Watson works escape magic in key 8th inning

Watson works escape magic in key 8th inning

PITTSBURGH -- A clean, scoreless inning with a strikeout or two would have been more typical for Pirates setup man Tony Watson. The eighth inning of Pittsburgh's 4-3 win on Saturday was anything but clean, but it was remarkable in its own way.

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Watson entered the game with a two-run lead. The first four Phillies hitters he faced reach base safely, cutting the Bucs' lead in half. The fourth, Ryan Howard, walked to load the bases.

Bases loaded, no outs, and the dependable Watson was tasked with getting out of it without surrendering the game-tying run. Somehow, he did exactly that.

"It was an ugly inning, definitely. Things got a little crazy there," Watson said. "I just tried to stay composed, make my pitches and get us out of there."

Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco was the next man up. Catcher Chris Stewart knew the rookie would be "geeked up," probably looking for a fastball. So he called for a first-pitch changeup, and Franco complied, rolling it toward third base.

Josh Harrison charged in, picked up the ball and fired it to Stewart for the forceout. One down.

Next up was left fielder Cody Asche, who saw two-seam fastballs down in the zone. He tapped the second one just in front of the plate. Stewart instinctively took a step toward the ball, only to remind himself that he had to get back for the forceout at home.

So Watson lunged forward, barehanded the ball and scooped it safely to Stewart. Two down.

"It's do or die," Watson said. "Stew played it smart and stayed at home and got the out."

Up came shortstop Freddy Galvis, who got ahead in the count, 3-1. Watson had to throw a pitch in the zone and hope Galvis hit it at someone, and he did just that, rolling a ground ball to second baseman Neil Walker, who connected with Sean Rodriguez at first for the inning-ending putout.

No sweat, right?

"It's tough, but you've got to make your pitches. You want to be the guy out there," Watson said. "You don't want to have somebody else come in from the bullpen with your guys on and put them in a tough spot."

Just like that, Watson was out of the mess he created, setting up closer Mark Melancon's 20th save in the ninth inning.

"To work out of it, I never take those things for granted. These guys, they go out there, they pour everything they've got into it," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It just shows that determination he's got to keep the heartbeat slow, make the next good pitch, not let the emotion get involved. It was just excellent."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.