Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pirates in baseball purgatory, and bullpen is to blame

By Chris Mueller
June 27, 2017
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Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tony Watson (44) reacts after giving up a home run in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles June 7th at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. (Photo By: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

There is no better way to describe the current situation of the Pittsburgh Pirates than to say that they are squarely in baseball purgatory. And it must be hell for their fans.
How else could one frame it, after a recent 10-game run against division opponents that saw the Bucs go -- you guessed it -- 5-5? No, purgatory is where the Pirates are, and, judging by their flaws, exactly where they belong.
You can blame the bullpen for this latest stretch of enraging mediocrity.
Consider their series against the Chicago Cubs. A 4-3 lead entering the ninth inning of the opening tilt of a three-game set turned into a 9-5 defeat after Juan Nicasio played the role of Elmer Fudd to Chicago’s Bugs Bunny, needing a whopping six pitches to both surrender the lead and load the bases with no outs.
The Pirates took just one of three from Chicago, a team they are still trying to overtake for second place.
Consider their four-game set against the surprising, division-leading Milwaukee Brewers. In Miller Park, traditionally a Pirates house of horrors, the Bucs took the first two games of the series and were poised, with Ivan Nova pitching the series finale, to take at least three of four, which could have made a huge dent in Milwaukee’s lead.
Instead, the bullpen wasted a strong start from Trevor Williams, with Daniel Hudson giving up a game-winning two-run home run in the seventh inning. The Pirates lost the third game 4-3. Then Nova went out and threw too many decent strikes to a Brewers team fond of swinging at just about everything. The Pirates lost, backsliding into a disappointing split.
They took two of three from the St. Louis Cardinals, but that, too, could have been a sweep. But Chad Kuhl again failed to get through six innings of work, and the bullpen let another lead slip away. Notice a theme here?
For all the hardships the Pirates have endured this year, from Andrew McCutchen’s horrible start to the season, to Gregory Polanco’s horrible, well, entire season, to Jung Ho Kang’s persona non grata status, to Starling Marte’s suspension, no element of the team has failed as consistently or as spectacularly as the bullpen. Were it not for Felipe Rivero’s overwhelming dominance, the bullpen would be recognized as arguably the worst in the game.
Put it this way: Things are so bad that Jason Grilli is being bandied about as an arm worth checking out. Grilli, in case you’re wondering, has surrendered 17 runs in 20.2 innings with Toronto, has allowed a staggering nine home runs, and — while he's still in possession of his velocity — looks to be a guy not fooling many people any more.
The bullpen stinks, and what makes that even tougher to take is the fact that the rest of the NL Central does, too. If the Pirates’ relief corps was even good, not great — just good, they likely would be at the top of the division. Their competition is that bad. They would have a clear path going forward, would likely be buyers at the trade deadline, and would be thinking about making a push to finally guarantee themselves a playoff series without having to survive a wild-card game.
Instead, they are where they are. Because the division is so bad, they can’t even be sellers, despite starting Tuesday six games under .500. They can’t go full rebuild, and they can’t go for broke. They can just continue to muddle along, hoping that 5-5 stretches like the one they just ended turn to 7-3s, and fast.
I wouldn’t count on that happening. Not unless something drastic happens with their relievers. Maybe that means Kuhl and his power arm moving to the bullpen and thriving, or one of the guys they’re paying a decent sum starting to pitch like they’re worth it.
As things stand now, the Pirates will continue to be what they have been, a flawed team in a flawed division. Not good enough to get behind and not bad enough to write off. A team in baseball purgatory.
Sounds positively hellish, to me.
Chris Mueller is the co-host of 'The Starkey & Mueller Show" from 2-6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 The Fan.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Former Penguin Mark Recchi elected to Hockey Hall of Fame

