Bucs sprint out of gate against Brewers
Big nine-run first inning proves to be just enough in victory
PITTSBURGH -- The story has become a fixture in Pirates history.
It was June 8, 1989, and then-Pirates broadcaster Jim Rooker uttered those now infamous words after the Pirates scored 10 times in the top of the first. "If we lose this game," Rooker said from the Veterans Stadium booth, "I'll walk home."
Staying true to his word, Rooker would eventually make the trek from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh because, yes, the Pirates did lose that game after the Phillies scored 15 times.
The Pirates didn't blow a 10-run lead against the Brewers at PNC Park on Tuesday, but they sure came perilously close. An early laugher turned into a late nail-biter, though the Pirates were eventually able to celebrate an 11-9 victory by the time the 3-hour, 40-minute affair ended.
Be sure, too, that entwined in that celebration was plenty of relief.
"I'd say it was like running in a 100-meter dash and then running in a marathon pretty much," said Neil Walker, who finished with five hits.
When Walker drove in the Pirates' ninth run of the first, few could have anticipated that Pittsburgh's bullpen would become especially instrumental in securing the Pirates' third win in the last four days. Yet, by the end, Octavio Dotel was on the mound for his 20th save, notching it by striking out the potential tying run.
"I've seen a lot of things in baseball, a lot of things, but today, for some reason, I didn't think it was going to be a save situation," Dotel said. "I thought I was going to pitch just to pitch, but not for a save situation."
He surely wasn't alone in that prediction.
That's because for the first time in 117 years, the Pirates scored nine times in the first inning of a home game. Thirteen hitters came to the plate, and all but starter Brad Lincoln -- who laid down a sacrifice bunt -- reached base.
Walker and Delwyn Young each went 2-for-2 before Brewers starter Dave Bush recorded his third out of the game. Pedro Alvarez punctuated the club's largest inning output since 10 runs against the Rockies on May 17, 2009, with his first career grand slam.
"I was worried about putting a good piece on them and then in my head, blowing them out," said Alvarez, speaking both to the grand slam and the second-inning solo shot that gave him his first career multi-homer game. "I want to be that guy that when we need someone to step up, steps up."
The Pirates also got some aid from the Brewers, who committed three first-inning errors in a two-batter span. Only four of the nine runs scored in that frame were earned.
But what should have been the end of the game was only the beginning as Lincoln immediately unraveled. He plunked Prince Fielder to begin the Brewers' three-run second. Milwaukee tacked on another four in the third.
By the time Bucs manager John Russell pulled Lincoln with one out in the third, the Pirates' lead had already shrunk to three. And in quite the twist, Lincoln actually exited two innings before Bush.
"The game should never have gotten to the point that it did, and I take that all on my shoulders," said Lincoln, who sports a 6.29 ERA. "When you get a team down like that, hold them. Keep them down. I guess you could say I got comfortable out there, and that's not the way to go about things."
In addition to getting too comfortable, Lincoln never found good feel with his curveball, a critical pitch in the rookie right-hander's repertoire. The outing was not only the shortest of his career, but also his first not to last at least five.
"It snowballed on him," Russell said. "[It's] just a learning experience. We'll continue to build, continue to push forward with him."
Lincoln's premature exit meant that for the second time in four days, Russell had to dip into his bullpen before the end of third. And as it did on Saturday, the 'pen responded.
D.J. Carrasco was first, and he successfully stalled Milwaukee's furious rally in his 2 2/3 innings of relief. The Pirates were still ahead by three when Carrasco gave way to Brendan Donnelly in the sixth.
"As they started scoring runs, I knew that we have to win as many games as we can win," Carrasco said. "That's a hard situation because if you don't do well, the rest of the bullpen is going to have to wear it."
Donnelly, however, served up a two-run blast to Ryan Braun that brought Milwaukee to within one. By that point all nine of those first-inning runs had been erased.
"As we got closer and closer, I'm sure me and Bushy were the two people who wanted us to make it all the way back," said Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee, whose two first-inning errors led to all the unearned runs. "If I make one of those plays, who knows? He might have been in line for a victory."
The Pirates extended the lead with a critical insurance run in the sixth and then watched the bullpen tip-toe through the late innings to preserve it. Along the way, Russell was ejected for the third time this season after arguing first-base umpire D.J. Reyburn's foul-ball call.
"It just shows you that you have to play baseball for nine innings," Alvarez said. "It tested us in a way to make sure we stayed in the game and stayed aggressive. It just shows our resiliency as a team."
Alvarez and Walker highlighted the offense's 11-hit night, which also included a multi-hit game by Young. Until Walker's 5-for-5 night on Tuesday, no Pirates rookie had collected that many hits in a game since another Pittsburgh native, John Wehner, in 1991.
With his two blasts, Alvarez pushed his season home run total to five and became the first Pittsburgh player since Jeff King in 1995 to have two homers before the end of the second.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.