OK, so I exaggerated that a bit. The Pirates only left 14 men on base. It sure did feel like more than that, though. After Braves' starter Derek Lowe retired the Pirates in order in the 1st inning, the Pirates managed to put 16 guys on base in 8 innings and score only 2 runs. That's an impressive feat. While the Braves never trailed in this game, they were constantly on the brink of disaster. Luckily, Lowe has a lot of experience pitching on the brink of disaster.
Speaking of Lowe, he gave up 5 hits and 4 walks in only 5 innings, but managed to limit the damage to just 2 runs. His sinker was really working for the first few innings, but his control deserted him, and he had some loooong innings. Both the Pirates' runs came in a 3-batter sequence to start the 4th inning: a double by Ryan Church, a triple by Lastings Milledge, and a safety-squeeze bunt by Ronny Cedeno. Lowe wiggled out of further trouble every other time, though, and handed over a slim 3-2 lead to the Braves' bullpen. His final line: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 5 K, and a 0.073 WPA.
I think that some supreme deity must have been watching over the Braves tonight. Not only did they strand all those runners, but Melky Cabrera hit a home run*. I put that in bold and italics because it is such a noteworthy development. Melky's solo shot put the Braves up 1-0 in the second inning. He would add a single in his second at bat. Now if we could just get Yunel Escobar going-- he took another 0/4 tonight and is now hitting .187.
* Conspiracy theorists will note that since this game was not televised, we have no visual proof that Cabrera's homer actually happened. Personally, I think there was a second swinger on the grassy knoll.
The Braves added a run later in the second on a Chipper Jones groundout and then made it 3-0 on an Eric Hinske solo jack leading off the third. Unfortunately, after the 3rd inning, the Braves bats were shut down by Pirates starter Charlie Morton and the Pittsburgh bullpen. Morton, who came into the game with an ERA of almost 10, settled down after the homers and pitched very well. His final line was 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R (2 earned), 3 BB, 3 K, and a -0.036 WPA. Not a bad night for the former Brave, but not good enough to win this time.
(More recap and Awards after the jump.)
In the battle of the bullpens, the Braves eked out a narrow victory. The Braves' combo of Peter Moylan, Eric O'Flaherty, Takashi Saito, and Billy Wagner allowed 7 baserunners in 4 innings but didn't give up a run. Moylan and Saito each got 4 outs, which was nice. Saito also struck out 3. Aside from maddening everyone on the game thread by walking Akinori Iwamura twice (he of the 0 for 31 slump and .152 average), the bullpen did a great job. Kudos.
The Braves managed to tack on an insurance run in the top of the 9th without putting the ball in play. Here is how the first 6 batters against Joel Hanrahan fared: strikeout, strikeout, walk, walk, walk, strikeout. How'd the run score? You guessed it--dropped third strike/wild pitch. On that play, Pirates catcher Jason Jaramillo for some reason threw to first base instead of getting an easy force out at home; to compound this mistake, his throw pulled 1st baseman Garret Jones off the bag. Lots of credit goes to Brian McCann for busting it down the line--he may be slow, but he ran hard.
It was a long night for those of us who waited out the entire rain delay (about 90 minutes to start the game), but it was worth it to
see hear the Braves win their 5th in a row. That makes 10 wins in 12 games and a 15-6 record since the end of the losing streak. That means they've canceled out the entire 9-game skid and matched their season high-water-mark: 3 games above .500. Let's hope they can get the sweep tomorrow and keep this momentum going.
Co-MVPs: Melky-- 2/4, HR, and an 0.084 WPA; and the bullpen-- 4 IP (all with a slim lead), 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K.
Honorable Mention: Hinske-- 1/2, HR, BB, K
Co-LVPs: Garret Jones-- 0/5, K, lined into a double play, with a staggering -0.290 WPA; and Bobby Crosby-- 0/4, BB, 3 K, with a -0.172 WPA
MVPILEs: Ryan Church-- 3/3, BB, R, with a 0.134 WPA; and Lastings Milledge-- 3/5, R, RBI, K, with a 0.102 WPA.
Clutch Plays: Milledge's RBI triple in the 4th (0.144 WPA) and Melky's homer (0.106 WPA)
Unclutch Plays (there were many, and all by the Pirates)-- G. Jones' line-into-double-play (-0.162 WPA), Andrew McCutchen's strikeout with 2 on to end the 8th (-0.121 WPA), Crosby's strikeout immediately preceding that (-0.120 WPA), and Crosby's popup with runners on 2nd and 3rd to end the 6th (-0.107 WPA).