Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Game 129: Pedro Alvarez leads the Pirates with two mammoth home runs

Maybe it was just one day. Hopefully it's more than that. But for one single day, baseball was extremely fun again. The Pittsburgh Pirates just stomped all over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night in arguably their best game of the month. There were plenty of good signs in this game. Plenty to build off of. A lot of things that haven't been seen in awhile. It all means nothing if they don't win again on Wednesday but it certainly was encouraging.

The Pirates faced Jake Westbrook for what felt like the hundredth time this season. Every start has produced a different result though including this one. Fortunately for the Pirates, it was his worst of the bunch. They jumped on Westbrook early in the first when Travis Snider put runners at the corners with no outs with a single after Jose Tabata walked. Garrett Jones hit a ball hard but it was at Carlos Beltran in right field which was good enough for a sacrifice fly.

The Cardinals took a rough blow in the second inning that could be a problem if he's out for an extended period of time. Josh Harrison led off the second inning with a single. While he was on second base, Tabata hit a single hard to the opposite field that Harrison tried to score on. There was a play at the plate and Harrison was out but he ran over Yadier Molina in an attempt to jar the ball loose. Molina was injured on the play. He has a neck, back and shoulder strain. It was a clean play but Harrison was still plunked later in the contest. Both benches were warned so nothing more came of it.

If the Pirates wouldn't have scored another run in the game, it would have been good enough with the pitching they got. Much has been made of James McDonald's struggles since the All-Star break. But apparently, he likes to face the Cardinals because his last start against the Cards was his best post-break before this one. This was the first time since the break that McDonald lasted seven innings in a start. He only allowed two hits and he struck out six. Normally that would be the story of the night but Pedro Alvarez ended up taking center stage.

Alvarez came to the plate with two outs and Andrew McCutchen on base in the third inning. Westbrook threw a breaking ball that broke down and in. It was still in the strike zone but in a place where Alvarez shouldn't have been able to do much with it. Alvarez took an inside out swing and displayed his raw power by hitting the ball the other way and over the fence to the deepest part of the ball park by the north side notch. That was one of the most impressive home runs you could ever see. That was until Alvarez hit his second one of the night. It came in the sixth inning. This one was a solo shot. Normally, when home runs leave PNC Park, they do so over the Clemente seats. Not this one. Alvarez hit the ball over the right center field seats for the fourth longest home run in PNC Park history and the longest by a Pirate. Alvarez also singled and doubled in this game. He fell just a triple short of the cycle.

All of the Pirates starters in this game had at least one hit except McDonald but even he drew a walk and had two sacrifice bunts. Michael McKenry, Clint Barmes, and Snider also drove in runs in the 9-0 blowout of the team that the Pirates are chasing in the wild card race. Another positive to take out of the game is that McCutchen had two hits. It his second straight multiple hit game so that suggests that he may be coming back into form.

Again, losing on Wednesday would make this win pretty much meaningless. If the Pirates really want to force their way back into this wild card race, they have to find a way to win on Wednesday. There is a ton of baseball left to be played but falling three games back again of the defending World Series champions would be devastating going into the final month.

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