McKenry's blast sets Pirates up for triumph

McKenry's blast sets Pirates up for triumph

McKenry's blast sets Pirates up for triumph
PITTSBURGH -- The Fort was with the Pirates on Monday night. Cy Six had no chance.

One inning after catching the Mets on Michael McKenry's clutch home run, the Pirates buried them, 5-4, as Neil Walker sped home with the winning run on Clint Barmes' 220-foot sacrifice fly to right field.

Walker had motored all the way to third base in the eighth, when his leadoff fly off Jon Rauch was dropped by center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis for an error.

So while Jared Hughes got the win, the first of his Major League career, and Joel Hanrahan got the save, the Pirates handed out 14,556 assists -- one for each fan in the PNC Park seats.

The small but spirited crowd, in its faithful best, exhorted the home boys even when matters looked bleakest. And they jammed Nieuwenhuis' and left fielder Mike Baxter's ears as Walker's fly ball parachuted toward them.

"I think the fans did it tonight with that ball in the outfield," McKenry said of a play that saved his clutch homer from being consigned to the by-the-way bin. "They're yelling and screaming, and it looked like there was some miscommunication. [Nieuwenhuis] is a very, very good outfielder, I've played against him in the past, and I know he doesn't make that mistake very often."

"It was pretty loud out there in the outfield, by the stands a little bit," Nieuwenhuis said. "But it's part of the game. You've got to deal with it. It's not an excuse. You've got to do what you've got to do to make that play. It's a routine play."

Off the bat, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle also thought so.

"I definitely think it's an out," Hurdle said. "Then you see the play develop, and when it's not caught, you definitely like to see your guy running. Getting to third is a momentum-turner for us. It was a gift, and we were able to cash in."

Barely. Barmes' soft fly to Lucas Duda wouldn't have cleared a Little League outfield fence.

"Did I think it was deep enough? I wasn't sure, to be honest," Barmes said. "But I'm glad he took a chance, and obviously it turned out great."

Walker churned home and slid barely by catcher Mike Nickeas' swipe tag of Duda's throw.

"We had to send him. There was no 'No.' Waiting around for a two-out hit ... it can happen, but we're gonna go," Hurdle said. "That's just an exciting baseball play late in a game."

The Bucs had forged the 4-4 tie on McKenry's two-run homer in the seventh, completing the escape from an early 4-0 hole dug by a rare meltdown by left-hander Erik Bedard.

Until McKenry's game-tying, two-run homer to left-center, his third of the season, Cy Six appeared to be on cruise-control. His name is Johan Santana, but the Pirates better knew him as the sixth winner of a Cy Young Award to face Pittsburgh this season, which averages out to one a week.

"He's tough, and we've faced a lot of good pitching this year," McKenry said. "So you'll take whatever you can get from a guy like that. Luckily, he left a pitch up for me."

McKenry's homer had followed Barmes' leadoff single, and really gave the crowd its voice.

"They understand this team will not give up," Barmes said. "We've shown that all year. No matter what the score or the situation, we grind it through. It's not the easiest way to get wins but, at this point, we're still in a pretty good spot."

"We're down 4-0, Santana's on the mound ... not the way I would've drawn it up, but we're hearing a lot of positive fan support over the dugout, and that helps keep the team positive," Hurdle said. "And the boys chipped away, stayed after it."

And won, for the sixth time in a game they trailed entering the sixth. The Cardinals, who lead the National League Central by three games over the Pirates, have not done that once.

In the fourth inning of his fourth start at home, Bedard finally got his first runs of support, in a two-run flurry that made Santana seem vulnerable. Back-to-back RBI doubles by Andrew McCutchen -- who went 2-for-4, with both hits off Santana raising his average against lefties to .465 (20-for-43) clip for the season -- and Pedro Alvarez set in motion the comeback completed three innings later by McKenry.

Unfortunately for him, by then Bedard trailed, 4-0, done in by a rare big inning against a Pittsburgh pitcher. The Mets' breakout in the second began with Ronny Cedeno's RBI double, continued with Justin Turner's two-run single and was punctuated by David Wright's run-scoring single.

Gorkys Hernandez, who had sat through his first big league weekend in Detroit, made his Major League debut as a fifth-inning pinch-hitter for Bedard. After jumping ahead to a 3-and-1 count, Hernandez struck out, becoming the fifth of Santana's seven victims.

With Bedard out of the game, four relievers -- Chris Resop and Tony Watson preceding Hughes and Hanrahan -- put up four zeros, enabling another comeback win and adding more gloss on a bullpen that owned the NL's lowest collective ERA (2.56) even before the game.

"We completely believe we can come in and shut the door, and give the team the best chance to succeed," said Hughes, who at last has a win to go along with 28 big league appearances.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.