CHICAGO - Andrew McCutchen is destined to keep people guessing. A night after the Pirates center fielder served as the DH to keep him off his balky left knee most of the game, Alexei Ramirez definitely guessed wrong by thinking he could drop a line drive onto the left-center grass of U.S. Cellular Field in the early stages of the Bucs' 3-2 win over the White Sox, their eighth straight.
With two outs in the fourth inning of Thursday night's game, Ramirez ripped a liner into apparent no-man's land. Only it turned out to be McCutchen's land, as he flawlessly tracked the ball, dove headlong and snared it inches above the grass.
Statcast™ tracked McCutchen reaching a top speed of 19.38 mph on a route he ran at 99.16 percent efficiency, enabling him to cover the 64.5 feet he needed to keep Ramirez off base and keep right-hander Gerrit Cole in a 1-1 tie.
And Cole needed every one of those feet -- as well as several other sparkling plays -- on his way to his 11th victory, tops in the Majors.
"Cutch made a great catch," Cole said. "[First baseman Pedro] Alvarez laid out for a play, other big plays … there was a lot of contact tonight -- I didn't have a lot of strikeouts -- so we played good 'D'."
"We played very solid defense. Above-average defense," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "McCutchen lays out for the ball … we got a good team."
The tight defense that has abetted the sharp pitching and sufficient offense during an eight-win streak has been a timely response to Hurdle's alarmed reaction less than two weeks ago to the sloppy ball the team was playing.
"This has been a very challenging run for us. We're giving teams 28-30 outs a game, and that's not the way you want to continue to play," Hurdle had said following a four-error game on June 5.
Are the guys now responding to a stern message delivered to them at the time?
"Those things we keep in-house," Hurdle said. "But these guys respond to the game, and to the levels they think they should be playing at."
McCutchen went to great lengths -- and fast -- to prove that.