Russell Martin

Pirates outlast Cubs, win 4-3 in 16 innings


Fortunately, rain is expected to wash over PNC Park on Thursday. Neither the Cubs nor Pirates are going to want to play an afternoon game after this.

The Pirates topped the Cubs 4-3 in 16 innings Wednesday night when the final player on their bench, backup catcher Tony Sanchez, delivered a pinch-hit single off Carlos Villanueva that scored Jose Tabata. It concluded a 5 hour, 55 minute game that ended just before 1 a.m. The two teams are currently scheduled to play again at 12:35 p.m., unless there’s a rainout.

Some highlights:

– Emilio Bonifacio followed up his four-hit opener on Monday with four more hits in regulation and then a fifth hit in the 15th inning tonight. He became the first player since Dante Bichette in 1998 and just the fifth player in 100 years to have back-to-back four-hit games to start a team’s season and then the first known player to end the second game with nine hits. Bonfacio also made things interesting on the basepaths again, stealing two bases but also getting picked off first for the second straight game.

– Going along with the theme of the first three days, both closers blew saves, with Jason Grilli doing so in the ninth and Jose Veras returning the favor after an Anthony Rizzo solo homer gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead in the 12th.

– Villanueva, the Cubs’ fifth starter, fell to 0-2 before even getting a chance to make a start. He gave up the 10th-inning run in the Pirates’ 1-0 win Monday and then allowed a run in his second inning of work tonight.

– In the 13th, Clint Barmes managed to ground into a exceedingly rare 7-2-3 double play. The Cubs went to a five-man infield with the bases loaded and none out, bringing Junior Lake in from left field to play near third base. Barmes hit a grounder right to Lake and he made a clean throw home, starting the double play.

For Lake, it was his first opportunity as an “infielder” in the majors, but something he’s very used to. While he’s been exclusively an outfielder since getting called up last year, he played 418 games at short and 93 at third in the minors. In fact, he made just six appearances ever in the outfield before being called up.

– The Cubs lost despite outhitting the Pirates 15-8. They also had the game’s only two extra-base hits.

– The game featured three replays, all after the seventh inning, one of which resulted in an overturn.

According to Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, it was just the fourth 16-inning game to take place within the first two games of the season over the last 100 years. The last was in 2012, when the Blue Jays beat the Indians 7-4 in 16 innings on April 5. Prior to that, the Rays beat the Red Sox 9-8 in 16 innings on April 1, 2003 and the Royals beat the Twins 4-3 in 17 innings on April 9, 1969.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.