Bay saves the day for Bucs
Left fielder makes game-saving catch in the ninth
PITTSBURGH -- For about five seconds on Sunday, the Pirates ran the gamut of emotions.
Pinch-hitter Jim Thome walked to the plate as the go-ahead run in the ninth, the White Sox down by two but threatening with two runners on. Pirates catcher Ronny Paulino called for the slider, low and away, and closer Matt Capps delivered.
"It was where I wanted it," Capps said afterward.
Thome connected on the first pitch, for what seemed like a routine fly ball -- maybe a deep routine fly ball, but nothing more than a sacrifice fly.
But for some reason, it carried.
"Off the bat, I didn't think he nailed it that good," Capps said. "I guess he got a little more wood than we thought it had."
And it carried.
"I didn't think I had the ball by any means," Bay said. "The ball traveled a lot better than I thought."
And it carried.
"I think all of us were blowing, doing anything we could to just to try to get it out," said White Sox third baseman Josh Fields.
And kept carrying.
"Then you saw what J Bay did," Capps finished.
What Bay did was made possible by what a young boy in the left-field stands didn't do. Bay backed up, fought the wind and sun in his eyes, put his left arm up to brace himself and jumped. But there was one more obstacle, unseen to Bay -- a boy with a glove with in the front row poised to make the catch himself.
"I saw that kid," said center fielder Nate McLouth, who was running over to back up Bay in case the ball caromed off the wall. "And I said, 'Don't do it. Don't do it.'"
He didn't, successfully avoiding the company of those like Jeffrey Maier and Steve Bartman and allowing Bay to make a game-saving grab to preserve an 8-7 series-clinching win over the White Sox at PNC Park in front of 26,830 fans.
Granted, Maier and Bartman became famous -- or maybe, more appropriately, infamous -- because they made their catches during October. But for the Pirates on Sunday, a loss could have been devastating.
The win capped off an encouraging 4-2 homestand for Pittsburgh, a homestand in which they took advantage of mediocre opponents, and one in which they recorded their first back-to-back series wins of the season.
Similar to the roller-coaster ride of emotions during the flight of Thome's ninth-inning fly ball, Pirates starter Zach Duke experienced his own highs and lows on the afternoon. Duke had some big highs -- in five of the six innings Duke worked, he faced the minimum. But he had some deep lows as well. The one inning Duke didn't face the minimum, the lefty faced every hitter in the White Sox lineup, giving up five runs in the fourth.
"They were definitely, the second time through, covering the outside corner a lot better," Duke said. "I had to adjust back to that and make them respect the inside corner again. Sadly, I didn't get the ball inside enough a lot of the time."
The five-run White Sox outburst marked the second time this season Duke had allowed that many runs in a single frame, and the fifth time this year that Duke had allowed at least that many runs in a start.
Duke had lost his command and was consistently leaving his pitches up and over the plate. Shawn Chacon was warmed up and ready to come in from the bullpen. But bench coach Jim Lett decided to stick with his starter, even after a tumultuous fourth.
Would he have taken Duke out for a pinch-hitter in the fourth if the Pirates bench hadn't been so depleted do to an injured Chris Duffy and a sick Freddy Sanchez?
"Probably so," said Lett, who took over managerial duties for the absent Jim Tracy.
But by letting Duke remain in the game and finish with two strong innings, the Pirates left-hander was able to regroup, refocus and finish the day strong. It may be a move that pays dividends for the young left-hander's confidence in the long run.
"I am happy they [left me in]," Duke said. "It gave me a chance to go back out there and get back in a rhythm and just establish myself again. I'm very thankful for that."
The change in emotions was 180 degrees, Duke said, as he left the game not dwelling on the disastrous inning, but building on the two 1-2-3 innings to close out
"That's a good sign for him to struggle like that but then find himself and give us another two strong innings," Lett said.
The Pirates' offense didn't let the White Sox's two-run lead stand for very long. McLouth erased it with a two-out, two-run double in the bottom half of the fourth to tie the game at 5. The two-run double was the second of the afternoon for McLouth, who had laced a double to center in the second that gave the Pirates an early three-run advantage.
"When you come into a game knowing that you're going to get your four [at-bats], you forget how relaxed you get," said McLouth, who also set up a seventh-inning rally with a one-out walk. "And some guys are getting on in front of me. If you can get that two-out hit, it's nice, regardless of who gets it."
In the seventh, it was Xavier Nady who got that clutch hit, breaking open a tie game with a two-run, two-out single that put the Pirates back in front. Other than a Jose Bautista home run to lead off the first-inning for the Pirates, every one of Pittsburgh's eight runs came with two outs.
Chacon and Damaso Marte teamed up to keep Chicago scoreless through the sixth and seventh innings before Capps allowed two in the ninth. Fortunately for him, he came into a three-run advantage.
And he had a left fielder who's right at home in that tricky left-field corner of PNC Park.
"That's going to be tough to make, because there's that little jut there in the left-field corner," Capps said. "He made a very tough play look easy. [That's] something for us to help turn things around and build on. Let's keep the momentum rolling."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.