I started writing this post back in the third inning after Jordy Mercer clubbed the Pirates' third homer of the game and things were looking good. There have been a lot of ups and downs since then and it seems like the Pirates went from feeling pretty good about their prospects to playing a tight game to having a comfortable 8-4 lead in the eighth inning, to needing every one of those runs and a four out save from Mark Melancon to clinch the victory.
This really was a wild game; each team had three home runs, and the ball was flying all over the park all night. In addition to the home runs, the teams must have combined for about 6 or 7 fly balls to the warning track, including one by McCutchen to the deepest part of the park. The Pirates got things started in the second with absolute bombs on back to back pitches by Sean Rodriguez and Gregory Polanco:
Rodriguez's was measured at 458' and Polanco's at 461'. This exciting sequence for the Pirates was then followed with the leadoff hitter in the following inning, Jordy Mercer, hitting one that measured 466', which actually tops the Statcast leaderboard for the year:
So in two innings, three of the top 6 homers on the Statcast leaderboard for the whole season were hit by one team. There was some controversy in the announcing booth, mostly instigated by Bob Walk, over whether Mercer or Rodriguez hit the longer homer. Here are screen shots of both balls' landing places:
Rodriguez clearly hit the longer ball by a good margin. I'm not sure how Statcast calculates home run distances, but their metrics have been brought into question before, and this is obviously another case. But who cares! All of these home runs were crushed and it was nice to see the Pirates score without relying on several consecutive hits.
Things got weird from there, with the Pirates and Diamondbacks each tacking on runs to eventually bring the score to 5-4. Jon Niese didn't look as sharp as he was in his first couple starts this season, but based on the way the ball flew like it was a helium balloon, it appears that it would have been difficult for anyone to pitch well. Niese was smartly pulled in the sixth in favor of Neftali Feliz, who got the Pirates out of a jam with two runners on the bases.
Tony Watson and Mark Melancon both weirdly ran into trouble in this game. Watson pitching for two innings likely has nothing to do with it; he just gave up a few hard hit balls like every other pitcher in the game; I think this is nothing to worry about. Melancon did his job, despite walking a harrowing tightrope for most of the four outs he recorded.
Another notable from this game is that Jason Rogers made his Pirates debut, playing first base. He was pulled about halfway through the game as a part of a double switch. He wasn't able to catch a popup in foul ground behind first base, but he did draw a walk at the plate and generally seemed to have good patience while batting. Seeing him get some more playing time before Jung-Ho Kang comes back would be good, although there's going to be a weird position player crunch with Rogers/Freese/Rodriguez/Jaso/Kang (not to mention the impending callup of Josh Bell, who hit for the cycle today, including a grand slam) all vying for starting/roster spots. Sending Rogers down is probably the easiest thing to do, but he should get a few looks in the meantime when lefties are pitching.
You'd like to see better pitching from the Pirates, but sometimes, this is how you're going to have to win games, especially given the top-to-bottom strength of this lineup. Game 2 of this series is tomorrow at 8:10pm Eastern (5:10pm Pacific). Juan Nicasio looks to build off his quality start last time out and keep this modest win streak going.