Power, playmaking lift Bucs out of cellar
Bay hits pair of two-run homers; Bautista key in all facets
CHICAGO -- No more last place. No big deal.
That was manager Jim Tracy's sentiment before the Pirates' 6-5 win over the Chicago Cubs in front of 31,494 at Wrigley Field on Tuesday.
The win moved Pittsburgh past the Cubs into fifth place in the National League Central. It is the first time the Bucs have not been in last place this year.
The Pirates also have the best record in the division since the All-Star break, with a mark of 26-23.
But Tracy said second-half standings don't "mean a whole lot either" and aren't "going to win you a prize."
What is important to Tracy?
The fact that his team is winning, and they like it.
"The part we need to be mindful of is that it does feel pretty good," Tracy said. "That's what it's supposed to feel like. That's what you want them to understand. Now let's build on it. Let's make it become a benchmark."
Tuesday night felt really good after Jason Bay supplied the power and Jose Bautista did the dirty work in a ninth-inning victory.
Bay hit a pair of early two-run home runs to put Pittsburgh ahead. The homers gave Bay 31 for the season, and he became the fourth Pirate to hit 30 or more home runs in two consecutive seasons, joining Ralph Kiner, Willie Stargell and Brian Giles.
"We got staked to a nice lead thanks to a couple of at-bats that Jason Bay took," Tracy said. "Nothing cheap about either one of those in the early part of the game."
But according to Tracy, it was Bautista's glovework in the seventh inning that was the difference in the game. The Pirates were tied, 5-5, and the Cubs had runners on first and third with one out. Reliever Josh Sharpless was facing Henry Blanco, who hit a ground ball sharply down the third-base line. Bautista made a sliding catch, gathered himself and made a strong throw home to get Derrek Lee.
"The Bautista play was sensational," Tracy said. "No. 1, to field the ball as sharply as it was hit, and No. 2, to gather himself and make the type of throw that he made to home plate. [That play] won it for us."
|"The part we need to be mindful of is that it does feel pretty good. That's what it's supposed to feel like. That's what you want them to understand. Now let's build on it. Let's make it become a benchmark."|
|-- Jim Tracy|
The defense and another solid outing by the bullpen helped the team overcome a rough start by Victor Santos, who gave up four runs on nine hits and a walk in 3 1/3 innings.
The bullpen, however, only gave up one unearned run over the last 5 1/3. This follows four scoreless innings of work on Monday night.
"We've been holding on to one-run leads for, not two or three, but sometimes four or five or six innings, where we weren't doing that early on," Bay said. "That's a testament to them."
The bullpen has allowed two runs in its last 17 1/3 innings of work.
John Grabow (4-1) got the win and Salomon Torres picked up his third save of the season, all of them coming in the last four games. Torres has been filling in for injured closer Mike Gonzalez.
"Salomon Torres -- his stuff right now is as good as I've seen it this year," Tracy said. "I don't know that I've seen a better split than I've seen over his last three or four outings. The bottom's completely falling out of it."
The Pirates are starting to make a habit of one-run victories, winning a Major League-best 12 of 14 one-run games in the second half. It's a marked turnaround from their 9-25 record in those games before the All-Star break.
"I think that's what builds character -- where you need a big hit or you need a big play to happen," Bay said. "The more you win those games, the more things seem to go your way."
Things have certainly been going the Pirates' way against the Cubs lately. The team has won five straight against Chicago for the first time in a season since Sept. 19-27, 1990.
That streak has helped make the Cubs the momentary cellar-dwellers of the division. But just like Tracy, the Pirates players view that accomplishment with a touch of context.
"We're definitely not where we want to be, but it's a positive. You go from there, with 20 or however many games left, and try and finish strong," Bay said. "For us, playing from behind all year, it's something to go on, but it's definitely nothing to throw a party about."
Ryan Crawford is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.