Bucs walk off on Jones' RBI single
Pirates rally for two in the ninth to beat the Reds
PITTSBURGH -- Somehow, someway the Pirates continue to find ways to pull out the close ones. Less than 24 hours after opening the series with a walk-off win, the Pirates did it yet again on Saturday. And this time, it wasn't in spite of the club's own bullpen, but in reward of it.
Garrett Jones' two-out, two-strike, 390-foot single sent the celebration spilling onto the PNC Park field, as 25,196 fans on hand for Fireworks Night were treated to a 5-4 win over the Reds.
The victory is already the third final at-bat win by the Pirates this season, despite being outscored 72-48 on the year. In all, four of their six triumphs have come by a one-run margin. Knowing that they've pulled out every close game the team has played this season apparently had everyone believing that Saturday was going to be no different.
"It was only one run to tie it up," Jones said. "We were very confident going into that last inning."
The task wasn't easy, though to the Pirates' own bullpen, it was manageable. After watching the 'pen combine to retire 13 Cincinnati hitters in a row after the Reds took a 4-3 lead in the fifth, it was the offense's job to get to Reds closer Francisco Cordero.
Sure, no closer is perfect, as the Pirates' own Octavio Dotel found out one night earlier. But with four saves in as many opportunities for Cordero this season, the assignment was certainly unenviable.
Immediately, though, the offense found some life. Ryan Church's one-out, pinch-hit single started the sequence of events. Consecutive walks to Ronny Cedeno and Aki Iwamura -- the latter with the count full -- followed.
For a minute, it looked like Andrew McCutchen would take the title of hero for the evening, but his line-drive hit to left went straight at Chris Dickerson for the second out of the inning. That left the job to Lastings Milledge, who was just five at-bats removed from a game-winning hit on Friday.
Milledge worked the count full, before laying off Cordero's low slider to push in a run with a bases-loaded walk.
"I told myself, 'He's got to come to me. He's in trouble. I'm not in trouble,'" Milledge said. "I was looking for a ball right down the middle. If it wasn't right down the middle, I wasn't going to swing. Anything else, I can adjust to or react to. He didn't give it to me and I walked.
"Cordero is one of the better closers in the game," he added. "I don't usually give myself credit, but I have to give myself a lot of credit for being disciplined and sticking with my plan. I couldn't have asked for a better at-bat."
It was Cordero's third walk of the inning, a notable figure considering he came in not having issued a free pass in five previous innings this season.
"You're not going to do your job walking guys in the late innings," Cordero said. "They're going to score. You have to be better than that."
Though Jones didn't add to the walk total, his at-bat wasn't any less impressive than Milledge's. Jones immediately fell behind, 0-2, before laying off three straight pitches outside the zone.
"I felt like he was going to try and get me to chase, so I wanted to be patient and relax and really make sure I see the ball deep," Jones said. "He tried to throw a couple of splitters and a few sliders in the dirt, and I started seeing them a little bit better."
Jones fouled off a fastball to stay alive and then figured he'd have another one coming. He did, and it was up. Jones drove it to deep right-center to score Cedeno, who had already homered on the night.
"Once I got to 3-2, I know he had to throw something over the plate or walk in the winning run," said Jones, who now has three walk-off hits in his short Pirates career. "I'll take the walk or the hit. Either way, the run scores."
The back-to-back walk-off wins were the first for the Pirates since May 24-25, 2008, and ensured Pittsburgh a second home series win to begin the season. You have to go back to 1992 to find the last time Pittsburgh matched that feat.
"We got to a very good closer," manager John Russell said. "Guys really battled. These guys have really pushed together."
The offense, which before the ninth was held off the scoreboard for six straight innings, rewarded the bullpen with its final-inning heroics. After another mediocre performance from the team's starter, the bullpen was called on to take over a tie game in the fifth.
D.J. Carrasco gave up the lead in his first of two innings of work. But Evan Meek was lights out the next two innings, and Jack Taschner did his job in the ninth.
"You really learn to lean on each other," Taschner said of the bullpen's heavy workload. "I think that's the advantage of having an older bullpen with guys who have been around and have experience."
It was Daniel McCutchen who put the bullpen in the undesirable position of eating up five innings after he labored through a 75-pitch outing. The right-hander was able to limit the damage to just three runs, but his hesitancy to rely enough on his fastball had Cincinnati on the cusp of breaking the game open all night. Fortunately for him, they never did.
"Ideally, I don't want to leave them five innings to work with, but they shut them down," McCutchen said. "You have to like the way guys came out and battled. I definitely have some stuff to work on, but from the team's point of view, it's definitely a big win."
The Pirates have a chance to complete their first sweep of the season on Sunday.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.