It was the third inning and the Pirates looked to be in a very familiar position that had plagued the last 19 seasons.
They were losing -getting crushed- by a team that was out of the playoff hunt for three months now. The Padres, winners of ten straight at PNC Park, took a quick 1-0 lead on the second pitch of the game thanks to a Chris Denorfia solo homer. The Padres plated three more runs in the first, capped off by a two run throwing error by Clint Barmes.
The Pirates looked nervous, they played rattled, and they looked well on their way to getting swept at home and possibly starting a long losing streak. They already blew a 7-1 lead on Friday and were brushed aside on Saturday. Their lack of focus and wide-eyed appearance was on grand display in the second inning after Headley's dribbler rolled fair along the first base line. The Pirates recorded the out, but nobody covered home to prevent the fifth run from scoring. A few batters later, Pedro Alvarez and Clint Barmes collided on a routine ground ball. The 35,000-plus crowd groaned in pain over a play that had defined their demise since 1992.
Same old Pirates.
But then, something happened; a moment, if you will, that could hold the weight of a season 162 games long. The moment you think of when Scott Hatterberg hits the walk off home run against the Kansas City Royals in "Moneyball".
Clint Barmes, on a 2-2 count with the bases loaded, down 5-2, drove a ball down the left field line. The ball was obviously crushed as it rapidly approached the left field corner. The crowd stood, collectively holding its breath, almost like a sub-conscious fear of blowing the ball foul. Did he really do it?
From there, the Pirates took control scoring nine runs in the fourth inning before cruising to an 11-5 win. It was a much needed win, snapping a three game losing streak (their first since mid-June) while also gaining a game on St. Louis for the Wild Card.
Barmes's home run led the charge for Sunday's outcome, and it could be the defining moment of the season, the same way Jerry Meals's safe call turned the tide in a negative tone last year. In a 2012 season highlighted by AJ Burnett pitching at a Cy Young level, Andrew McCutchen emerging as the clear-cut favorite for NL MVP, and Starling Marte contributing mightily as a rookie, it could be Clint Barmes who goes down as the season hero. Yes, Bedard's double opened the scoring; yes, Michael Mckenry's bases loaded walk put more pressure on Ross Ohlendorf to throw strikes. But, Barmes, the 8th hitter in the lineup, batting .215 heading into the game, abusing the left field pole was the defining moment.
At least it could be.
The Pirates will face the Dodgers and Cardinals in their next seven games and both teams will be looking to climb over them in the standings. They needed a spark to breakout of the recent streak of futile hitting and poor pitching performances that had shown for the better part of two weeks. After Barmes's grand slam, Bedard and the bullpen allowed three total base runners in the final five innings of work. If it carries over, the Pirates could gain a firm grip on the Wild Card position, the same way John Milner's grand slam on August 5th, 1979 propelled the Pirates to a NL East title and World Series.