McCutchen's walk, walk-off lead to win
Pittsburgh mounts ninth-inning rally to take home series
PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen may have had the game-winning hit in the Pirates' come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Indians on Thursday night, but it was his game-changing at-bat two innings earlier that left as much a palpable buzz afterward.
Not to take anything away from McCutchen's walk-off single, one that drove in Jack Wilson to seal a series win and a seventh final at-bat victory for the Pirates this year, but McCutchen's impeccable maturity shined well before that final at-bat.
"It was almost predestined," said McCutchen, who scored Pittsburgh's first run and drove in the final two. "Every time I came up to bat it was a key situation, and I was able to come through."
Rewind back to the seventh, when, for the first time all night, Cleveland ace Cliff Lee appeared mildly vulnerable. Andy LaRoche had drawn a nine-pitch leadoff walk, Lee's first, and Brandon Moss followed with a single, just Moss' eighth hit against a left-hander all year.
The inning continued, with Lee eventually loading the bases and McCutchen coming to the plate with two outs. Lee immediately got ahead, 0-2, but McCutchen methodically worked the count full, fouling off two offspeed pitches in the process.
"You protect a little more than usual, but at the same time you know that he's going to try and throw you some balls that aren't close to the strike zone," McCutchen said. "You just have to stay within yourself and don't try to do too much."
On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, McCutchen drew the walk, forcing in the tying run.
"Andrew, being a young player, to have that kind of at-bat, that was huge for us," manager John Russell said.
Arguably just as important, that walk drew the crowd of 30,120 even further into the game on a night when PNC Park was certainly not short on emotion.
"We fed off of it," Russell said of the crowd. "It really pushes our players, they love to play in front of them because they are great fans."
Whether or not there was any sort of correlation, no one can really say. But the Pirates' late-inning offensive attack came immediately after Russell's sixth-inning ejection.
The Pirates have had this inexplicable knack for beating some of baseball's most dominant pitchers this season. The likes of Jake Peavy, Johan Santana and Roy Oswalt are included in that bunch. But before Russell's early exit, Lee looked fairly certain to stay off of it.
He had limited the Pirates to two singles through the first five frames, during which the Indians had scratched for two runs off starter Ross Ohlendorf.
But after the man-of-the-night McCutchen doubled to lead off the sixth, Russell livened up the crowd.
With Nyjer Morgan squaring to bunt, Lee's first pitch hit off the outfielder's finger. Home-plate umpire Jerry Layne ruled the ball foul, claiming it hit Morgan's bat before catching the finger. Russell adamantly disagreed and was eventually tossed. It was his first ejection of the season.
The crowd, only the fourth to eclipse the 30,000 mark at home this season, suddenly stirred. So, too, did the club.
"Big ups to skip for getting us fired up," Morgan said. "He pumped us up there and that's exactly what we needed, a little fire."
The sixth would eventually end, but not before McCutchen came around to score on Freddy Sanchez's sacrifice fly. The run brought Pittsburgh to within one, and the momentum carried over.
There would be McCutchen's game-tying walk in the seventh and Morgan's game-saving catch in the eighth when he made a leaping grab at the wall to rob Cleveland's Victor Martinez of a two-run homer and bail John Grabow out of a jam.
And then there was the ninth.
After a perfect top half by Matt Capps, Pittsburgh wasted no time striking against a struggling Indians bullpen. Wilson added a third hit to his night's work with a leadoff single before moving to second on base hit by pinch-hitter Eric Hinske.
As if on cue, that brought up McCutchen.
Initially given the sign to bunt, the center fielder fouled off Matt Herges' first pitch, which ultimately proved to be a blessing in disguise. That missed bunt attempt gave Wilson all the time he needed to read the defense, which was in motion to protect against the bunt.
Indians third baseman Jamey Carroll broke toward home and, with shortstop Jhonny Peralta not shaded far toward third, Wilson saw an opening to take off.
"I kind of took a glance of where Jhonny was," said Wilson. "He was just two or three feet away from me so I just took off. It's just one of those things you react to."
Wilson swiped third safely, putting the bat back in McCutchen's hand.
"It was kind of a sigh of relief that now I could swing," said McCutchen, who had already extended his hitting streak to 13 games with his earlier double. "I was feeling good at the plate. I just went from there."
The game lasted two more pitches, with McCutchen driving in Wilson on a base hit to left.
"Basically the kid was ready to come out there and battle," Morgan said.
"He's an impressive-looking young player," added Indians manager Eric Wedge. "Obviously, he has the tools. But what catches my eye is his tempo at home plate. He doesn't let it speed up on him. I was really impressed by him."
McCutchen's night overshadowed a strong performance from Ohlendorf, who matched Lee with six innings pitched and two runs allowed. The outing was Ohlendorf's longest since going 7 2/3 innings on May 23.
With the win, the Pirates improved to 6-6 in Interleague Play with three games remaining.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.