For an MLB-leading 32nd time this season, the Pittsburgh Pirates came from behind to win a game.
They’ll have to keep rallying if they want to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
Gaby Sanchez hit a walk-off sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth, handing the Pirates a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night at PNC Park and ending their season-long seven-game losing streak.
Pittsburgh (65-62) trailed 2-0 after seven innings before surging back to tie the score in the eighth thanks to a Travis Snider double, two walks and a wild pitch. In the ninth, Braves reliever and Morgantown native David Carpenter allowed Jordy Mercer‘s leadoff bloop single to get the Bucs going.
After Andrew McCutchen popped out, Starling Marte lofted a high fly to left-center that appeared to be easily catchable, at least until left fielder Justin Upton dropped the ball while cutting in front of older brother B.J., the Braves’ center fielder. It was ruled a two-base error.
With runners at second and third and one out, Sanchez drove the first pitch from Carpenter to deep center, scoring Mercer easily. The victory improved the Pirates’ PNC Park record to 40-26, still the most home wins in the National League despite a pair of blowout losses to start the series against the Braves.
Atlanta starter Alex Wood perplexed the Pirates for the first two hours of the game. A left-hander with a deceptive delivery, Wood struck out four to counteract the four hits against him. He induced a lot of soft contact, but that changed in the seventh when Mercer and Marte squared up pitches that resulted in outs.
Wood walked Sanchez to start the eighth, followed by Snider’s smoked double into the right-field corner. Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez called on hard-throwing righty Jordan Walden at that point, but he couldn’t escape the inning until it was 2-2.
Unlike the past two nights, a Pirates starter gave his team a legitimate chance to win. Gerrit Cole returned from a long rehab stint with Triple-A Indianapolis to limit the Braves (66-61) to two runs on five hits through seven innings. The 23-year-old righty maintained his fastball velocity in the mid-to-upper 90s, an encouraging sign after fighting through shoulder and back injuries for several weeks.
Cole fanned six Braves, although his so-so control led to four walks and extended at-bats. A leadoff walk to Jason Heyward in the first led to Atlanta’s first run, but Cole shifted into high gear through the next four frames, retiring 12 in a row until Heyward’s double in the sixth.
Chris Johnson made it 2-0 in favor of the visitors with a bases-loaded single that plated Heyward, but Snider threw out Freddie Freeman at the plate on the same play to limit the damage. Cole threw a hitless seventh to give the Pirates an opportunity to rally, one they took advantage of.
With San Francisco and St. Louis both up winning Wednesday, the Pirates kept pace at two games behind the NL’s second wild card, currently held by the Giants. The Braves fell a game back of San Francisco with the loss.
The Pirates will enjoy Thursday off before heading to Milwaukee for a three-game series against the first-place Brewers.