Pittsburgh Pirates' center fielder and three-hole hitter Andrew McCutchen entered last night's game against the Washington Nationals with a .317/.436/.488 line, 12 doubles, two triples and four home runs in 44 games and 202 plate appearances so far this season and a .395/.458/.825 line, six doubles, two triples and 13 HRs in 30 games and 131 career plate appearances against the Nats.
Pittsburgh's 27-year-old defending NL MVP came as close to single-handedly deciding the Pirates' 3-1 win as you can in a team sport.
McCutchen took a bases-loaded first-pitch breaking ball in the back from Nationals' starter Blake Treinen to force in the first of the three runs the Pirates scored in the series opener, then drove in the second with an RBI single and even made a game-ending sliding catch on an Anthony Rendon line drive to center in the final at bat in the ninth.
The catch by McCutchen was an all-or-nothing effort. There were two runners on and both of them were running and would likely have scored to tie things up if he came up empty.
Instead he skidded over the top of the outfield grass in PNC Park and scooped the ball up before it could land.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams started to walk towards home plate to delay the Pirates' celebration with a challenge but turned back when he got word from the Nationals' dugout that the catch was good and confirmed via replay.
"He's the MVP for a lot of reasons," Williams said after the loss which left the Nationals a game above .500 at 24-23 on the year. "He's a good player. A really good player. And he's not going to -- I don't think -- go after that ball unless he feels like he's got a chance to catch it... so... it was a good play."
The Pirates' '05 1st Round pick ended the night 1 for 2 with a walk, HBP, two RBIs, a run scored and a highlight reel grab.
In spite of 25-year-old spot starter Blake Treinen's effort on the mound, he took the loss to fall to (0-2) on the year with a 1.56 ERA, a 2.95 FIP, seven walks (five of them tonight, 3.63 BB/9) and 13 Ks (6.75 K/9) in five games, two starts and 17 1/3 IP.
"He had a curve ball that spun out of his hand and hit McCutchen," Williams said, "but then he got out of the inning, so that's baseball. That happens. It all started with a walk to the pitcher. So, do things like that and sometimes it bites you and it did tonight, but he got out of it fine and kept us in the game. We had a chance."
The walk to Edinson Volquez in the third Williams was referring to was a two-out walk as well and a single by Josh Harrison and a base-loading free pass to Neil Walker followed before Treinen hit McCutchen. Harrison took a leadoff walk in the fifth before scoring the eventual winning run on McCutchen's single.
Treinen threw 102 pitches total in 5 2/3 IP on the mound in PNC Park, once again impressing Williams after a sort-of-out-nowhere campaign for a bullpen spot this spring, a nice run as a reliever earlier this season and a spot start against LA earlier this month.
"It was good," Williams said. "It's nice to see him go out there and compete and we took him to 100 pitches and he was fine. He threw some good breaking balls and gave us a chance. We just didn't have enough offense tonight to get it done, but he pitched really well."
The right-hander, who's thrown just 34 2/3 IP on the year between Triple-A and the majors, lost velocity and appeared to tire late in the start, but Williams said it was all part of the learning process.
"He's still building," Williams told reporters. "He's still learning how to do this. But from everything we've seen, it's been really good and he's able to go out there and compete at the big league level and give us a chance to win, so that's all we ask for."
That, but maybe fewer walks...