September 27, 2022

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Resilience gives Bucs 1st series win vs. LA since '16

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PITTSBURGH — To beat a powerhouse club like the Dodgers, it takes a little bit of everything and a dash of resilience.

The Pirates got big contributions from their pitchers, hitters and defenders on Wednesday at PNC Park, and what it led to was a 5-3 victory to win a series vs. Los Angeles.

It’s the first time since 2016 that the Pirates have won a series against the Dodgers, who are perennial postseason participants. In fact, Pittsburgh won only two games against Los Angeles from 2017-21. They’ve matched that win total in just one series this season.

“There’s a lot of really good players on the Dodgers, and there’s a lot of really good players here,” designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach said. “That’s why you play the game.”

After dropping a weekend series to the last-place Reds, and losing their No. 1 catcher in Roberto Pérez in the process, Pittsburgh entered its series against the Dodgers in a rough spot. The Bucs were able to take Game 1 on the back of José Quintana’s vintage start, but they gave up 11 runs in Game 2 and were once again in a lowly place.

But one of the focuses of the Pirates this season has been resilience, and a key to that is having a short memory.

“No matter how good we play or how bad we play, it’s just one game,” Vogelbach said, “and I think that that’s how we have to take it.”

Dillon Peters is a perfect example of that mentality. In his last outing, against the Reds, the left-hander allowed four runs while recording no outs. Nothing about that rough day shook his confidence, and he came back to give the Pirates three-plus scoreless innings with only two hits afforded vs. the Dodgers to kickstart six scoreless innings thrown by the Bucs.

“I just didn’t have my good stuff the other day, and today was a different day,” Peters said. “I went at it with the same mentality and the same preparation.”

The lineup had to show that resilience, too. The series finale featured the same woes with runners in scoring position as the Pirates have had all season, but they worked good counts and those paid off when Jack Suwinski hit a solo homer then Josh VanMeter hit a two-run homer in the sixth.

Chris Stratton blew that 3-0 lead in the top of the seventh, but Vogelbach, the first batter of the bottom half of the frame, torched a homer that registered at 110.6 mph off the bat.

“I think he did a really good job, he got himself into a good count, he didn’t swing at the 2-0 pitch that was a borderline pitch and got the pitch he was looking for,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said.

Vogelbach’s homer stood as the winning run thanks to the ability of the defense to bounce back from a mistake, too. VanMeter misplayed a hard grounder in the 7th, adding to the woes in that three-run inning for the Dodgers. But with the bases loaded for a second time in the inning, shortstop Diego Castillo picked him up.

Shelton said the Pirates played back in that crucial spot because shortstop Trea Turner was at second base. With his elite speed, any ball that gets out of the infield would lead to two runs. It turned out to be fortuitous, as Will Smith smoked a liner just within reach of a leaping Castillo.

“I think I was jumping with him when he did it,” Shelton said.

With a brand new ballgame, VanMeter flushed the error and came back to leg out a leadoff triple in the eighth inning then score on a fielder’s choice, beating Turner’s throw home on a contact play.

“One-run leads are scary against a team like that,” VanMeter said, “and to get that extra run was big.”

It’s easy to write this series off as a fluke — the powerhouse Dodgers coughing up two games to a team that Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections still show will finish last in the division. That’s just how baseball goes sometimes, right?

But the guys in the Pirates clubhouse take this as a huge confidence boost. They’ve weathered a lot of injuries, had many new faces come through the clubhouse since the start of the season and dealt with some blowout losses. Yet here they are, taking down the goliath team in the Majors.

“I think when you go out and take a series from a team like that, it kind of hits you in the face and you go, ‘You know what? We can win a lot of games this year,’” VanMeter said. “We’re all here number one to compete, but we want to win games. That’s what the big leagues are all about.”

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