Diary of a long-suffering Pirates fan: Game #14: Why don't we do it on the road?

Pirates undefeated when Bailey Falter pitches
Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies / Rich Schultz/GettyImages

Oh, thank goodness.  We can beat a good team on the road.  In yesterday’s post, I detailed how the Pirates were 9-25 against playoff teams on the road last year, and that if the Pirates hoped to be serious contenders this year, then they would have to perform better on the road against good teams.

So when the Phillies took the first game of the series, it looked like the series was shaping up to be more of the same.

But instead, the Pirates changed the script on Friday night and defeated the Phillies by the score of 5-2. In what is becoming a common theme this season for the Pirates, in their victories, it is their opponents who look like the Pirates of old, and it is the Pirates who look like a playoff team.

The Pirates were essentially gifted five runs in this contest.  Although the Phillies were assessed with only two errors in this game, they should have been assessed more.   In the innings in which the Pirates scored, said innings were extended due to errors, walks, freak plays and outs turned into hits. 

That the Pirates scored only five runs was in and of itself frustrating.  For the game, the Pirates were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.  And for the game, they stranded 10 runners on base.  Although the Pirates collected nine hits for the game, only one of them—a Henry Davis double—went for extra bases.

But thankfully Baily Falter and the Pirates bullpen made those runs stand up.  Falters pitched five innings and gave up only one run on four hits.  The bullpen covered the final four innings allowing only one run.

Some takeaways from this game:

David Bednar—he of the three blown saves in four games—pitched the ninth inning and retired the Phillies in order. Unlike his last outing, Bednar looked sharp and in command of his pitches.  In the three days since his last appearance, the sports media was unanimous in its shared opinion that Aroldis Chapman should be the closer and Bednar should be demoted to a lesser role until such times as he worked out the kinks. 

But Derek Shelton was having none of it.  In the press conferences after the game and pre-game conferences before the series, he indicated his intention of putting Bednar out there in a save situation.  The media had a field day ridiculing Shelton for what they believed was his blind loyalty to a shaky reliever.  But Shelton stuck by his closer. And Bednar rewarded him with a 1-2-3 ninth. 

Game plan preparation is important.  As a fan, we presume that teams are digesting data and consulting with their scouts to determine how to best pitch the next day’s opponents.  But while the fielding shifts that are employed are visible to the fans, the pitch selection is not always discernable.  Baily Falter pitched a masterful game in his last outing against the Orioles.  Statcast showed that  Falter had used his fastball 80 percent of the time against the Orioles and with great success.  So one would assume that the Phillies would be expecting fastballs from Falter. 

But instead, Falter gave them a steady diet of 79-82 mph breaking pitches that flummoxed them for Falter’s five innings of work.  What made the Pirates change their game plan with Falter?  Probably the night before, when they saw the Phillies' batters sitting back on Jared Jones' fastballs and doing damage.  And Falter’s strategic spot in the rotation following Jones is probably no accident.  Of course, the off-speed pitches only work if they are correctly executed.  So, Falter should be credited for executing his secondary pitches and making the coaching staff look good.

Bryan Reynolds impacted Friday’s game with his bat, his glove, and his speed.  A look at the box score shows an OK day at the plate for Reynolds.  He went 2-for-5 with an RBI.  But what it doesn’t show is that he made a sliding catch in left field early in the game for an out, and then made a diving catch in right field in the eighth inning with runners at first and second to rob Bryce Harper of an RBI single. 

The Phillies scored a run in that eighth inning and stranded three runners on base.  So the out recorded on that diving catch was crucial.  And finally in the top of the seventh, Reynolds beating out a double play attempt was instrumental in prolonging an inning that led to a run.  Reynolds was batting with runners on first and second with no one out when he hit a sharp one-hopper to the second baseman.  It looked like it would be an easy double play.  But somehow, Reynolds beat the throw.  The inning was thus prolonged, and the Pirates scored their third run on a passed ball.

The Pirates were gifted two runs on two separate bizarre plays in this game.  The first occurred in the fourth inning.  With two outs and runners on first and third, Connor Joe hit a bouncing ball in the hole at shortstop.  Trea Turner moved into the hole to field the ball.  But just before he got into position to field it, he slipped, and/or his cleats got caught in the turf, and Turner tumbled to the ground as the bouncing ball hopped over his fallen body and into left field for a run-scoring single.

The second bizarre play occurred in the seventh inning following the aforementioned Bryan Reynolds beating out the double play.  Ke’Bryan Hayes was the batter.  Runners were at second and third with one out. On a 2-2 pitch, Phillies pitcher Yunior Marte throws strike three past Hayes. 

But catcher Realmuto doesn’t catch it.  The pitch instead hits Realmuto on the right wrist and ricochets to the backstop, allowing Henry Davis to score from third base.  Clearly, Realmuto was mixed up on the pitch selection and wasn’t able to get his glove correctly in place.  Amazingly, Realmuto was able to stay in the game despite having been hit directly on the wrist by a 90+ mph pitch.  Hayes was confused and stood at the plate not realizing that the umpire had called strike three on him.  And it was only after Marte had collected his own errant pitch from the backstop (Realmuto was unable to as he was buckled on his knees in pain) that Hayes realized that he needed to run to first base.  But Marte was able to throw to first to get the completion of the strikeout.

I have written a couple of times already about some strange plays occurring in Pirates game.  The win against the Orioles, for instance, with the game ending throwing error, being one of them.  In years past, it would be the Pirates that would be victimized by plays such as these.  But this year, fortune seems to be smiling upon the Pirates.  And it is their opponents who have committed  these game crushing gaffes. 

Will this good fortune continue?  Will the Pirates be able to win another game on the road against a good team?  I can’t wait to find out.  In the meantime, enjoy another day of the Pirates in first place.