Bullpen rises to occasion after Wandy's abrupt exit
Wilson leads relief corps with three hitless innings against D-backs
PHOENIX -- To rise from the ashes of their early season, the Pirates came to the right place. That's not even a reference to the city -- "phoenix" of course being the bird in Greek mythology that is repeatedly reborn -- but to the dust storms that enveloped this area on Monday.
On cue, the Pirates showed new life, downing the D-backs, 5-3, in Chase Field despite the premature departure of starter Wandy Rodriguez.
Justin Wilson was the flag bearer of the four relievers who had to carry the last 6 2/3 innings, firing three hitless innings. And by fire, we mean fire: The young lefty dialed his fastball up to 98 mph. Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli each followed with a hitless inning, with the latter nailing it down for his second save.
"That was really good," manager Clint Hurdle said of Wilson's act. "Throwing strikes, filling up the zone. A very impressive outing, on a night we needed it."
Again carried by the M&M lads atop their lineup, the Pirates finally broke the three-run barrier. Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen combined to go 3-for-6, score three runs and drive in two. Garrett Jones provided a big insurance run with an eighth-inning homer.
For a dramatic and welcome change, then, the hitters brightened what could have been a depressing pitching chapter.
Rodriguez, who had the Pirates' lone victory of the season and as many since Aug. 29 (five) as the team's other starters combined, suddenly blew a tire seven pitches into the third.
Rodriguez spent tense minutes trying to work the tightness out of his left hamstring but, with trainer Ben Potenziano's urging, ultimately departed the scene.
"He couldn't pitch. Oh, he wanted to, but he wouldn't have been able to," Hurdle said. "He tried to do everything he could to work himself through it -- he almost held a Pilates class out there. But he didn't have enough strength to continue."
"I knew I had to go out, as protection for my next start," said Rodriguez, who said he had never before had a problem in that area -- the low hamstring, close to the knee.
Rodriguez said it was too early to say whether he would be able to make his next start, which likely would be Saturday, in the middle game of a three-game set against the Reds in PNC Park.
"It feels much better now that I got some treatment and ice," he said. "Let me see what happens in the next few days."
It could have been a fine "Why us?" moment for the Pirates, but they are used to such, especially here. It's a risky game plan that seems to work here: Have your starting pitcher leave early with an injury, and let your bullpen do the work.
"It was reminiscent of what we saw a few times last year," McCutchen said. "That's what they're here for, and doing the job they need to do. That's all you can ask for. It was awesome, man."
Almost exactly a year ago, when the Pirates were in the grips of a similar funk, Jeff Karstens checked out after one inning with shoulder inflammation. The Bucs, who had lost six of their previous seven games, pooled five relievers for a 5-4 victory.
"They say history repeats itself," Hurdle noted. "Well, there you go."
This time, Jeanmar Gomez was first through the bullpen gate to do the honors.
Gomez needed 26 pitches to get the final two outs of the third inning, and not before Paul Goldschmidt's sacrifice fly and Alfredo Marte's single -- his first career hit -- forged a 3-3 tie.
"It was an absolute battle for Jeanmar tonight," Hurdle said of the man who received credit for the victory.
Then came Wilson's three innings, marred only when he plunked Gerardo Parra with a pitch in the seventh -- before promptly inducing Martin Prado to erase him on a double play.
"Wilson came in and shut us down," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said. "He's got a good arm, we knew that."
When Starling Marte led off the game with a single, he owned five of the Bucs' last seven hits, covering three games. This time, he had back-up: McCutchen ripped a double down the line to score him. There was more: McCutchen took third as Jones pulled a grounder to first base, and after Russell Martin walked and stole second, Travis Snider scored both with a single.
It added up to the Pirates' second three-hit inning of the season, in 54 ups.
After the D-backs had taken advantage of Rodriguez's injury to tie it at 3, the Pirates again unfolded their Marte Monopoly board in the fifth. He tripled into the left-field corner with one away -- his sixth hit of the Bucs' last 10 -- and soon was coming home on McCutchen's sacrifice fly for a 4-3 lead.