PITTSBURGH -- The number of strikeouts stood out on Tuesday night: 11, a career high. The run total? That was business as usual for Jameson Taillon.Taillon shut out and set down the Royals over seven scoreless innings, his 20th straight start allowing three earned runs or fewer. But hours after
PITTSBURGH -- The number of strikeouts stood out on Tuesday night: 11, a career high. The run total? That was business as usual for Jameson Taillon.
Taillon shut out and set down the Royals over seven scoreless innings, his 20th straight start allowing three earned runs or fewer. But hours after he left the mound, after closer Felipe Vazquez gave up a one-run lead in the ninth, Taillon was talking about the night's unexpected star: Ryan Lavarnway. In his second big league at-bat of the season, the journeyman catcher knocked a walk-off single to center field to secure the Pirates' 2-1 win in the 11th inning at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh has won four straight and 10 of its last 13 games. The last two nights, the walk-off heroes were the catching tandem for Triple-A Indianapolis, Jacob Stallings and Lavarnway.
"I love it. I love it for him," Taillon said. "He's come up here and he's really kind of just implanted himself in our clubhouse. He's been catching bullpens. He's talking to guys on the bench. Just seems like he's been here for a long time, and he's very comfortable around this group. Happy for him and happy that it led to a win."
Plenty of people in Pittsburgh's clubhouse were happy for Lavarnway, who has bounced from club to club since the Red Sox designated the former top prospect for assignment in 2014.
Lavarnway, now 31 years old, signed a Minor League deal with the Pirates in late January and reported to Triple-A. He put together an excellent season for Indianapolis as he learned he's capable of doing more with less effort behind his swing. He worked well with Stallings and they formed a friendship. But he was stuck behind Francisco Cervelli, Elias Diaz and Stallings.
The Pirates called him up this month to provide additional catching depth -- Diaz was nursing a hamstring injury -- and as a way of honoring the work he did in Indianapolis. He paid them back with the first walk-off hit of his career.
"This organization has been so great to me, and I'm just grateful for everything about them, really," Lavarnway said. "I really feel like myself as a person and as a player here."
The Pirates are also watching Taillon come into his own as a top-of-the-rotation starter. Over his last 20 starts, the right-hander has posted a 2.70 ERA. Overall, he is 13-9 with a 3.24 ERA in 178 innings over a career-high 30 starts.
"I've learned a lot and I've been pitching pretty well at the big league level, but right now, it's going really well," Taillon said. "I guess I'm proving people right and maybe proving some people wrong. It feels good to be on a roll."
He was dominant from the start on Tuesday night. He struck out eight batters in the first four innings, allowed only four hits all night and walked only one. Without his best slider, Taillon baffled the Royals with a steady mix of high, four-seam fastballs and wicked curveballs.
His career-high strikeout total was accompanied, unsurprisingly, by some impressive swing-and-miss numbers. He set a personal best with 20 total swinging strikes, including 11 on his four-seamer. The curveball, manager Clint Hurdle said, was a difference-maker.
"That's a hammer. He threw it all night long," Hurdle said. "It's one of the beauties of a curveball. You can elevate your fastball and throw both of them off the same plane. One goes down. One rides. He had that combination working."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Play at the plate: Taillon only found himself in one jam all night, and he escaped with help from rookie right fielder Pablo Reyes and Cervelli. With one out in the seventh, Ryan O'Hearn hit a single to left and moved to third when Alcides Escobar ripped a double to left. Brian Goodwin hit a fly ball to right field, where Reyes settled under the ball then unleashed a 93.5-mph throw home, according to Statcast™.
"I threw the ball really early," Reyes said, "so I [thought] that I could make a good play."
Camped out in front of the plate, Cervelli received Reyes' throw and quickly twisted his body and stretched to tag O'Hearn before he could touch the plate. Cervelli pumped his fist as home-plate umpire Scott Barry called O'Hearn out.
"It's a very gifted, athletic play," Hurdle said.
Taillon is the first Pirates starter to allow three earned runs or fewer in 20 straight starts since Don Cardwell did so over 21 consecutive outings from 1963-65. The last Pittsburgh pitcher to put together a streak this long in one season was Bob Friend (23 straight) in 1963.
HE SAID IT
"We have a young team, so everyone obviously is still trying to establish themselves at this level. I think a lot of us owe it to each other to play hard. We're going to be playing together next year. It's going to be pretty much the same group, give or take a few. These games still matter to us." -- Taillon, on the Pirates' recent winning streak
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"I was just trying to not do too much. I think it would be human nature and it would be easy to try to go up there and hit it into the river. I tried to fight that a little bit." -- Lavarnway, on his walk-off single
The Pirates will wrap up their Interleague Play schedule on Wednesday with the 7:05 p.m. ET series finale against the Royals at PNC Park. Right-hander Chris Archer, who is 1-3 with a 5.49 ERA for the Pirates, will get the nod against Kansas City rookie Heath Fillmyer (3-1, 4.76).
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.