By Jonathan Bombulie
June 26, 2017
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When reflecting on the dominance of the Penguins' Stanley Cup teams of the early 1990s, hockey fans often marvel at the number of Hall of Fame players on the roster.
On Monday, they could add another name to the list.
That's when former Penguins winger Mark Recchi was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in his fourth year of eligibility.
When he's inducted in November, he will join Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, Joe Mullen and Bryan Trottier in enshrinement in Toronto.
“It's absolutely incredible and humbling,” Recchi said. “They're all great friends. To be in there with them and to play with them and now to join them in this, I never expected this when I started playing in the NHL. To get this call today ... it was incredible. It's an unbelievable honor.”
Recchi was well-traveled as a player, suiting up for seven teams during a 22-year career. A fourth-round draft pick of the Penguins in 1988, he kept coming back to Pittsburgh no matter where his hockey road traveled.
Recchi played parts of seven seasons with the Penguins in three stints with the team. He ranks in the top 20 in team history in goals (154) and points (385).
He won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 1991 before being traded to Philadelphia in '92. He also won championships with Carolina in 2006 and Boston in his final season in '11.
He is the Penguins director of player development and excused himself from a meeting at the team's practice facility in Cranberry on Monday afternoon when he received the call from the Hall of Fame.
“Pittsburgh became my home,” Recchi said. “I pretty much stayed here through all the times, wherever I was. It was just a seamless transition to go back. I didn't foresee seven teams I played for and bouncing back and forth in between with Pittsburgh, but I think Pittsburgh is a great place to live and a great city to be in and a great place to raise my kids.
“I grew up in a small town, and Pittsburgh has a great small-town feel, even though it's a couple million people. It just has that nice feel.”
Recchi's case for enshrinement is built largely around sustained excellence for a long period of time. He had 15 20-goal seasons and earned seven All-Star bids. He ranks fifth in games played (1,652), 12th in points (1,533) and 20th in goals (577) in the history of the league.
“It was just an honor to play 22 years,” Recchi said. “To stay healthy through that, it was never easy. Taking care of myself on and off the ice was a huge part of it, being prepared to play every day and being mentally prepared obviously helped me. I loved playing the game, and I loved getting out there. Whatever I could do to play, I did.”
Recchi probably had to wait four years for induction because his career lacked an eye-popping stretch of dominance. He never finished higher than sixth in MVP balloting.
“It's something where it has to play out its course, and if I got in, wonderful,” Recchi said. “I did what I could on the ice. If it was good enough, it was good enough. I had a wonderful career. I had wonderful teammates. This is the ultimate to finish it off. You can only do so much. You've got to let your numbers and your play dictate where it gets you.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.comor via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Thank You, Pittsburgh

By Marc-Andre Fleury
June 26, 2017

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Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes photos with fans during the Pittsburgh Penguins Victory Parade (Getty Images)

It started in Nashville, 14 years ago.

Kind of ironic right now.

The 2003 Draft was at the Bridgestone Arena. As a young 18-year-old from Quebec, all I was hoping for was to hear my name. Pittsburgh had the third pick overall, but at the last minute, they made a trade with Florida to pick first. I had heard rumors that I might get picked by one of the first few teams, but didn’t believe it until I heard Craig Patrick call my name.

Pittsburgh. I would have been happy anywhere, but I got drafted by Pittsburgh. What a blessing. I would, maybe, get to play with Mario Lemieux. I would, hopefully, get to play for the team that had won back-to-back Stanley Cups in ’91-92. I would have a shot at playing in the NHL.

The next 14 years were beyond my wildest dreams.

Saying that the last few weeks have been bittersweet would be an understatement. As we reached the Stanley Cup finals, I knew very well that my time as a Penguin was nearing its end. I love to play. I love the game, and everything about it. Putting the mask on, diving around, stopping the puck, feeling the intensity of the game, feeling useful. I wish I could have been in net for my last game as a Penguin. But we raised the Cup, again, and it made all the sacrifices worthy. I felt proud — proud of my teammates for battling through injuries, for showing a lot of character, and for winning two years in a row. I am grateful that I had the chance to contribute to our success through the first rounds. And I feel very fortunate that the last time I have skated with a Penguins jersey, it will have been with the Stanley Cup in my hands. Not that it wasn’t an emotional moment.

Fourteen years. Nearly half of my life. I remember my first training camp, in September 2003, like it was yesterday. I was so nervous. There are so many expectations on a first-round pick, and I didn’t want to let anybody down. I just tried to do my best, and wanted to leave a good impression. But when you face Mario Lemieux in training camp, it can be quite intimidating, to say the least.

