Jun 5, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker (18) hits a three run home run against the Atlanta Braves during the fifth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
It wasn’t too long ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates were sputtering below .500, frustrating many – themselves above all else – who expected a run at a division title.
They weren’t anywhere close to perfect Friday night in Atlanta, but their powerful push up the National League Central standings continued with a back-and-forth 10-8 victory over the Braves at Turner Field.
After falling behind 2-0 in the first, the Pirates (30-24) mashed 14 hits to overcome an assortment of shaky defensive play and mediocre pitching. Neil Walker launched a majestic go-ahead three-run homer in the fifth, Starling Marte lined a two-run opposite-field bomb to right, and the Bucs added three more scores in the eighth to ensure their fourth consecutive victory.
Exactly two weeks after Gerrit Cole overwhelmed the Mets to start the Pirates’ run of 12 wins in 14 games, Charlie Morton delivered one of the shakiest starts of recent days, lasting just five innings and allowing four runs.
But although Morton had his first stumble since returning from offseason hip surgery, he was betrayed by a pair of errors behind him, including a two-out muff by Walker that scored the Braves’ second run in the opening frame. Morton conceded seven hits, three walks and a wild pitch, but he also stimulated three ground-ball double plays in typical “Ground Chuck” fashion.
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Even after giving away their early edge, the Braves (26-28) stayed on the Pirates’ collective tail throughout the 3 1/2-hour epic, getting 14 hits themselves. That meant that the pressure was on the increasingly dangerous Pittsburgh offense, which was paced by Francisco Cervelli‘s career-high-tying four hits and two RBIs.
Pittsburgh’s revamped top of the order – Gregory Polanco, Marte and Andrew McCutchen – combined for six hits in 12 at-bats. Polanco stole a pair of bases, Marte drove in three runs total to break an 0-for-21 skein, and McCutchen kept up his scorching pace of the past few weeks, boosting his triple-slash line to .295/.382/.497.
After Marte’s homer in the top of the sixth and seldom-used reliever Antonio Bastardo‘s perfect bottom half, the Bucs carried a 6-4 lead into the final three innings. Arquimedes Caminero allowed a run in the seventh despite striking out the side, only to watch his teammates bang out four more hits in the eighth to increase the margin to 9-5.
In a rare sight, Tony Watson seemed out of sorts in the bottom of the eighth, allowing three singles and a walk to cut the lead in half with two outs. Manager Clint Hurdle had seen enough at that point, calling upon Jared Hughes to clean up.
The intense right-hander did just that, getting Nick Markakis to ground out. When Cervelli drove in late-inning substitute Josh Harrison with his fourth single of the night to make it 10-7, the result appeared safe.
It was ultimately, but only after Mark Melancon gunned a potential game-ending double-play ball into center field for the Bucs’ season-high fourth error. After former Pirates infielder Pedro Ciriaco singled in Atlanta’s eighth run in the next at-bat, pinch-hitter Joey Terdoslavich bounced to shortstop Jordy Mercer for a merciful twin killing that sent the visitors to the clubhouse happy.