New addition supports familiar face to generate win
Byrd aids Morton with homer in debut; Bucs within half-game of first
PITTSBURGH -- The new vibe at PNC Park was unmistakable. Marlon Byrd, fixed glare and big bat, was in the house. The Pirates' lineup was a tossed salad, and it was working. As reflected on the out-of-town scoreboard in The Clemente Wall, the Cardinals were getting crushed, adding to the night's rhythm.
Nothing, however, was as auspicious as something old, at least in Pittsburgh chronology. No one on the pitching staff dates back more than Charlie Morton, who first took the hill for the team five years ago.
And no one now is pitching as well as Morton, who on Wednesday tossed five-hit ball for 6 2/3 innings in the Bucs' 7-1 win over the Brewers, putting a stop to a three-game losing streak and hoisting them within a half-game of National League Central-leading St. Louis.
"I have days when it's not all there, but I feel pretty comfortable," Morton said. "I think I'm throwing the ball well. Just trying to do my job the best I can."
After his best got the Pirates' 77th win, manager Clint Hurdle lauded Morton's "complete arsenal."
It is quite a cadre: The sinker, obviously; the curve; the split-changeup.
But the sinker is the money pitch. Asked how he was able to quiet Aramis Ramirez, who had four hits and four RBIs the night before, Morton had a characteristic one-word answer:
Morton headed the class, but the Pirates had more than a one-man answer to their little losing spell. Josh Harrison, given a cameo appearance atop the lineup, followed orders by getting three hits and scoring three runs. Gaby Sanchez also had three hits, and Andrew McCutchen had his daily two.
And, of course, Marlon Byrd introduced himself with a three-run, game-breaking home run. This season would not have lived up to its magical brand had the new "kid" done anything less.
"You come to a new team, and you want to feel accepted. And I did," beamed Byrd, elicited by applause from the dugout -- and pushed out of there by A.J. Burnett -- for a curtain call after the home run. "My first curtain call ever. Perfect timing. Enjoyed every minute of it."
Morton handled with loving care an early lead handed him against former staffmate Tom Gorzelanny, the only run off him unearned due to an errant throw on a pickoff attempt by catcher Russell Martin in the seventh inning.
Relieved with two outs in that inning, Morton walked off to a huge ovation from the crowd of 20,634. That endured as the night's loudest roar only briefly -- until Byrd unloaded his three-run homer in the bottom of the inning to signal a rout.
Naturally, given his renown for abusing lefties, Byrd's shot to center came off right-hander Burke Badenhop -- after he'd been fanned twice by Gorzelanny.
"He's hit right-handers as well," said Hurdle. "He is not a soft out. But sure was good to see. I think it was a very nice welcome for him."
On a staff with a titular ace (Burnett) and a performing one (Francisco Liriano), Morton has become the surest thing, merely 10 weeks after resuming to pitch following Tommy John surgery.
And that's exactly where Morton had wanted to put the focus when he returned: on what he was doing for the team, not for himself.
"I didn't want it to be all about my rehab or coming back from Tommy John. I wanted to do something for the team," Morton said. "So it feels good to be able to contribute. I feel like I'm doing my job."
In his last five starts, virtual carbon copies of each other, the right-hander has permitted eight runs in 34 1/3 innings.
NL Most Valuable Player Award candidate McCutchen was in the middle of Pittsburgh's first two rallies.
In the first, he followed a game-opening single by Harrison and a walk to Jordy Mercer with a single to left for a 1-0 lead.
In the fourth, he led off with a single, stole his 27st base with such a jump he went into second standing up, advanced to third as Pedro Alvarez grounded out and scored on Sanchez's single.
Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke has seen too much of that.
"He squares up every single thing we throw him," Roenicke said.
Gorzelanny saw too much of Byrd in the fourth inning alone, as he staged a 14-pitch battle that went on forever -- lengthened by Gorzelanny's six pickoff attempts of McCutchen at first. Eight two-strike fouls drew escalating roars from fans -- who, by the time Byrd somehow wound up fanning, escorted him back to the dugout with a flat-out ovation.
"I could have done without that," Gorzelanny said. "He seemed to foul them off and it kept going on and on. It was like, 'I'm not giving in here. Somebody's giving in, and it's not going to be me.'"
"Good thing I didn't have Cutch running on 3-and-2," Hurdle said, "or he would've been gassed eight times. Byrd was fouling off the kitchen sink."
Byrd likely dug the second salute accorded him a bit more, since it greeted his 22nd homer, and it was more appreciative than sympathetic.
The fifth testified to Hurdle's intuitive batting order makeup. Jose Tabata, previously the replacement leadoff hitter for injured Starling Marte, was batting eighth for the first time all season and tripled. Harrison, leading off for the second time, singled to plate him then scored himself on Mercer's double.
"It sure played out well," Hurdle acknowledged. "You envision things ..."
Byrd could not be sure what he envisioned before he actually got here. But once here, he knew what he was actually seeing when he glanced up into the stands.
"I looked around at all the people wearing Pirates shirts, and I wanted to take it all in and I started to smile," Byrd said.
He was still smiling, long after the game. Yep, couldn't wipe the smile off his face.