Everyone knows him as Le Magnifique, a hockey legend. I always loved watching him growing up. I remember the first time I stopped Mario in practice. It was a simple warmup shot. But you better believe that I kept that puck — and still have it at home. Mario is a great role model for me — his loyalty to the team, his contributions to the community, how he handles himself and how he and Nathalie raised four great, humble kids. I’ll always be thankful for their support throughout the years.

My first home game was against the Kings at the Igloo on Oct. 10, 2003. My dream was becoming a reality. Maybe the excitement was a little high. So high, that, well … I forgot something. As everybody was getting ready to head out of the locker room, I made my way towards the ice, fist bumped a few guys (including Marc Bergevin and Mario) and then I realized that I had forgotten my stick. It was a pretty funny walk of shame past all my teammates to go grab my stick.  As I was walking back, Mario cracked a little smile and said “You’re going to need that tonight, kid.”\

I guess he was right. First shot of the game, first shot I faced in the NHL, and it goes in. That wasn’t part of my dream. But then, thankfully, it got better. I stopped Ziggy Palffy — a guy I watched growing up — on a breakaway. Then I stopped a penalty shot and finished the game with 46 saves on 48 shots. We lost that game, but that one will remain one of my best memories in Pittsburgh.

Even that first night, the fans were chanting Fleu-ry, Fleu-ry. They were holding up signs that said Welcome Home. I honestly couldn’t believe it. The rush from that, to tell you the truth, I can’t even describe it. It is just unbelievable. And it never gets old, trust me. The fans in Pittsburgh have been tremendous with me since the very beginning.

For a hockey player to get to play nearly 14 years in one city is a blessing. It wasn’t all fun and games, though. It was obviously difficult losing so much in the first few seasons. But then we got Geno. And then Sid. And then Staal (to name just a few). We started winning, and the Igloo was booming. It was a success built from figuring things out together, as a group. The loss to Detroit in the 2008 finals was one of the toughest experiences of my career. Being so close to reaching that Cup and then having to watch the Wings celebrate their win … it was brutal, but we needed it. I believe that, in the end, that loss helped prepare us for what was to come.

Game 7 of the 2009 finals in Detroit is without a doubt one of my favorite moments as a Penguin. Seeing my good friend Max Talbot score two huge goals for us was incredible. 

And then, of course, making that save against Lidstrom in the last seconds was something I will never forget. I proudly sported a deep bruise on my ribs from that save for weeks following that game. I’ll always remember my teammates jumping on the ice, racing toward me with the biggest smiles. The feeling of winning the Stanley Cup that night is indescribable.Over the years, I probably don’t have to tell you, it’s been ups and downs. But one thing I will carry with me, long after I leave Pittsburgh — honestly, long after my playing career is over — is how amazing and strong the support was that I received from the fans.  

One of my best memories is from earlier this season, actually. We had just been on a road trip and it was our first game back home against Tampa Bay. I had been struggling a bit. I couldn’t buy a save, and I wasn’t feeling great about it. Everybody was getting ready for the anthem, and the crowd started chanting my name. It made no sense. I wasn’t playing well. The game hadn’t even started yet. But they were behind me anyway.

Fleu-ry, Fleu-ry.

Maybe they could sense that I was feeling a little down, and I needed it. We ended up winning the game, things turned around for me, and I ended up having a great season. That moment was the turning point, and it was because of our fans.

So thank you, fans. I wish I could put into words how much of an impact your support has made on me and my family. We have become Pittsburghers. My wife graduated from Robert Morris University, my daughters were born at Magee-Womens Hospital (sorry our commercial has been blasting on your TVs for more than a year), and our first house was in Moon. Pittsburgh and its people will forever be in our hearts.

Thank you to the Penguins ownership: to Mario and Ron, for their support and for striving to be the best organization by providing the team with the best people and the best facilities.  

Thank you to the organization: from the great GMs to the coaches who believed in me. Thank you to Gilles Meloche and Mike Bales, my goalie coaches, whom I’ve spent most of my career with, for always being there for me. Thank you to the medical, front office and equipment staff for all the good times and friendships.  

