Volquez takes strong step in series-clinching start
Righty holds Cards to one run; Sanchez's hot bat puts game away
PITTSBURGH -- Ever since the Pirates signed free agent Edinson Volquez, the more cynical sect of the fan base has wanted him to hit the road. But this isn't the one it had in mind: The Road to Redemption.
Garrett Jones traveled it, then A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano. Travis Ishikawa already has his footprints in it. And now Volquez has hit that Road.
He did not get official credit for the Bucs' 2-1 victory over St. Louis on Sunday in PNC Park. That went to southpaw Tony Watson, who continued the powerful start to his season by striking out three of the four men he faced. Jason Grilli worked a three-man ninth for his first save.
But Volquez got the spiritual victory and, after his 5 2/3-inning stint concluded, he also got a predominantly standing ovation from the crowd of 25,704 to escort him to the dugout.
Asked later whether the cheers made him feel good, Volquez said, "Oh yeah, why not?" and added with glee, not immodesty, "My first game in Pittsburgh, and I think I did a great job today, and the fans appreciated what I did."
They were not alone.
"A flat-out gem," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It was a very big confidence builder for him and for the team -- which responded well behind him."
The best response came from Volquez's receiver.
The first time Tony Sanchez caught Volquez, in March in Sarasota, Fla., the catcher blamed his own pitch selection for the hurler's poor outing.
Valid or not, Sanchez offered the payback Sunday -- a two-out double in the seventh off Adam Wainwright that snapped a 1-1 tie and put a neat bow atop the battery-mates' day.
"I'd say we did a 180 from that day," said Sanchez, grinning. "We were on the same page. He only shook me off a few times."
According to the catcher, here is how their postgame conversation went:
Sanchez said, "Hey, great job! Great pitches."
And Volquez said, "Hey, great pitch-calling!"
A great win, if there can be such a thing in early April. It sent the Bucs out on the road for the first time, with a 4-2 record in their longest season-opening homestand since 1999, when the Bucs left the gate playing eight at Three Rivers Stadium (another scheduled game was rained out).
The Bucs got the draw in the right-handers' duel, taking a 1-0 lead in the fourth on a pair of doubles, Andrew McCutchen's with one out and Neil Walker's with two.
Volquez hung one more zero after that, before the Cardinals caught up with him in the sixth. Wainwright himself made the first move, singling with one away before being erased on Matt Carpenter's force-play grounder. Jon Jay split the right-center alley with a triple that scored Carpenter.
Jay thus provided the blueprint for Tony Sanchez -- whose go-ahead double two innings later retraced the exact same path.
Volquez had one more duty to perform, intentionally walking Matt Holliday. Then he took his own walk, slowly, to soak up the fans' adulation as well as the sunshine.
Remarkably, Volquez otherwise walked none -- and had only two other three-ball counts. Why remarkable? He had led the National League in 2012 with 105 walks.
"I felt good, from the beginning, when I was warming up (in the bullpen). Everything was under control," Volquez said. "All my pitches were working, and I brought that into the game."
Also in working order was his adrenaline supply. Though Volquez would downplay the angle himself, he was psyched by the chance to go up against Wainwright, not only St. Louis' ace but someone coming off a Spring Training opposite of his own struggles.
"You could sense it in the bullpen," said Sanchez, recalling the pregame vibes. "He was locked in, from the time he stepped on the mound, I could tell his mindset was in the right spot."
Entering the bottom of the seventh, this was Wainwright's line for his last four outings, including the two at the end of Spring Training: 26 innings pitched, one run and 11 hits allowed.
Pedro Alvarez drew a leadoff walk in that seventh, but he was still on first after strikeouts of Walker and Gaby Sanchez -- to which Tony Sanchez paid close attention.
"I watched how he challenged Gaby, throwing him those nasty curveballs, among the best in the league, after getting ahead of him," Tony Sanchez recalled, "and I told myself, 'Well, I don't want to get to that pitch.'"
Wainwright started him off with a low fastball, getting Sanchez to think, "Cutter. Drive it in the air to right field. He ended up throwing a fastball, and I was ready for it.
"Genuine jubilation," Sanchez said of the emotion of contact. "As the ball came off the bat, I knew it was gonna get in the gap. It was just a matter of Pedro being fast enough to score, and he was busting his butt the entire way. I was so excited."
He should be used to it. He has four RBIs. The first came in the 16th inning Thursday dawn, for a 4-3 win over Chicago. Two others were the Bucs' lone runs in a 3-2 loss to the Cubs the same Thursday afternoon. Then, Sunday.
"Another big swing of the bat," Hurdle said.