Pitching staffs for the one-shot play-in game are always reliever-rich, and the depth the Bucs once again demonstrated in Game No. 160 will be key against the Cubs.
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"They've been doing it all year," said manager Clint Hurdle, who noted the Pirates once again had to "pitch over" mistakes to win.
"And that bullpen has been fantastic at it throughout the season."
Friday night, that bullpen "pitched over" Francisco Liriano's off-key start and the lineup's early deficiency against Reds starter Keyvius Sampson.
Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Mark Melancon and Arquimedes Caminero -- who picked up the bullpen's 31st victory of the season -- each pitched an inning.
The key contributions, however, came from Antonio Bastardo, the lefty who went two, and Joakim Soria, the former closer who continued an impressively successful transition to middle relief.
"It has been tough," Soria admitted. "I've had to go out there and somehow manufacture the pressure level [I was used to when closing]. This bullpen, all season, has been a strength of the team."
Soria has not allowed a run since Sept. 6, with 12 consecutive scoreless outings that have lowered his ERA with the Bucs to 2.19 in 27 games.
Bastardo has been even stingier, and over a longer stretch. In 38 appearances, since early July, opponents have hit .132 off him.
He can still get himself into trouble, however, as he did in the 11th inning. After allowing a single, he issued a two-out walk to .100-hitting Tyler Holt to bring up .316-hitting Joey Votto -- then hit him with a pitch to bring up Buccos-killer Todd Frazier.
When Bastardo retired him on a fly to center, Frazier wore his first-ever 0-for-6 collar against Pittsburgh.
"He got himself in a tough situation, but wasn't going to give in," Hurdle said. "He went after [Frazier] … a fantastic job tonight by Antonio."
Bastardo came from Philadelphia in an offseason trade, but Soria was part of what now can be called Neal Huntington's Golden Triangle. The two other pitchers acquired at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton, are a combined 11-2 with the Bucs.
"He's been outstanding since he's been here," the resident closer, Melancon, said of Soria, whose 230 career saves are about double of his. "It's been impressive, the unselfish way he has fit in."