Thank you to my teammates. My friends. I am not good with the emotional stuff, and this is not easy. Over the years I have seen a lot of good people come and go. It is definitely one of the toughest parts of the business — making good friends and having to say goodbye. I have played with a lot of good dudes in Pittsburgh, and made so many good friends.  

Thanks, Sid, for all the years. We spent a lot of time together, always sat next to each other on the plane, behind one another on the bus, plus all the dinners before every game on the road. Thanks for helping me get through tough times and for being a good friend. It’s tough to say goodbye. I know we were both trying to avoid it. You’re the best. Next time we face each other, make sure you keep your head up. The poke check will be coming, like that one time in Rimouski.

Duper, Tanger, Geno, Kuni — it’s been an honor to go through all of this together. I couldn’t have picked better teammates and friends.  

And I guess I will stop there. Not because I have run out of people to thank or things to say — when it comes to my time as a Penguin, I think I could just go on forever.  

But thank you, everyone, for the support in the last week. All the calls, messages, pictures, the nice articles and videos. It has meant so much to me and my family as we are getting ready to begin a new chapter in our lives. It seems like just yesterday that I was a kid in this blue suit that my agent bought me for the draft, wearing this tie that I didn’t even know how to tie. (I later got fined a few times for coming to the games with it inappropriately tied.)  

And now here I am. I have a wife, two kids, and three Cups. I’m talking about my memories and saying my goodbyes. It might be an adjustment for my girls. They love waving the Terrible Towel and chanting, “Let’s Go Pens.”

Actually, when they see the Pens logo they say, “Go Papa Go!”

But I think we will tell them that moving somewhere new at a young age — yes it might be scary, but we just have to hang in there. We’re going to figure things out, and we’re going to find our way. And then we’ll blink, and suddenly that strange and new place … It won’t seem strange, or new, at all. It might even feel like home.

I still have a lot to wrap my mind around. I am honored that the Golden Knights picked me and I am looking forward to continuing to play the game I love. I don’t know how it will feel when I set foot in the PPG Paints Arena in February as the Vegas goaltender. Truthfully, right now I can’t even think about it. But what I do know is that I will be thrilled to see you all again.

Thanks, Pittsburgh. I will miss you.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Let’s talk about why the Penguins traded for Ryan Reaves

