A stifling performance by a thirtysomething starting pitcher, signed as a free agent in the offseason, was the stabilizing force in a four-run Pittsburgh Pirates victory.
No, I’m not talking about A.J. Burnett’s 8 2/3 innings in Sunday’s 6-2 Pittsburgh win in Cincinnati. This time, it was Erik Bedard’s turn to dominate.
The 33-year-old lefthander allowed only two hits, struck out five and walked none while navigating seven scoreless innings, putting the Pirates in position for a 4-0 shutout of the Arizona Diamondbacks Monday night at PNC Park. Bedard’s superlative start helped get a 11-game homestand going for the Bucs (62-46), who just finished a 6-4 road trip.
Andrew McCutchen singled twice and scored twice, including the first of three runs in the eighth inning that turned a nervous night into a relaxing finish for the 24,213 in attendance. Gaby Sanchez collected two hits and an RBI in his first home game as a Pirate, joining Starling Marte (hit, outfield assist) and Travis Snider (hit, RBI) in making successful North Shore debuts.
Bedard rebounded well from his last outing, when he gave up nine runs to the Cubs in Chicago last Monday. He handed over a 1-0 lead to relievers Jason Grilli and recent trade acquisition Chad Qualls, who each handled a scoreless inning to close out the combined shutout.
Paul Goldschmidt picked up the only two hits for the visiting Diamondbacks (55-54), who lost their third straight to drop 7 1/2 games behind the Pirates for the National League’s second Wild Card position. Arizona also committed three errors in an all-around impotent night for the third-place team in the NL West.
The pleasant Pittsburgh evening slanted toward the pitchers from the start. Goldschmidt doubled to lead off the second against Bedard, but the Bucco starter retired Justin Upton, Miguel Montero and former Astro Chris Johnson in succession to keep the game scoreless.
The Pirates offense had trouble early against Arizona starter Wade Miley, as the rookie lefty dismissed the first eight Pittsburgh hitters in order. But the 43rd overall selection in the 2008 draft had his quick-working ways disrupted by Bedard’s lined single to left, the third hit of the season for the longtime AL pitcher.
Starling Marte followed with a bloop to center that put two runners on, but Josh Harrison grounded to third to end the Bucs’ first threat of the homestand.
McCutchen kept the pressure on when he led off the fourth with a looper that centerfielder Chris Young lost track of after a bounce, allowing his Pirates counterpart to take second. Young’s throw to the bag then skipped off the glove of shortstop Willie Bloomquist, and McCutchen took advantage by barreling into third. Sanchez’ subsequent RBI groundout got the Bucs on the board.
Bedard’s fastball rarely touched 90 mph, but the D’Backs struggled to make hard contact for much of the night. By the time Bloomquist flied out to right in the top of the sixth, Bedard had retired 15 straight Arizona hitters.
Despite an elevated pitch count, Miley was holding it together, too. After the struggling duo of Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes started the home half of the fifth with a single and double, respectively, Miley got Bedard to ground to third and then induced Harrison to hit into a 6-4-3 double play.
Miley departed after six innings and 112 pitches, but Bedard stayed one step ahead in the seventh, setting down Aaron Hill on a long flyout to left and whiffing Jason Kubel to start the frame. Goldschmidt picked up his second hit by lining a pitch to left, but even that turned out in Bedard’s favor: Marte expertly fired to second to cut down Goldschimdt’s ill-conceived attempt to stretch his single.
Bedard threw only 84 pitches, but Jason Grilli came out of the Pirates bullpen to begin the eighth. Upton greeted the Bucco reliever by smoking a shot to third, only to see Harrison snare it at the bag to take away a sure double. Grilli then bumped his sub-2.00 ERA even lower by striking out Montero and getting Johnson to line out to second.
The Pirates solidified the victory with three runs in the bottom of the inning. McCutchen and Sanchez stroked back-to-back singles, putting runners at first and third with one out against Brad Ziegler. Neil Walker chopped softly to short to greet new pitcher Mike Zagurski, getting McCutchen home for the Bucs’ second run.
Snider, who subbed for Garrett Jones in right field minutes earlier, drove in Sanchez with a single. Barajas followed with a sacrifice fly to center, plating Walker for a 4-0 lead.
Jeff Karstens will start Tuesday for the Pirates, as they try to extend their winning streak to three in the second of a four-game series against Arizona. First pitch at PNC Park is set for 7:05 p.m.
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