Former Bucs spoil Musgrove's strong outing

August 27th, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- Before Monday’s series opener at Citizens Bank Park, Corey Dickerson stood in the Phillies’ dugout and talked about his “smooth transition” from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. A few minutes later, fellow former Pirate Sean Rodriguez stood in the same spot while clad in Phillies red.

It was a little more than two years ago that Rodriguez hit a 12th-inning walk-off home run in his return to Pittsburgh, and it was a little less than a year ago that the Pirates designated him for assignment. Both players came through against their former team’s short-handed bullpen, as Dickerson hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth and Rodriguez ripped a walk-off shot in the 11th inning of the Pirates’ 6-5 loss.

“Playing time has been scarce, but I’m on a winning team and I’m able to contribute in any and every facet. It’s a blessing,” Rodriguez said before the game. “Still doing what I love to do. Still feel like I can keep doing it. It’s not wearing me out yet.”

The Bucs’ bullpen, meanwhile, was somehow worn out, despite starter Joe Musgrove pitching six strong innings.

Kyle Crick threw Saturday and Sunday, so he was deemed unavailable. Keone Kela tossed 37 pitches over the weekend, and the Pirates want to avoid using him on consecutive days. So Pittsburgh's eight-man bullpen was really a six-man unit, at best.

Francisco Liriano maintained the Bucs' two-run lead by pitching a clean seventh inning, so the eighth inning went to Richard Rodriguez.

Rodriguez had a big home run problem earlier this season, but he only allowed one in his last 31 appearances before Monday night. During that stretch, the right-handed setup man posted a 1.21 ERA in 29 2/3 innings.

Rodriguez struck out the first two hitters he faced, then Bryce Harper swatted a hanging slider just over the fence in right field. Umpires reviewed the play to check for fan interference, but the call was upheld. J.T. Realmuto then singled to center to bring up Dickerson, acquired by the Phils on July 31 in exchange for $250,000 in additional international spending capacity.

With stars like Harper and Realmuto commanding the spotlight, Dickerson said before the game that he feels free to “go out there and play my game and try to contribute.” He played his part by crushing an elevated fastball into the right-field seats and sending his new home crowd into a frenzy.

“We had a chance to put the game away in the eighth inning and that’s when, really, it kind of got away from us,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve talked about things being contagious. … That’s been one of our bigger challenges all year, keeping the ball in the park.”

Josh Bell ensured there would be a bottom of the ninth, launching the first pitch he saw from Hector Neris 432 feet out to center field for his 33rd home run of the season. Then, with the game tied, things got weird.

Closer Felipe Vazquez, who threw only 18 pitches to record four outs on Sunday, had been warming up in case the Bucs regained the lead. But Hurdle called upon Chris Stratton -- typically used as a long reliever -- to pitch the ninth. Somehow, Stratton tight-roped through two scoreless innings.

“The way it played out, that may be the best not-letting-a-team-score under the most adverse situations I’ve ever seen in back-to-back innings,” Hurdle said.

Stratton walked Brad Miller on four pitches to begin the ninth, then issued a four-pitch walk to Rodriguez with one out. Andrew Knapp loaded the bases with a line-drive single to center; respecting Starling Marte’s arm, the Phillies held Miller at third base. Rhys Hoskins then popped out on two pitches, and Harper went down swinging at a full-count fastball to leave the bases loaded.

The 10th inning looked like trouble again for Stratton. Realmuto hit a leadoff single, then Dickerson worked a walk to put two on with nobody out. Marte slid to make a superb catch, sprang to his feet and unleashed a quick throw to Kevin Newman, who made an excellent pick to complete the double play. Adam Frazier snagged a Cesar Hernandez line drive to end the 10th.

“There’s so many plays where you felt like, ‘Gosh, we’ve got to win this game,’” Musgrove said. “Sometimes it doesn’t go your way, but I felt good about the way we played tonight, and everyone here feels good about the way we played.”

If only the ending had matched the effort.

Hurdle passed on Vazquez and summoned Michael Feliz to face Rodriguez to start the 11th inning, believing Feliz could handle the bottom of Philadelphia’s lineup.

After getting ahead of Rodriguez, who had only one hit in his previous 21 at-bats, Feliz and catcher Jacob Stallings wanted to bury a slider below the strike zone to make the veteran super-utility man whiff or roll over. But the pitch spun into the middle of the zone, and Rodriguez slammed it over the left-field fence for the fourth walk-off homer of his career.

Rodriguez’s last walk-off homer came in a Pirates uniform on Aug. 6, 2017, the day he returned to Pittsburgh.

“I mean, a ‘W’ is good no matter how it comes,” Rodriguez said. “When you’re the individual who gets to contribute, it just makes you feel obviously like you’re contributing to a ‘W,’ so that’s always good.”