PITTSBURGH -- When he was in high school, shortstop Jordy Mercer had a summer-league coach named Bob Ward, an "old school" man prone to occasionally colorful language. One piece of Ward's advice, stuck in Mercer's memory, served him well in the Pirates' 5-4 win over the Braves on Friday."'That base
PITTSBURGH -- When he was in high school, shortstop Jordy Mercer had a summer-league coach named Bob Ward, an "old school" man prone to occasionally colorful language. One piece of Ward's advice, stuck in Mercer's memory, served him well in the Pirates' 5-4 win over the Braves on Friday.
"'That base hasn't moved in 150 years,'" Mercer said, quoting Ward. "'You don't need to be looking over to throw it!'"
Mercer didn't have time to stop and look to first base in the eighth inning of the Bucs' home opener. Instead he made a slick spinning-and-jumping throw to complete a critical double play that thwarted the Braves' momentum and preserved Pittsburgh's one-run lead.
"It gets momentum on our side. It's a big play in the game, obviously," Mercer said. "You can feel the momentum shift right there."
The Pirates nearly watched a four-run lead evaporate in the eighth as Wade LeBlanc served up a pair of singles before Nick Markakis' RBI double sailed over Andrew McCutchen's glove. In came setup man Daniel Hudson, who allowed a two-run single to Brandon Phillips. That quickly, the tying run was on first base.
Hudson got Adonis Garcia to hit a grounder up the middle. The ball came off Garcia's bat hard -- 93.8 mph, according to Statcast™ -- but Josh Harrison ranged to his right, laid out and reeled in the ball. Harrison scrambled to his knees, pulled the ball out of his glove and flipped it to Mercer for the first out.
In one motion, Mercer spun counterclockwise, jumped off the bag and fired to first baseman John Jaso in time to retire Garcia.
"Routine," Harrison said. "I feel like if I get the ball to Jordy, he's going to turn it. That's why I say routine."
Naturally, Mercer credited his double-play partner for making the whole thing possible with his athletic stop and quick feed.
Manager Clint Hurdle was impressed by both.
"That's fun to watch. It never gets old to see a guy lay out, a guy reverse-spin at second base," Hurdle said. "They do those things. Jordy's become a very dependable and yet athletic shortstop. Josh has the ability to go horizontal to his left or to his right and make some plays. Big pickup for our club."
That wasn't the only key double play of the day, however. The Braves loaded the bases with one out in the fourth inning against Ivan Nova, and up came Phillips, the former Red with excellent career numbers against the Pirates. Nova fell behind in the count, battled back to make it full and got Phillips to put the ball on the ground.
Mercer took care of the rest. He scooped up the ball, stepped on second base and connected with Josh Bell at first base to end the inning. Nova screamed, pumped both fists and walked into the dugout.
"Another one of those momentum things," Mercer said. "I knew as soon as it took that first hop, I had a chance to get there. I was telling J-Hay right away that I was taking it all the way."
No need to heed his former coach's advice, though. He had plenty of time to look toward first base.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.