DENVER -- The biggest inning isn't always the last. While the Pirates and Rockies battled deep into extra innings -- with Pittsburgh winning, 9-8, after 12 -- the frame that kept the game alive for the Bucs was the bottom of the sixth.With the Pirates leading by three, starting pitcher
DENVER -- The biggest inning isn't always the last. While the Pirates and Rockies battled deep into extra innings -- with Pittsburgh winning, 9-8, after 12 -- the frame that kept the game alive for the Bucs was the bottom of the sixth.
With the Pirates leading by three, starting pitcher Jonathon Niese lost his touch in the sixth, giving up three straight singles to open the inning and load the bases. Manager Clint Hurdle came to the mound and took the ball from Niese, handing it off to Ryan Vogelsong.
"That's just a rough deal when you're the manager," Hurdle said. "You go out there and you get one of your middle relievers and give him the ball with the bases loaded, nobody out. It's not what you draw up the night before."
Vogelsong entered the game with a 1-0 record and a 3.60 ERA in four games, including a five-inning start against Detroit on April 13. He also brought a dozen seasons in the big leagues and a couple World Series' worth of experience to the mound with him.
"That's not the first time that's happened to me, coming into a game with the bases loaded and nobody out," Vogelsong said. "Honestly, I didn't even think about it as being a bases loaded and nobody out situation. I was just coming in and trying to get a guy out as fast as I can. Once I got on the mound I was kind of thinking, 'Punch him out and get a double play.'"
The Rockies sent pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to the plate, and he nearly worked a walk to score a run as Vogelsong fell behind in his punchout plan.
"It wasn't the ideal situation to fall behind 3-0 there," Vogelsong said. "It didn't quite go the way I was thinking, but I was able to make pitches and minimize the damage and get us out of a big spot."
Vogelsong got a lot of help from shortstop Jordy Mercer and a heads-up play on a hard-hit ball from Adames that looked like trouble. Adames sent a hard one-hopper up the middle, which was deflected by Josh Harrison and then picked up by Mercer, who threw to third in time to get Nick Hundley as Ryan Raburn crossed the plate with a run to cut the lead to two.
"It was right in front of me," Mercer said of the play. "Nick paused for a second. I guess he thought Josh was going to catch it or something. When it popped off, I knew we didn't have a chance at second, and I saw Nick pause and take a step back towards second, so I knew we had a shot at third without even turning around and looking. I just picked up the ball and threw to third and it worked out for us."
With one run in, one out, and men on first and second, Gerardo Parra drilled a liner to right, but directly at Gregory Polanco for the second out.
Then record-breaking rookie Trevor Story came to the plate, having already hit his ninth homer of the season. But Vogelsong prevailed, catching the right-handed hitter looking at strike three, stranding two Rockies and preserving the two-run lead.
"It definitely can change the tide for a team momentum-wise," Vogelsong said. "You play a long game like that and come out on the losing side, it can knock you back for a little bit. The fact that we're getting in these battles and coming out on the right side is good for our momentum."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com based in Denver.