Both my teams are surging into the All-Star break, but you can't beat the Pittsburgh Pirates for a dramatic and ecstatic weekend. On Saturday night, they played the St. Louis Cardinals to a tie in regulation nine, then St. Louis scored a run in the top of the 14th. But in the bottom of the 14th, Neil Walker singled and Andrew McCutchen hit a towering homerun to center that hit into the topiary bushes that spell out PIRATES. Game over.
Can't top that huh? Think again. In the ESPN nationally broadcast Sunday night game, the Cards and Bucs again went back and forth until they were tied at 3 apiece in regulation. In the top of the 10th the Cards scored not one but two runs. (They tried to score three but got thrown out at the plate.) They led 5-3.
Then against the All-Star closer Trevor Rosenthal, the Pirates kept hitting in the bottom of the 14th, with RBIs by Marte, their surprise star catcher Cervelli and their new star outfielder Gregory Polanco, who (with two outs and bases loaded) stroked a single to right to bring in the winning run and end the game, 6-5. The Pirates go into the break an amazing 18 games above .500 and now only 2.5 games behind St. Louis in the division. Good enough for the second best record in the league.
Meanwhile, the SF Giants swept their three game series with the visiting Phillies, with 15 hits on Saturday and a more subdued 4-1 victory Sunday on Andrew Susac's three-run homer in the fourth. Like the Pirates, they got great starting pitching in this last series--on Sunday it was Chris Heston for his 9th win, matching records with Madison Bumgarner as tops on the team.
The Giants go into the break with good momentum and more players getting healthy, but only 3 games above .500 and 4.5 back of Los Angeles in their division. But at the moment they wouldn't qualify for either Wild Card spot, behind the Cubs and the Mets.
Both teams have great starting pitching, a dominant closer (though more so the Bucs), big stars (Cutch, Posey) and big young surprises--Cervelli and to some extent Polanco for the Bucs, Duffy, Heston and to some extent Susak for the Giants. The Pirates are finally living up to their potential, and though the Giants play exciting and exception ball (3 double plays Sunday) they have yet to prove they are better than a .500 team.
When the Giants managed only one of three against the Mets last week it looked bad, but the Mets have been surging too, and are now only 2 back of the Nationals in their eastern division. The Pirates and Cards have split their 10 games with each other right down the middle, with half of those games going to extras, and the home team winning each of those.
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