June 24, 2017

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From a big picture perspective the Pittsburgh Penguins acquisition of Ryan Reaves on Friday night isn’t really a major deal. Normally teams swapping fourth-liners and 20 draft spots wouldn’t be the type of move that would move the needle or send any sort of a ripple through the NHL.
This one is a little different.
This is the Pittsburgh Penguins — the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions — ever so slightly deviating from the path that made them the best team in hockey the past two seasons.
As general manager Jim Rutherford put it on Friday night after the trade, “We’re getting a little bit tired of getting beat up game after game.”
Rutherford was critical of the way superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were treated during the postseason and talked about how his team would pretty much have to add one or two players to take care of it since the league does not seem to protect its stars.
Commissioner Gary Bettman quickly dismissed that criticism upon hearing it.
On Friday, Rutherford added that guy and the discussion quickly turned toward the element Reaves brings and what it might mean for the Penguins.
Coach Mike Sullivan talked about how opponents played the Penguins “harder” this past season and that they expect it to continue again this upcoming season, and that Reaves can help with “a little pushback” and how teams “take notice” when he is in the lineup.
Reaves himself talked about what he can provide for the Penguins’ stars.
Here he is, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
“It’s more just making sure everybody on the ice knows I’m coming every night. You go run one of my guys, you’ve got 230 pounds coming right back at you. Sometimes that makes guys think twice. When you’re 190 pounds soaking wet and you’re going after somebody on my team, and you’ve got somebody that’s 230 coming after you, sometimes it’s a deterrent, sometimes it’s not. But I think that’s kind of how I’ve established myself over the last year.”
This isn’t the first time the Penguins have been inspired to go down this path due to the treatment of their superstars.
During the 2013-14 playoffs New York Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi and Marc Staalmade a habit out of using the back of Crosby’s head and neck for cross-checking target practice in front of the net.
The response from Pittsburgh was outrage that nobody responded and for the team to add some sort of muscle to help take care of that.
Then this happened the following summer.
That guarantee went unfulfilled.
Liberties were still taken against not only Crosby and Malkin, but also against the Penguins’ other superstar, defenseman Kris Letang. He was on the receiving end of two brutal hits that injured him during the year. One resulting in a lengthy suspension to Zac Rinaldo, andanother from Shane Doan that knocked Letang out of the lineup for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.
They also tried it with Tom Sestito when they brought him in on a pro tryout contract. He ended up playing 17 games in two years with the Penguins. He was ejected from two of them.
Here he is at the time of his initial tryout talking about what he wanted to provide.
“When you play other teams and they have somebody who not only can play but can run their other guys, you see them holding off,” Sestito said. “They’re not going to be running other guys. Their third- and fourth-line guys aren’t going to run your guys.”
The names change. The idea remains the same.
Deter. Make them hesitate. Make them think about it. Answer back.
Still, the abuse continues.
All of this is a little unfair to Reaves because to his credit he has worked hard to improve his game as a hockey player and to be a little more than just hired muscle. He has worked to adapt his style to the faster NHL and to improve his play defensively. There was evidence of that this past season when he set career highs in goals and points.
If the focus on this acquisition were on that, or on his ability to forecheck, this would simply be a trade involving a couple of fourth-liners and we wouldn’t be talking about it right now.
But we keep going back to the presence, and the element, and pushback, and protection, and deterrence, mainly because that’s what the Penguins seemed to be after with this trade. Or at least what they seem to be selling.
So will any of that work? Can Reaves actually provide that sort of protection?
There is no doubt he will be willing to respond after the fact, because even though his fight totals have decreased in recent years he is still a willing heavyweight.
The issue is whether or not he can stop even a little bit of the abuse toward his teammates by making opponents like Washington’s Tom Wilson or Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky (two of the biggest thorns in the Penguins’ side) take notice.
The easiest way to answer that now is to look at what sort of abuse the Blues — Reaves’ former team — took in recent years.
It was a lot.
Over the past four seasons the St. Louis Blues — Reaves’ former team — were on the receiving end of eight incidents that resulted in supplemental discipline from the NHL (suspension or fine), typically reserved for the dirtiest plays. The only team that was on the receiving end of more during that stretch was the Boston Bruins (10 –and keep in mind, this was a team that had Shawn Thornton and Milan Lucic for most of those years).
During one nine-day stretch in 2014 the Blues lost T.J. Oshie and David Backes to head shots. The two hits resulted in seven games in suspensions while Oshie and Backes both missed playoff games. Reaves was in the lineup both nights.
The next season Minnesota’s Marco Scandella was fined for an illegal hit to the head on Oshie. Last year New Jersey’s Bobby Farnham was hit with a four-game ban for taking a late, cheap run at Dmitri Jaskin while Reaves was on the ice. There are also several other borderline hits that did not result in supplemental discipline (like this, and this, and this).
This isn’t to suggest that Reaves is bad at his job or that he is somehow responsible for those plays.
It is to point out that dirty stuff is still going to happen to star players whether he — or any player like him — is there or not.
Players like Tom Wilson, and Brandon Dubinsky, and Bobby Farnham are paid a lot of money to rattle the cages of players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That is what they do. That is their role and they are going to do it whether there is a physical element in the other team’s lineup or not.
The only thing that can stop it is a significant crackdown from the league to hand out harsher punishments when it happens.
It is very possible that Reaves can be a useful fourth-liner for the Penguins. He will play physical, he will be aggressive on the forecheck, he might chip in a few goals. Is he better than whatever alternative options they could have had for that spot? Or what they had in that spot a year ago? That remains to be seen.
The cost to acquire him really isn’t that high. Oskar Sundqvist seems to have limited upside and the difference between the No. 31 and 51 picks is typically insignificant, especially in what is thought to be a weaker class.
But if the Penguins are hoping for Reaves’ presence to stop opposing players from taking liberties against their stars they are probably setting themselves up for disappointment.
All it might do is get them the occasional pound of flesh in return after the fact and whatever satisfaction that brings them.
Maybe that is all they are looking for. Maybe it is a message to the league itself.
Whatever the reason, it is something they did not need on their way to consecutive championships.

