PITTSBURGH -- Erik Bedard, the veteran left-hander who showed the way the Bucs pitching staff still follows, went down early, but the Pirates didn't have time to dwell on the temporary loss of their elder. They had a game to win.And they did, the second time in three weeks with the bullpen picking up eight innings for a starter ousted by injury after one. After Bedard was forced out by back spasms with none out in the second, Brad Lincoln, Jared Hughes, Juan Cruz, Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan pooled their talents for a 4-2 victory at PNC Park, the Pirates' second straight. Not that is was simple. Lincoln and Hughes were pretty clean, but Cruz was touched for a run, Grilli had to squirm out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the eighth, then ... "The guy at the end almost gave us a Hanrattack," said manger Clint Hurdle, coining a new word to describe the anxieties his closer provoked by letting the Nationals put the tying runs into scoring position before getting Bryce Harper on an infield popup and Ryan Zimmerman on strikes. Also playing big was the talent of Andrew McCutchen, whose 4-for-4 evening included a solo homer in the eighth for the important insurance run that made it 4-2.
This is the first time the Bucs have won back-to-back games since April 18, when the scenario was identical, as Jeff Karstens was forced out after one inning by shoulder inflammation.Not a formula for success you'd want to follow too often, but a nice affirmation of pitching depth. "I said it after the first time it happened: It shows what kind of team we have," McCutchen said. "For them to be able to do that ... we tried to put some runs on the board for them, because they had our back." Bedard made an early, abrupt departure. The left-hander doubled over and winced in pain after delivering a 1-1 pitch to Washington's leadoff hitter in the second inning, Adam LaRoche, and was promptly removed suffering from back spasms. "It's all because of [the relievers] that we're here talking about a win," Bedard said. The quintet of relievers logged 11 strikeouts, with Grilli and Hanrahan especially making dramatic escapes via that route. "I like the matchups we had, we had men in scoring position, and we just didn't swing the bats," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. "We swung and missed too many times. We are just getting too many punchouts. We had pitches to hit, and we swing right through them."
Lincoln was first through the bullpen gate, with three innings of one-hit relief. It earned him his second win, the first coming in that Arizona precedent."Hats off to Lincoln for stepping up after that first inning. Hughes [who struck out the side in the fifth], too," Grilli said. Lincoln even triggered the versatile third-inning rally that gave the Bucs a 3-0 lead over Washington southpaw Ross Detwiler. If one can credit a strikeout with being a trigger. Lincoln swung through an 0-2 pitch, but it caromed off catcher Wilson Ramos far enough that Lincoln easily reached base on the wild pitch. Run-scoring singles by Neil Walker and McCutchen followed. The Nationals crept within one on a pair of widely-spaced gift runs. Xavier Nady singled home a fourth-inning unearned run set up by third baseman Pedro Alvarez's fielding error, and in the seventh, Chad Tracy's sacrifice fly scored Danny Espinosa, who had gone into scoring position at third on Cruz's wild pitch. The Pirates' third run in that third resulted from a jaw-dropping demonstration of McCutchen speed. He was on second when Casey McGehee grounded into the shortstop hole. Ian Desmond backhanded the ball, ready to trap McCutchen if he rounded third -- a ploy executed countless times. And McCutchen did go around the bag, as Desmond cocked the ball, ready to toss to third if McCutchen put on the brakes. Instead, McCutchen gunned it for home, catching Desmond so off-guard that Ramos couldn't even try to make a play with his throw as McCutchen slid across the plate. "Andrew can do things that will excite you," Hurdle said. "That play ... you're going, 'No! No! No!' then ' What? My God, look at that!' Once he realized he put himself in a predicament ... talk about closing the gap. From when he turned third to the slide home ... You just don't see that. That got the guys in the dugout excited." "I was banking on him making a play to first base," McCutchen admitted. "When I got to third, I was thinking of trying to score on the throw to first. He hesitated a little bit, and it was just enough to let me score."
Said Desmond: "[McCutchen] made a good baserunning play. I kept it in the infield. I would say nine out of 10 times that runner stops and tries to dive back into third. He saw that I fielded it and he looked at me and just darted towards home.
"I had to make sure I had a good grip on the ball, and it was just too late. It was a good baserunning play by him. Obviously, his speed helped."That was simply amazing. Much of the rest of this game was merely amusing. It featured: Umpires reviewed a fourth-inning play on which Pirates left-fielder Yamaico Navarro clearly caught Desmond's fly over the wall; Navarro wound up in such an awkward position bent over the barrier that Washington manager Davey Johnson must have suspected a fan might have caught the "home run" ball and stuck it in his glove. Alvarez, participating in an infield shift for LaRoche, was charged with the key fourth-inning error on a grounder hit 20 feet off the first-base foul line. Lincoln struck out for the final out in the bottom of the fourth -- and was replaced at the start of the fifth by another pitcher (Hughes); Hurdle simply didn't want to burn a position player as a pinch-hitter. Once the roller-coaster ride had ended, Grilli flashed a wide grin and said, "We made things interesting, but we came out with a win, and that's all that matters."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.