Jones' two-run shot rescues Pirates
Bucs get to Happ, Phils to seal 7-2 homestand
PITTSBURGH -- The rookie buzz at PNC Park on Thursday night largely surrounded Phillies starter J.A. Happ and Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, presumed by many to be the frontrunners for National League Rookie of the Year honors. But it was the other rookie who stole the show.
Garrett Jones hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning to give the Pirates a 3-2 win in the rubber game of this three-game series against the Phillies, allowing the Pirates to end the homestand 7-2 and head to Milwaukee on a high note.
"You can't beat it," manager John Russell said of what proved to be an exciting, nail-biting series. "It was electric. The stadium wasn't full, but it sounded like it. Just drama. Very well-pitched games by both teams, big home runs. It was great to come out on top. We played very good baseball this whole homestand and we got some very good results out of it. To beat a team like Philly two out of three, it shows something about the guys out in the other room."
Jones certainly showed something against a tough lefty. He's held his own against southpaws all year, entering the game with a .525 slugging percentage against them. Happ had induced three groundouts from the right fielder prior to that final at-bat. But when Happ's 1-1 fastball caught too much of the plate, Jones sent it to the deepest part of the park and over the center-field wall. It was the 28-year-old's 15th home run, a Pirates rookie record.
"He was pitching tough all game, elevating his fastball and making it tough to square up," Jones said. "He left it out just enough where I could get a good piece of bat on it."
"He's that kind of guy," Russell said of his No. 3 hitter. "He's a very dangerous hitter. At any moment, that's the kind of power that he can change the scoreboard rather quickly. He continues to come up with very big hits for us."
McCutchen actually struck first in the Rookie of the Year candidate battle when his solo homer to lead off the bottom of the first tied the score at 1. But the Phillies took the lead on backup catcher Paul Bako's solo shot in the second, and then it looked like Happ would emerge victorious by making that slim lead stand up into the eighth inning.
Pirates starter Charlie Morton did his best to keep his team in the game. He struggled with his command early, but after allowing those two runs in the opening two frames, the right-hander settled down and kept the Phillies off the board for four more innings. Despite walking four, it was the second solid outing for Morton, who had previously struggled to find consistency since coming over in the Nate McLouth deal. In those two starts, he's allowed just four runs over 12 2/3 innings pitched (a 2.92 ERA).
"[Morton] struggled a little bit with his command early, but after the third [inning], he started to throw the ball really well," Russell said. "His changeup really came along and he started to dominate some innings. That's the stuff that he's capable of. If we can get him a little more efficient, he's got the kind of stuff that can shut down a very good offensive club."
"The biggest thing I can take from tonight is that I didn't feel I had my best stuff," Morton said. "I didn't feel I had command. That can prove to be pretty fatal for me, but I feel I took what I had and pitched pretty well."
Denny Bautista came in and threw two perfect innings to keep things status quo, but it still looked like Morton might be on the short end due to Happ's dominance for much of the game. But Ronny Cedeno, still unable to start because of his fractured pinky, came through with a pinch-hit for the second straight night, this time a leadoff single against Happ to start the eighth. Happ got McCutchen and Delwyn Young to fly out, but he didn't have the same success against Jones, lining up Bautista to snatch his first win of the season.
The tension wasn't over yet as the Pirates gave the ball to closer Matt Capps to finish off the series. Capps has struggled, most recently in the opening game of this series when he blew the save prior to McCutchen's walk-off home run. There would be no repeat this time as he finished off the Phillies for his 24th save of the season.
"He did a great job," Russell said. "The more consistently we can get him out there, the better. He got right back out there after a couple of days. That's how he's going to be more effective, if we can get him more save opportunities, he can be a lot more consistent."
With all of the changes that have occurred here in the past couple of months, there have been few better constants than Jones. Arriving on July 1, he led all big leaguers with 10 home runs in his first month and has added five more in August while continuing to drive in important runs. Perhaps it's time he should be getting a little more ROY attention along with the other two headliners in this series.
"Happ's been pitching unbelievably all season," Jones said. "He just made one mistake, and I'm happy I didn't miss it. Cutch has been having an awesome year. He's still young and he's only going to get better. We'll see what happens. We've still got a lot of baseball left."
Before this homestand, that last statement might have filled some with a resigned feeling, the sentiment of a trade-depleted team just playing out the string. But the combination of strong starting pitching, timely hitting and a lot of energy has breathed new life into this club.
"The chemistry's starting to come along, just playing hard and never getting down on ourselves," Jones said. "There are a lot of young guys, but we're learning every day and working hard every day."
"It's the tradition we started here, that these guys are going to play hard and do things right and if we don't, we're going to correct it," Russell said. "The energy level is outstanding on this club right now. These guys have been working really hard to get to this point and I think a lot of the hard work they've been doing is starting to pay off for us. We just need to continue to push. We can't think we've got this mastered yet. But I really enjoyed and I'm really proud of the energy level this club has shown."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.