By John Perrotto
Ray Searage walked up the steps leading from the Pirates’ dugout to the tunnel way that leads to their clubhouse just as Monday night was about to turn into Tuesday morning, spotted a friendly face and smiled.
“I’m going to go home and have a cocktail after this one,” the Pirates pitching coach said with an exhausted smile.
The Pirates posted their seventh shutout of the season as they downed the Cincinnati Reds 2-0 at PNC Park in a game twice-delayed by rain. The win also vaulted the Pirates into sole possession of first place in the National League Central as the Milwaukee Brewers were blanked 3-0 by the Diamondbacks at Arizona.
However, the Pirates had to piece this shutout together.
Starter Charlie Morton made it through five innings despite sitting through a 55-minute rain delay at the start, a one-hour, 23-minute weather stoppage in the top of the first inning and a 34-pitch opening frame.
Rookie left-hander Tony Watson, often brought on just to face left-handers, followed with a season-high 2 2/3 innings after for five innings on Sunday in an 11-inning victory over the Astros at Houston. Daniel McCutchen retired the only batter he faced, getting Miguel Cairo to foul out with two on and two out to end the eighth. Joel Hanrahan then pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 27th save after blowing his first opportunity of the season on Sunday.
In many ways, the shutout was symbolic of the Pirates’ unlikely season to this point. They have gone from losing 105 games last season to leading the division in late July because of the stardom of few but the contributions of many.
“You just want everybody to throw something into the bucket and then see what you have at the end of the day,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
What Morton threw into the bucket was particularly impressive because it looked like his night was going to be a disaster and over before the end of the first inning either because of bad pitching or bad timing.
The Reds had the bases loaded with two outs and a 1-2 count on Miguel Cairo when umpires halted play after a large bolt of lightning struck just beyond the outfield fence. Morton had hit a batter, walked another and given up a line single in the inning. However, he got Cairo to ground into a fielder’s choice with shortstop Chase d’Arnaud going behind the second base bag and flipping the ball with his glove to second baseman Neil Walker for the third out.
Morton had only one 1-2-3 inning but was able to get the Pirates through the fifth inning despite the high early pitch count. Though Morton stayed loose by playing catch in the indoor batting cages, Hurdle said he was a few minutes from taking him out of the game.
“An hour and a half is about my limit for letting a pitcher sit,” Hurdle said. “We were getting close.”
While most pitchers hate rain delays, Morton relished this one because it gave him a chance to refocus.
“It was great because I was able to sit at my locker and think about the things I was doing wrong and what I needed to do to correct them,” Morton said. “I don’t think I would have made it through the fifth inning if the game had kept going.”
Watson then got the Pirates into the eighth inning with his long reliever impersonation, getting the game to McCutchen, who the Pirates should really consider replacing using to replace Jose Veras as the eighth-inning reliever, and then Hanrahan.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to take the ball and go as long as you can,” Watson said. “That’s the situation we were in. I pitched as many as three innings this year (at Indianapolis) so I knew I could go multiple innings. I tried to go as long as I possibly could. That’s fine, though. It’s all part of being on a team. You do whatever you can to help out.”
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