earned his first career major league hit with a single off Dodgers pitcher J.P. Howell in the sixth inning. Frazier batted .333 with Triple-A Indianapolis, which led the International League. In Class-AAA ball, Frazier had 16 doubles and four triples, showing deep power, even though he didn’t hit any home runs this season. He has shown a utility ability, playing all outfield positions, second base, shortstop and third base.
To even out the major league roster, Pittsburgh catcher Jacob Stallings was optioned back to Triple-A Indianapolis, and both reliever Jorge Rondon and infielder Cole Figueroa were designated for assignment. In two games with the Pirates, Stallings’ lone hit in eight at-bats was an RBI double. Rondon appeared in two games and allowed seven runs, while Figueroa played in 23 games and made the team’s Opening Day roster.
Chad Kuhl is expected to start Sunday for the Pirates. He’s in town, but he currently doesn’t have a spot on the team’s 40-man roster. Kuhl had a 1.24 ERA in his last 10 starts but experienced some setbacks in his past four outings. The Pirates haven’t made an announcement confirming this news.
Pittsburgh’s Jeff Locke (6-5, 5.44 ERA) faces Los Angeles’ Kenta Maeda (6-4, 2.64 ERA). Locke is 1-3 with a 4.07 ERA in five career games (four starts) against the Dodgers.
Image credit: Associated Press