Benches clear in Pittsburgh Pirates 3-0 win over Reds


3. 4. Final. 0. 61

Charlie Morton pitched seven strong innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday, striking out seven and walking none in the team’s 3-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds. But it was the exchange of hit batsmen and a bench-clearing confrontation that took the spotlight in the later innings of the game. Morton won his seventh game of the season and the Pirates will take a record of 61-43 into Monday night’s action.

Pittsburgh jumped out to a two-run lead in the third inning when Starling Marte doubled and brought in Sean Rodriguez and Gregory Polanco. Neil Walker added to the lead the next inning, sending his tenth home run of the season into the seats in right field. That would be all of the runs that would be scored in the game, but tempers in the eighth and ninth innings added some unnecessary fireworks.

Pedro Villarreal worked the sixth and seventh innings for the Reds, keeping the Pirates from adding to their lead. In the eighth inning, with two outs and first base open, Villareal hit Andrew McCutchen up on the left shoulder. Although not known for sure, it seemed fairly evident that this was done in retaliation for Marlon Byrd being hit the previous night in almost the exact same place.

Tony Watson came in for his usual eighth inning work when the Pirates have a lead. He retired the first batter, but then hit Brandon Phillips. And this is when things got ugly. Immediately both benches emptied onto the field and reinforcements from the bullpen arrived a few moments later. Byrd was particularly aggressive during the brewhaha, looking for Joe Blanton who hit him the day before. Sean Rodriguez and Joey Votto were yelling at each other and Rodriguez had to be restrained with a bear hug from Clint Hurdle. Rodriguez, Byrd, and Votto, who was not even in the game and could have been used as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning, were all sent to the clubhouse early.

Mark Melancon took the mound in the ninth, looking to add to his league-leading total of saves. After Jay Bruce doubled, he was able to get pinch hitter Billy Hamilton out. He then plunked Tucker Barnhart and was immediately tossed from the game. Home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn decided to make Hurdle’s afternoon short as well, sending him off the field with his closer. Joakim Soria was able to get the last two outs and record his first save as a Pirate. Incidentally, because of the ejection, Melancon earned his first hold of the season.

What Stood Out

Morton’s strong outing was great to see, especially now that A.J. Burnett could potentially not pitch again this season. The seven strikeouts represent a season high for him and he only threw 93 pitches in the contest. With more information expected on the severity of Burnett’s injury in the next day or so, it will be imperative to have more starts like this, not just from Morton but from the entire back end of the rotation.

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There is one other thing that stuck out in yesterday’s game. Oh right, the bench-clearing incident in the eighth inning. This whole situation could have been avoided by the Reds retaliating on Saturday when Byrd was hit. But instead they waited until an opportune moment presented itself and hit the best player on the Pirates. This is not the same, beaten down team of a decade ago. This is a strong, confident team that will protect their own, and the Reds saw that when Phillips got hit.

Watson’s plunking of Phillips may or may have not been intentional, but for Melancon to get tossed in the ninth was out of line by the umpire. There was certainly no intent on Melancon’s part; why would he want to hit a batter to bring the tying run to the plate with only one out? He wouldn’t because that’s bad baseball and puts the ultimate goal, to win the game, in jeopardy. Mark your calendars for September 7-9 when these teams meet again, as there may be more drama between the two clubs.

What’s Next

The Pirates will start a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs on Monday at 7:00PM. Lefties Jon Lester and Francisco Liriano will take the mound for their respective clubs. Lester is 3-3 in his last six outings and some of this is due to little to no run support. He did strike out 14 Colorado hitters his last time out, so his overall record of 6-8 does not reflect his true talent. Liriano on the other hand has won his last six starts in a row, most recently in Minnesota.

Next: Will Jordy Mercer ever be the starting shortstop in Pittsburgh again?