Going into the All-Star break, the Pittsburgh Pirates were one game out of first in the NL Central and looked like they had found a good rhythm. They were winning more they were losing, kind of a key ingredient for contention, and they were looking good doing it. They were clicking so well that the many fans and sportscasters didn't want to see the break happen because of fear that the Pirates would lose that mojo when play resumed.
3 out 4 wins later and everyone can breath a sigh of relief.
The Pirates continued their great first half play right out of the gate, taking 2 out of 3 from the Houston Astros and the first game of the series with the reds on Monday night to claim sole possession of first place in the NL Central. Granted it's only mid-July but when you consider that this team hasn't had a winning record since 1992 and that it took until mid-September to reach the 50 win total they achieved with the victory over the Reds, then there is reason enough to be excited.
With only a half-game separating Pittsburgh from Milwaukee and St. Louis, the Pirates will need more pitching performances like the one Charlie Morton put up against the Reds yesterday if they want to keep the slim lead they hold. Morton allowed no runs and three hits over 5 innings after a 2 hour rain delay slowed things down. The bullpen took it from there and blanked the Reds for the remainder of the game to secure Pittsburgh the 2-0 win.
The rain delay proved timely as Morton was in a two out, bases loaded jam early in the first inning. He would return after the break to get the out and cruise through the next four innings.
"I could kind of reflect on what I was doing out on the mound and kick myself a little bit to get it going," Morton said after improving to 8-5.
Morton and the Pirates relievers gutsy effort overshadowed a good start from the Reds Dontrelle Willis. Willis, who was pitching in just his second start since being called up from Triple A, allowed two runs in 4 2/3 innings, striking out five and walking just one.
"I felt good mechanically, first time in a long time mechanically," said Willis, who threw 51 of his 69 pitches for strikes. "But Morton, he pitched a great game. It was one of those games where a base hit here could have decided it, and it was just one of those things where we were on the other side of the fence today."
Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS