Pirates hold off Orioles
PITTSBURGH – Tony Sanchez knows he’s heading back to Triple-A soon enough.
The Pittsburgh Pirates backup catcher will be going to Indianapolis when Russell Martin’s strained left hamstring is healed.
It’s a reality Sanchez can deal with so long as he makes a contribution while given the chance.
At the moment, that’s hardly a problem.
Sanchez tiebreaking single off Baltimore’s Ryan Webb in the bottom of the seventh scored Starling Marte to give the Pirates the lead for good in a 9-8 win on Wednesday night.
Coming off an embarrassing 9-2 loss on Tuesday and desperately in need of something positive, Sanchez helped Pittsburgh earn a split of the brief two-game interleague set.
“It’s almost a must win,” Sanchez said. “We didn’t have a really good road trip. To start off this homestand and go 0-2 it wouldn’t have been pretty. That’s huge for me.”
Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 4 with an RBI and his first two extra-base hits in more than two weeks for Pittsburgh, which won for only the third time in its past nine games. Marte and Ike Davis had three hits and two RBIs apiece for the Pirates.
Bryan Morris (4-0) earned the victory after allowing the Orioles to tie the game in the top of the seventh.
Mark Melancon worked a perfect ninth for his seventh save, one that capped a weird night in which the teams combined for 14 runs in the first two innings while starters Wandy Rodriguez and Chris Tillman took turns getting hit hard.
It ended in more orderly fashion after Marte led off the seventh with a bunt single, moved to third on a single by Davis and scored when Sanchez laced a Webb offering into right field.
“It’s a game-winning hit, he’s got a few of them,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Sanchez. “He’s got extreme confidence.”
Nelson Cruz hit his 14th homer of the season and drove in three runs for the Orioles. Nick Markakis, Chris Davis and JJ Hardy had two hits and one RBI apiece but Baltimore left 10 men on base.
“You had two early exits from starters and it became a game out of the bullpen and they pushed one across there late,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “But our guys, we had a couple opportunities to score some more, but I can’t fault the offense.”
Pittsburgh began the night eight games under .500 in part because of a struggling starting staff that has hardly looked like the group that led the team to the postseason last fall.
Things didn’t get much better, but the bullpen briefly recaptured its touch.
Vin Mazzaro’s worked 3 1-3 innings of hitless relief to steady things after Rodriguez made a mess of things during 1 2-3 poor innings.
The veteran left-hander has struggled with his command and his conviction all season and did little to convince Hurdle he was ready to turn the corner despite being spotted a 4-0 first-inning lead thanks in part to a two-run triple by Marte.
The 35-year-old Rodriguez, in the final year of his contract, promptly gave the big lead away as Cruz led off the second a blistering solo home run and added a two-run double later in the inning to put the Orioles in front.
Rodriguez’s throwing error on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Tillman meant he was only charged with one earned run for his 1 2-3 innings of work, dropping his ERA from 6.84 to 6.75.
Hurdle said it was too early to discuss whether Rodriguez would make his next start, though Rodriguez insists he’s healthy after missing time early this season with a left knee injury.
Tillman couldn’t take advantage of the reprieve. Coming off a shutout win over Kansas City in his previous start, Tillman only managed to get three outs.
He failed to retire a batter in the second as the first six Pittsburgh batters reached base. Brad Brach came on in relief to get out of the inning, but not until after the Orioles trailed 8-6.
NOTES: Pirates closer Jason Grilli could return as early as Saturday. Grilli has been on the disabled list since sustaining a left oblique strain on April 20. He threw 20 pitches in a simulated game on Tuesday without incident … The Orioles sent LHP Wei-Yin Chen back to Baltimore ahead of the team on Wednesday as a precaution due to concerns over weather in Pittsburgh. Chen (5-2, 3.69 ERA) is scheduled to start on Thursday against Cleveland. … The Pirates begin a four-game series with Washington on Thursday. Edinson Volquez (1-4, 4.71) starts for the Pirates against Washington’s Blake Treinen (0-1, 0.77).