Pregame: Pitching is key

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Truer words were never spoken than this analysis before yesterday’s game from skipper Clint Hurdle, when asked how to beat the Phillies: “You’ve got to pitch well. Change speeds. Pitch to the bottom of the zone, go up top when you want to. They know they can be pitched to. There’s been discussion about the spurts that a lot of the major offenses in the game have gone through. Boston’s gone through one. These guys just went through one. Sometimes, hitters amp themselves up and get outside their comfort zones. You’ve got to be aggressive. You can’t try to pitch away from the barrel. You’ve got to pitch to the strike zone and change speeds.”

That’s exactly what Jeff Karstens did last night. The righty was brilliant; without his effort, there’s no way the Pirates are in position to pull out that 12-inning win.

Karstens gave up one run in seven innings and lowered the Pirates’ staff ERA to 3.65, which ranks fifth-best in the NL. Over the past 15 games, Pirates starters are 7-3 with a 2.10 ERA.

»»» Know thy enemy? Here is a link to a pretty good and somewhat flattering (albeit brief) take on what to do in Pittsburgh, as judged by a Philadelphian. I was dahn the Strip this morning, shopping with my family, and the place was crawlin’ with Phillies fans. Many thanks to our brethren from across the Commonwealth for pumping up the local economy.

»»» The Phillies are 12-21 at PNC Park — a .364 winning percentage that is the Phils’ lowest at any of current NL venue. The Phils have won just two of 10 series here (in 2001 and 2008) and has never swept a set on the North Shore. Of the 33 Phils-Bucs games at PNC, 21 were decided by three or fewer runs.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Phillies (34-23) – 1. Jimmy Rollins ss, 2. Placido Polanco 3b, 3. Chase Utley 2b, 4. Ryan Howard 1b, 5. Shane Victorino cf, 6. Raul Ibanez lf, 7. Domonic Brown rf, 8. Dane Sardinha c, 9. Kyle Kendrick (3-3, 3.18)

Pirates (27-29) – 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Xavier Paul rf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Chris Snyder c, 7. Brandon Wood 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Charlie Morton rhp (5-2, 2.51)

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Pregame: Go back East?

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philsThe Pirates left the NL East in 1994, when MLB realigned and created the NL Central. As a result, the Phillies — big-time rivals back in the day — usually come to PNC Park but once a season. That’s a bummer for Yinzers who love to taunt their brethern from the other side of the state, but, hey, it’s life.

Manager Clint Hurdle at first played coy this afternoon when asked if he’d like to see the Pirates back in the East: “I don’t have an opinion. I haven’t been asked by anybody who’s meaningful enough to change it.”

Eventually, Hurdle expanded his thoughts: “I grew up with the Pirates in the East. Common sense says we’re geographically located in the East. I can understand maybe why we moved. If I had a vote, I’d vote for us to be back in the East.”

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Phillies (34-22) – 1. Jimmy Rollins ss, 2. Placido Polanco 3b, 3. Chase Utley 2b, 4. Ryan Howard 1b, 5. Shane Victorino cf, 6. Raul Ibanez lf, 7. Domonic Brown rf, 8. Carlos Ruiz c, 9. Cole Hamels (7-2, 3.01)

Pirates (26-29) – 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Josh Harrison 3b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Matt Diaz rf, 6. Chris Snyder c, 7. Lyle Overbay 1b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Jeff Karstens rhp (3-3, 3.57)

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Did you see that catch?

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I could have written an entire story about Andrew McCutchen’s first inning catch. But since in print we only have so much space, and there were a few other details to include in the game report, I’ll write to my heart’s content here.

We in Pittsburgh are used to seeing McCutchen make the crazy-good catches that show up on highlight reels and make everyone ooh and aah. We’re lucky like that. But I can assure you that the jaws of all the New York writers in the press box here at Citi Field were on the floor after that one.

This is a big, big park. There’s a lot of space out there. Jason Bay blasted the ball and McCutchen ran, like so few others can, and made a sliding catch, legs out, on the warning track just as he got to the wall. Here’s his take on it:

“At first I was seeing where (Matt Diaz was at). Then I saw him looking at me, then I knew I had to get on my horse. It hung up there and I was able to slide and catch it.”

Ho hum. No big deal. At least that’s what you’d think if you asked him about it and hadn’t seen it with your own eyes.

The slide, he said, was to put the brakes on.

“I was close to the wall, so you don’t want to be running at full speed to the wall. I just needed something to slow me down. I was able to judge it pretty good and make a pretty good play.”

Yeah, pretty good.

Now here’s manager Clint Hurdle talking about it:

“There’s probably already a top 10 for him 54 games into the season as far as what he’s done defensively. … That one might be towards the top. We’ve seen a bunch, though, that are right there. They’re exciting. He’s gone left, he’s gone right, he’s come in. The only one I think we’re missing is straight back over his head so far. But that one probably, as far as distance, that’s the farthest he’s covered, and to make a sliding catch at the base of the wall, that’s impressive.”

Couple other little notes:

= Tonight was the 9,600th win in franchise history.

= The Pirates’ starters are 6-3 with a 1.80 ERA during this 13-game stretch in which they’ve given up two or fewer earned runs.

= Brandon Wood, who said before the game that his pinch-hit, two-run single on Tuesday could be a confidence builder, came in late in the game and finished 1 for 2 with a double, RBI and run scored. Could the arrival (and immediate success) of Josh Harrison lit a bit of a fire under Wood?

= The Mets finished with 10 hits tonight. It was the third time in the last four games they’ve had double-digit hits.

= Jose Reyes, who went on the bereavement list on Monday following the death of his grandmother, is expected to return for today’s fourth and final game of the series.

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