Bucs' pitchers making the impossible seem possible
PITTSBURGH -- As Tuesday night's game ended and 28,413 fans began filing out of PNC Park, a customary announcement noted that, "The scoreboard totals are correct." Correct, maybe, but not conceivable.
The big board showed that the Pirates had beaten the Chicago White Sox, 3-0, a combined four-hitter by Charlie Morton, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon resulting in the Bucs' fifth shutout in six games. It was the first time the Pirates accomplished three straight shutouts since 1976.
"In all my years of managing, I haven't seen anything like this, a run like this out of a starting rotation," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
In adding the "Immaculate Deception" to Pittsburgh's sports history, the confounding pitchers made the Pirates only the fifth team in Major League history to throw five blankings within six games, following the 1903 Pirates, the 1974 Orioles, the 1986 Astros and the 1995 Orioles.
This is one-upmanship gone haywire. Starting with Gerrit Cole on June 7 in Atlanta, the rotation has wound through A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Morton, Jeff Locke and back again with the starters allowing a total of five earned runs in 65 1/3 innings -- a collective ERA of 0.69.
"Any time I go out there I want to have a good game, so I try not to make that an issue," Morton said of any in-house competition. "It's a non-factor."
Ray Searage, the pitching coach helping orchestrate this phenomenon, isn't buying that.
"It's a competition within a competition," Searage said. "They feed off each other, and it fuels each and every one of them. If someone goes out there and does a great job, you want to go out there and do a better job."
Remarkably, they have managed to keep clearing the bar even as it gets higher.
In some ways, the Pirates' run may rank as more unique than those of the four other historical staffs that have accomplished the feat:
• Two of the shutouts were in extra-inning walk-off 1-0 wins, 13 innings on Friday and 11 innings on Sunday.
• No man has reached even third base against the Pirates in 28 innings, since the first frame of Sunday's game.
• Interrupted by Chris Stewart having caught Cole in Saturday's 4-3 win over the Phillies, Francisco Cervelli has caught all five shutouts, giving him a streak of 51 consecutive scoreless innings behind the plate. That is within five of what is believed to be the club catching record, by Ed Phelps of the aforementioned 1903 Bucs.
"I'm not amazed, because I know they're capable of doing these kinds of performances," Searage said. "I'm very proud that we're sticking to our core values: First-pitch-strikes, making something happen in three pitches or fewer, being aggressive and competitive from pitch one.
"This is a unique bunch of men who have one goal in mind. As Clint always says, we're on a mission."
We now know that it is a Mission Impossible.