New Penguins winger Ryan Reaves relishes enforcer role

By Jonathan Bombulie
June 24, 2017

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Apr 30, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; St. Louis Blues right wing Ryan Reaves (75) calls for a whistle after a play on Nashville Predators defenseman Matt Irwin (52) during the second period in game three of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The last time imposing winger Ryan Reaves played at PPG Paints Arena, he scored a pretty second-period breakaway goal in January to help his St. Louis Blues beat the Penguins.
When he got home from the road trip, he shared a thought with his wife.
“I keep having good games against Pittsburgh,” Reaves recalled saying. “They're probably going to trade for me one day.”
“I was literally just joking, but here we are.”
Here we are, indeed. Reaves was traded to the Penguins on Friday night for prospect Oskar Sundqvist and a swap of draft picks.
Reaves said the news shook him emotionally. The 30-year-old from Winnipeg worked his way up through the ranks in the Blues system, starting in the ECHL in Alaska and spending four long years in the AHL in Peoria before establishing himself as an NHL player in 2010-11.
The blue note on his chest had become part of his identity.
“I call St. Louis home now,” he said Saturday. “It was a little shocking to be traded.”
Now, when the shock wears off, Reaves' identity will be formed by protecting some of the game's greatest stars.
General manager Jim Rutherford said the acquisition of Reaves was in large part a response to seeing players such as Sidney Crosby getting manhandled over the past two seasons.
The chiseled, tattooed, 6-foot-1 right wing figures he can help with that.
“I'm always playing physical. I play physical before anything else,” Reaves said. “I think that buys guys on my team a little extra room, maybe a little more security on the ice, knowing that if you go run one of our guys, I'm coming and I'm 230 pounds coming at you. Maybe think twice.”
In the early days of his NHL career, Reaves might have gone about playing his role by simply asking the toughest player on the other team to fight. That's how it was usually done back then. From 2010-14, he fought 38 times.
Lately, though, he has refined his approach. Over the past three seasons, he has recorded only 19 fighting majors.
“I think I do it more with my presence on the ice,” Reaves said. “I think everybody knows that when they come after guys on my team, that wakes me up instantly and it makes me go after their guys. I've changed my game to the point where I can catch those guys. I can catch guys who play big minutes or are the superstars in this league. I'm not just trying to run a guy who can't turn.
“I think I'm more of a presence than a guy who's just going to go beat up somebody if something happens, but that's also sometimes part of the game.”
As his time in the penalty box has decreased, so has his time in the 40-yard dash. Two summers ago, Reaves said he refocused his offseason training regimen on improving his footspeed. It was a necessity in the modern NHL.
“They were telling me I needed to get faster to keep up with the pace of the game and the pace of the NHL, so that's what I did,” Reaves said.
He posted career highs with seven goals, 13 points and almost nine minutes of even-strength ice time per game last season.
As such, he doesn't think he will be left behind when he joins a Penguins team that makes playing with pace a top priority.
“I know the East is a little more wide open,” Reaves said. “I know Pittsburgh plays with a lot of speed. Obviously I'm going to have to adapt a little bit more, so I'm going to be on it this offseason, trying to get a little faster.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.comor via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

