After three dormant, hitless innings -- and following a three-game road trip in which they scored just three runs -- the Pirates erupted for a seven-run fourth inning that would help them secure a 7-6 win over the Reds on Tuesday night at PNC Park.
Highlighted by home runs from Andrew McCutchen and Francisco Cervelli, the forceful frame was a season-high for runs in an inning for the Pirates, and a season-high for runs allowed in an inning by the Reds.
Ultimately, it was patience at the plate -- and, according to Pirates players, a change in the playing conditions -- that fueled Pittsburgh's biggest offensive inning since June 6, 2014.
"We just kept reminding ourselves that we didn't need to be in a hurry, and to have the best at-bat we could, one man at a time," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Reds starting pitcher Josh Smith, who made his Major League debut, did hold the Pirates hitless in the opening three frames, but by no means was he perfect. Before the Pirates registered a hit, he walked six batters, including three consecutive in the first inning to load the bases.
He avoided any immediate damage, but those walks had a lasting effect: they allowed Pittsburgh to get a feel for the newbie.
"There's a huge advantage to see a fastball, a breaking ball and changeup in an at-bat," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "You've seen everything, and he gets into some bad counts and they take advantage of some mistakes."
Not only did the Pirates feel more comfortable at the plate having seen Smith throw, but they also racked up the runs because they could see the ball better. Cervelli said shadows were hard to deal with in the early innings.
McCutchen echoed his teammate.
"I'm not the type of person to have excuses, but when there's no clouds and there's sun and shadow, it's a little difficult. Especially with a guy you've never seen before," McCutchen said. "But we said, 'Hey, once that sun goes away and that shadow goes away, we're going to pick it up.' And that's exactly what we did."
The Pirates were patient. None of their hits in that frame came on the first pitch. They picked out the pitches they wanted, and made solid contact.
Cervelli plated Harrison and Alvarez on his line-drive homer. Then Gregory Polanco tripled, Starling Marte scored him and reached base on a fielding error, and McCutchen drove his fellow outfielder home with a two-run homer.
"We take good at-bats. We go deep in the count," Cervelli said. "When you see the team is doing that early in the game, it's going to be a good game."
It may not have been a good start to the game, but it certainly was a good fourth inning for Cervelli and his teammates.
John McGonigal is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.