Tuesday night the Pittsburgh Pirates trailed the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 after eight innings. It was a familiar scene. The Pirates are 0-65 when behind after eight innings, not to mention they’re on a four-game losing streak and have lost 12 of their past 14 games.
But, in the top of the ninth inning, the Pirates managed to get runners in scoring position, and pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez, who came to the plate with no outs and runners on second and third, just needed to hit the ball deep enough for a sac fly to tie the game.
Instead, Rodriguez took a 2-2 pitch on the corner that went just over the right field wall in Citizens Bank Park. The three-run home run was enough to give Pittsburgh the 5-3 comeback victory over the Phillies.
It was Rodriguez’s second career pinch-hit home run and gave him a career-high 13 homers on the season.
But prior to Rodriguez’s late-inning heroics, the star of the game was starting pitcher Ivan Nova. He allowed two runs — one earned — in his six innings of work. He recorded 11 strikeouts, his highest total since July 5, 2013, when he did it in a complete game.
And when Nova wasn’t striking out Philadelphia’s hitters, he was keeping the ball on the ground. Nova had no fly ball outs in this game but recorded seven ground ball outs.
After shorter innings from other Pirates pitchers Drew Hutchinson, Ryan Vogelsong and Gerrit Cole (who is out for the season), Nova’s outing was a breath of fresh air.
Ryan Howard was responsible for both runs scored off Nova, the first of which came in the fourth inning on a fielding error by second baseman Adam Frazier. Two innings later, Howard grounded into a force out, but as Frazier went to cover first base, he ran into first base umpire Alan Porter, breaking up a potential double play. Frazier was frustrated with the play, and manager Clint Hurdle came out of the dugout to contend Porter interfered with Frazier’s ability to get to first base.
Hurdle was ejected for the sixth time this season. Earlier in the season, Porter ejected both Starling Marte (May 11) and Matt Joyce (June 8).
The play gave the Phillies a 2-1 lead instead of keeping the game tied at one after an inning-ending double play. (Pittsburgh scored in the first inning off Frazier’s single.) In the seventh inning, a Michael Mariot wild pitch tied the game at two.
Pirates reliever Felipe Rivero came in to pitch the eighth. He gave up two walks and a single, and a Freddy Galvis sac fly placed the Phillies in the lead. But Rivero got Darin Ruf to strike out on a foul tip to strand the other two Phillies.
Then came the ninth inning. Philadelphia closer (and former Pirate) Jeanmar Gómez came into the game and allowed a leadoff walk to Francisco Cervelli, which brought in pinch-runner Alen Hanson.
Normally, with Jordy Mercer up, the Pirates would call for a bunt to put Hanson in scoring position, but a hit-and-run meant both players were in scoring position before Rodriguez’s home run.
Pittsburgh closer Tony Watson recorded a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth inning to earn his 12th save.
Wednesday marks Game 3 in this four-game series. Steven Brault (0-2, 3.38 ERA) will be on the mound for the Pirates, and he’ll face Philadelphia’s Jake Thompson (1-5, 6.05 ERA).
Image credit: Matt Slocum/AP