A critical week for the Pittsburgh Pirates began with a playoff-like game, but the Los Angeles Dodgers got the ‘W’ in the opener of a four-game series at PNC Park, winning 5-4 Monday night.
Garrett Jones went 4-for-4 with three RBI and made a remarkable run-saving catch in right field, but Dodgers starter Aaron Harang outperformed his Pirates counterpart Jeff Karstens as Los Angeles climbed within 1 1/2 games of the Bucs for the NL’s second wild card spot. Shane Victorino drove in three runs, including a two-run homer in the fifth that put L.A. ahead to stay.
The Pirates trailed 2-0 in the third and 5-2 in the eighth, rallying twice to put the outcome in doubt. Unfortunately for the home side, comeback hopes were squelched in the ninth by Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. The big righty sat the Bucs down in order to push Los Angeles (63-53) to its seventh win in 10 games.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh (64-51) dropped to 3-5 on its current 11-game stand on the North Shore, the team’s longest such stretch of the season. The Pirates are now just two games up on the idle Cardinals for the league’s fifth and final playoff position; they trail Cincinnati by five games in the Central.
Kevin Correia gets the call Tuesday night, his second start since being reinserted into the Pirates’ current six-man rotation. He will oppose fellow righthander Chad Billingsley at 7:05 p.m. on the PNC Park pitcher’s mound.
Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis opened the second inning Monday with a lined double to right-center, and Harang bunted him over to third with one out. Karstens then left a fastball over the plate to Victorino, and the former Phillies favorite ripped an RBI double down the right field line.
Mark Ellis walked, followed by L.A. superstar Matt Kemp increasing the visitors’ lead to 2-0 with a hooked single to left, scoring Victorino. Andre Ethier was up next, and the Dodgers’ cleanup hitter sent a long fly to straightaway right field.
It appeared sure to score at least Mark Ellis, if not Kemp. But Jones had a bead on Ethier’s drive, and the Bucco right fielder made a leaping snag before slamming into the chain-link fence. Jones collected himself and gunned the ball to first, easily doubling up Kemp to end the inning.
Jones’ dream inning continued a few minutes later. Starling Marte singled with one out and Andrew McCutchen walked with two gone, giving Garrett a chance to further contribute to the effort. He did just that, busting a Harang inside fastball to the wall in right, scoring the speedy duo on the base paths.
The score stayed tied at 2 until the top of the fifth. Harang grounded a base hit up the middle with one out, and Victorino delivered two more runs with a line drive over the Clemente Wall. Karstens had the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter down in the count 0-and-2 before throwing three straight balls and tossing the low slider that Victorino launched to make it 4-2.
Karstens lasted through the seventh, walking only one and striking out four. Harang went an inning shorter, but allowed two fewer runs despite walking three to go with his four punchouts. Each starter allowed eight baserunners.
Dodgers reliever Javy Guerra got two outs in the seventh but gave way to lefty Randy Choate after allowing pinch-hitter Josh Harrison and Marte to reach. Neil Walker, despite batting from his weaker right side, smoked Choate’s second pitch right back at him, but the 12-year veteran made a reflex catch to spare himself from injury and save a run, too.
Juan Cruz was the first man out of the bullpen for the Bucs, but after retiring Mark Ellis, he walked Kemp, hit Ethier and walked new Dodger Hanley Ramirez to load the bases. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle summoned lefty Tony Watson to pitch to James Loney, but L.A. skipper Don Mattingly countered with pinch-hitter Juan Rivera.
Working the count to 2-and-2, Rivera punched a soft liner into center, scoring Kemp with the Dodgers’ fifth run. Watson set down the next two batters to keep the Pirates’ deficit at three runs.
Watson’s effort looked significant when the Bucs struck for two in the bottom of the frame. Following McCutchen’s infield single off reliever Ronald Belisario, Jones collected his fourth hit of the evening, a stung double to left-center that plated ‘Cutch.’ Two outs later, with Jones at third, Mike McKenry grounded a single to left, making it a one-run game entering the ninth.
The Bucs stayed with Watson to start the Dodgers’ ninth, and pinch-hitter Luis Cruz scalded a double to left to lead things off. Cruz was at third with one out when fireman Jason Grilli came on to battle Mark Ellis. The Pirates’ hard-tossing righty struck out Ellis with a high fastball and then dramatically whiffed Kemp with a full-count slider to keep the score 5-4.
But Jansen, he of the 1.84 ERA and 0.84 WHIP, blazed through the Pirates’ ninth on seven pitches. He struck out Rod Barajas swinging, then got Marte and Walker to pop up.
See box score here.
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