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Pirates rally behind Gaby's clutch performance

Pinch-hit homer, decisive RBI single lead Bucs over Mets' bullpen

NEW YORK -- Ike Davis drew all of the attention before the Pirates' Monday matinee, the opener of the three-game set marking his first game back at Citi Field since the Mets sent him to Pittsburgh in April. But after an uneventful afternoon -- Davis went 0-for-2 with a first-inning walk -- it was the man called on to pinch-hit for him, Gaby Sanchez, who stole the show.

Sanchez launched an eighth-inning home run to end several hours of offensive struggles, then smacked a go-ahead single in the ninth en route to the Pirates' 5-3 win, their sixth in eight games. Sanchez's late-inning dramatics came after Pittsburgh batters left nine men on base and went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position through seven innings.

"This is indicative of the games we play," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The mentality in the dugout is, 'This is the inning.' Even if we get pushed down, the next inning we'll make something happen.

"You have to be relentless. You can't get sad. If you're going to have any emotion, get mad. And get something done."

Sanchez did. He helped Pittsburgh erase the early troubles when he turned on a waist-high fastball from Scott Rice to lead off the eighth and cut the Mets' lead to 2-1. Jose Tabata's two-out, pinch-hit single off of Jose Valverde scored Starling Marte -- who doubled -- to tie it.

The Mets were playing with a short bullpen, so Valverde was still on the mound by the time Sanchez stepped back up to the plate with two on and one out in the ninth. Sanchez sent a sharp ground ball to left, plating Neil Walker. When Curtis Granderson's throw skipped by catcher Juan Centeno toward the backstop, Andrew McCutchen wound up scoring from first.

Russell Martin's RBI double provided an insurance run. The Mets released Valverde immediately after the game.

The game-tying rally could be credited in part to the Pirates' increased emphasis on pinch-hitting this season. Hurdle said the Pirates -- who are batting .250 in pinch-hit appearances this season, better than two-thirds of Major League teams -- help the bench bats stay warm with a pitching machine they bring on the road. The machine is customizable in terms of pitch selection and velocity, and it throws harder than a person would, lending itself to more game-like situations.

"[Hurdle] wants us to be prepared from the beginning of the ballgame, so when we get in there we need to be prepared and ready to go and no excuses," Sanchez said. "I feel like we've been doing a good job of being ready, being prepared, so when our number is called, we can go up there and give a good AB."

The shaky New York relief wasted another strong effort from rookie right-hander Jacob deGrom, who pitched into and out of trouble for 6 2/3 shutout innings. He scattered five hits and issued five walks.

Brandon Cumpton, Pittsburgh's own rookie righty making his first start since rejoining the big league team, was even better the first half of the game, allowing seven hits and a walk while allowing two runs (one earned) in his six innings.

"I established my fastball in, started throwing strikes early and tried to get them to put the ball in play and let my defense play behind me," Cumpton said.

Cumpton was far more efficient than his counterpart early on, but everything unraveled with two outs in the fifth.

deGrom singled -- his second of the game and fourth in three starts -- and Juan Lagares walked to put two on with two out. Daniel Murphy drove a single to right to plate deGrom, and when the throw to Pedro Alvarez at third bounced by the bag and toward the Pittsburgh dugout, Lagares made a dash for home as well.

Home-plate umpire Laz Diaz initially called Lagares out, but after a review of 3 minutes and 4 seconds, the call was overturned for a 2-0 Mets lead. Review officials decided catcher Martin impeded Lagares' path to the plate with the lower half of his leg, and was therefore in violation of the newly instituted rule that bans home-plate collisions.

Five of the first seven Pittsburgh batters reached base. Martin's bases-loaded double play helped New York escape the first, and after Alvarez and Marte reached base to open the second, deGrom set the next three batters down in order.

Like aloe on sunburn from the 85-degree Memorial Day sun in Queens, though, the late-inning turnaround soothed those early troubles.

"It's tough to get hits," Davis said. "The last eight games, we've been getting on base a ton. The games that we've won, we've gotten those big hits with runners on, and some of the times that we lose we haven't been able to get them.

"Tonight we didn't get them early, but we got them late. Perfect timing."

Tim Healey is an associate reporter for
Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, Gaby Sanchez, Ike Davis, Brandon Cumpton, Jose Tabata