Bucs pull off improbable rally in ninth
Pirates score four runs to walk off past Broxton, Dodgers
PITTSBURGH -- Not yet.
So went the Pirates' emphatic answer to the Dodgers' quest to seal a second straight National League West title with a win on Sunday. There would indeed by an on-field celebration at PNC Park afternoon, but not the one anyone had anticipated.
Staging a four-run ninth against one of the league's more dominant closers, the Pirates made short memory of a sloppy top half of the inning and treated the 26,831 on hand for Fan Appreciation Day to the most exciting prize of the afternoon, a 6-5 walk-off win.
"That's why you play nine innings," first-base coach Perry Hill exclaimed as reporters filed into a clubhouse.
Fair to call this win improbable? Absolutely.
Consider that the Pirates entered the ninth against a closer who had converted each of his past 11 save opportunities and who had not allowed an earned run in 21 consecutive innings. The Pirates would need three against Jonathan Broxton just to tie the game.
They scored four.
"This is one of the best teams in all of Major League Baseball," said Lastings Milledge, whose single scored two before the game-winner crossed on an error. "We came up with some big hits against one of the best closers in the game. That alone speaks for itself.
"We're treating this like our playoffs. When we're in the postseason next year, we'll know how it feels. We are just trying to treat this as our postseason and get the feeling down."
After just watching L.A. take a 5-2 lead with three runs off closer Matt Capps in the top half of the ninth, Pittsburgh wasted no time getting to Broxton. Pinch-hitter Delwyn Young, mired in an 8-for-81 slump, singled. So did pinch-hitter Brandon Moss, whose recent production hadn't been all that much better. A fielder's choice put runners on the corners with one out.
That's when the Dodgers started helping the cause.
Andy LaRoche grounded a ball into the hole between short and third that shortstop Rafael Furcal gloved, but threw wildly into right field. One run scored. The other two runners advanced. For the third straight time, the Dodgers then opted to intentionally walk Garrett Jones, preferring to face Milledge with the bases loaded.
"If I was a manager, I probably would have done the same thing," Milledge said. "They have nothing really to respect me on. Garrett has shown that he can do damage."
Milledge, hitless in his previous 21 at-bats against the Dodgers, went up preparing to be immediately aggressive.
"In the beginning, it was hit a homer," Milledge said of his approach. "He's got a powerful fastball and I just wanted to put the ball in play aggressively."
On the fifth pitch of an at-bat in which Milledge had already been knocked over by a fastball under his chin and swung through a 97-mph one, Milledge stayed tall and shortened up his swing on a two-strike pitch and lined the ball into the gap in right-center.
The tying runs would score easily, and when right fielder Andre Ethier bobbled the ball, so, too, did Jones all the way from first. The dugout emptied instantaneously as Milledge was mobbed at second.
"Special moment," Milledge said. "We had a lot of heart today and were able to pull out the win."
The walk-off win was the team's sixth this season and second this month.
"Exciting," manager John Russell said. "The burst of offense that we haven't been having for a while and it was against one of the top closers in the league. Guys had some good at-bats against a very good pitcher."
The Dodgers take on all of this?
"We felt we could touch it," manager Joe Torre said of the division title. "We were close enough. You still need 27 outs, and we didn't do it."
The Dodgers had a subdued celebration on Saturday when their win clinched a postseason berth, but the champagne was ready to come out en masse on Sunday. The Pirates' come-from-behind win and the Rockies' win in Colorado ensured it never would.
"You'd like not for it to happen," Russell said. "We've played these guys very tough at their place and here. I think it proves that we can play with people. We just have to avoid mistakes and start swinging the bat."
And finally, a Pirates team that had talked so incessantly about putting in the necessary preparation only to fall short in execution had the desired outcome to back in all up.
"Baseball is all about results," Moss said. "We can go out there and try our hardest, but when you lose, nobody cares. And rightly so. It's about producing. It's about getting the job done."
While lost in the crazy ending, starter Daniel McCutchen's outing shouldn't be entirely overlooked. He limited the Dodgers to only two runs in six-plus innings and left the mound in the seventh with the chance to pick up his first Major League win.
Becoming coach Joe Kerrigan's latest pitcher to switch to a more over-the-head delivery motion, McCutchen was more visibly aggressiveness early and didn't allow a home run for the first time in his now five big league starts.
"I learned from the last time I pitched against them," said McCutchen, who had allowed four runs in five innings at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 14. "We tweaked a few things with my delivery and it helped me to slow a few things down and go right at them."
This was also the first time the Pirates won a game that McCutchen had started. And now, after not having won a series in a month, the Pirates have a chance to do so on Monday against the league's best club.
"It was good for us to battle like that and pick up a win against a team like the Dodgers who are going to the postseason," McCutchen said. "That should be a confidence booster for us."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.