Mercer, Harrison homer in Pittsburgh's win over St. Louis

The Associated Press
June 24, 2017
Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Saturday, June 24, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Saturday, June 24, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
ST. LOUIS -- When it comes to taking one for the team, the Pirates can count on Josh Harrison.
Harrison was hit by a pitch to drive in a run. He also homered and scored a run after hitting a double in a 7-3 Pittsburgh victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night.
Jordy Mercer also homered and starter Gerrit Cole pitched six innings for Pittsburgh.
After getting hit by a pitch in the sixth, Harrison has been hit by a pitch five times in his last six games. He leads all major league players with 16 hit by pitches this season.
Getting hit by a pitch is part of the job, Harrison said.
"There's only been a few this year that haven't hurt," said Harrison, who has reached base safely in his last 20 road games. "What I like to say `It would probably kill common man."
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle likes what Harrison does for the Pirates.
"He creates a wake, a positive wake out there," Hurdle said. "He's swinging the bat well. He's playing good defense. All the things combined, he's playing really good baseball. He's a fun player to watch."
Cole (6-6) extended his winning streak to three games, allowing five hits and one run with five strikeouts and two walks.
In Cole's four losing starts from May 22 through June 8, he surrendered 23 runs in 19 1/3 innings. Since then, he has reeled off three solid starts. Before Saturday, he allowed just three hits and one run in seven innings in each of his previous two starts.
"I just keep doing my job," Cole said. "You're going to make good pitches. You're going to make bad pitches. You're going to get hit and you're going to get away with some. There's always another pitch and another day."
Pittsburgh has won four of its last six games.
Slumping St. Louis has dropped eight of its last 11. The 33-40 start for the Cardinals is their worst since 2007.
Lance Lynn (5-5) struggled for the second consecutive start. He gave up seven runs and six hits, including three homers in 5 2/3 innings. In his previous start at Baltimore, Lynn gave up nine hits, seven runs and a season-high four home runs in 4 2/3 innings.
In his first season back after Tommy John surgery, Lynn has given up 20 home runs.
"I know if you look at it from the last two starts, that's two in a row that you'd like back," Lynn said. "But I got to make sure I end it at that. You're going to go through a rut or something like that and you don't want to do that in the season and right now I'm in that."
Before Saturday, Lynn had not allowed a run in his past 12 innings against the Pirates. He fired seven scoreless innings in a 2-1 win against Pittsburgh on April 17 at Busch Stadium.
"He made some mistakes and we got him," Hurdle said about Lynn. "Good for us. He's been tough on us here."
Pittsburgh scored in the first on a two-out RBI single by Josh Bell that scored Harrison.
St. Louis quickly tied it at 1-all on Matt Carpenter's first leadoff homer of the season. It was Carpenter's 13th leadoff home run of his career.
The homer marked a season-high 13 straight games in which the Cardinals have hit a home run.
The Pirates regained the lead at 3-1 on a two-run, two-out homer by Mercer.Andrew McCutchen singled before Mercer lined a fastball over the wall just inside the left field foul pole.
"He's steady Eddie," Hurdle said about Mercer. "He's raised his average 80 points and now he has seven homers and 28 RBI, which is impressive from where he was from a month ago."
A two-out solo homer by Harrison in the fifth put Pittsburgh up 4-1.
"I think today was the case of a couple of sliders that got up on him," manager Mike Matheny said. "I actually thought he was throwing the ball well. Just a couple of mistakes that really cost him."
The Pirates sent nine batters to the plate in the sixth and scored three runs on just one hit to chase Lynn. David Freese led off with a walk and went to third on a single by McCutchen before scoring on Mercer's groundout. After intentionally walking Chris Stewart, Lynn walked Cole.
Rookie John Brebbia relieved and promptly hit Adam Frazier and Harrison to give Pittsburgh a 7-1 lead.
The Cardinals added two runs in the ninth off reliever Wade LeBlanc.
With the victory, Pittsburgh improved to 10-2 in games played on Saturday this season.
Since the start of the 2013 season, Pittsburgh batters have been hit a major league-leading 374 times.
"I don't try to make anything more of than people maybe just trying to pitch inside," Hurdle said.
Pirates: RHP Josh Lindblom (left side discomfort) was activated Saturday from the DL. He remains at Triple-A Indianapolis where he had been rehabbing.
Cardinals: C Yadier Molina missed his second consecutive game. He took a foul tip off his knee on Thursday in Philadelphia.
Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (2-6, 5.46 ERA) has not pitched more than five innings since tossing six April 8 against St. Louis, losing a 2-1 decision. Kuhl won his last outing Tuesday, a 7-3 win over Milwaukee to snap a six-game losing streak.
Cardinals: RHP Mike Leake (5-6, 3.03 ERA) has 10 wins against the Pirates, the most he has against any opponent. Leake has not won since May 24 when he pitched eight innings against Los Angeles in a 6-1 win.