LOS ANGELES -- For a manager whose club had just been bested in near walk-off style -- Andre Ethier's home run with two outs in the eighth had given the Dodgers a 2-1 win Tuesday afternoon -- Clint Hurdle wore quite a smile a few minutes after the final out.Hurdle apparently likes gripping, quality, entertaining baseball almost as much as he likes Pirates wins. "Great ball right out of the chute. Four great games," Hurdle said. "To play four one-run games out of the blocks, against three Cy Young Award winners, can't ask for more." Until this season, Pirates fans couldn't even ask for that: For the first time in their 126-year history, the Bucs have opened the season with four consecutive one-run games, splitting them for the most stomach-turning 2-2 record imaginable. "It doesn't turn my stomach. I'm built for this," Hurdle said. "I've got two small kids at home -- and a 26-year-old daughter." On Tuesday, the Pirates had yet another response to being throttled by an elite starting pitcher, this time the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. They tied up the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner in the seventh after he'd two-hit them through six. The last word on this occasion, however, belonged to Ethier. With his tiebreaking homer off Jason Grilli, he dented the Pittsburgh bullpen's early-season perfection (no earned runs in 10 2/3 innings) to whip a raucous Dodger Stadium Opening Day crowd of 56,000 into a frenzy. Ethier connected after Grilli had fanned the first two men he faced, including Matt Kemp on three straight awkward swings at his sliders. "I'm not going to beat myself up, because I know I threw the ball outstanding today," Grilli said. "I made one bad pitch -- not a terrible pitch. It got more of the plate than I wanted it to. One inch down, it changes everything." "Jason missed his location with one pitch. It was probably even the right pitch, just spun out over the plate," Hurdle said. "He threw it with conviction, it just got away from him." With starter Kevin Correia holding the Dodgers at bay through six innings, again the Bucs climbed out from under an ace starting pitcher's thumb to draw into a 1-1 tie in the seventh. Alex Presley and Andrew McCutchen led off with singles, and both advanced on Casey McGehee's fly to left before Matt Hague's grounder to deep short delivered Presley. "I knew that is was gonna be close, and against a Cy Young Award winner, I'd have to pitch well," Correia said, "to give us any chance to win. "This is something we're gonna have to get used to. It's what we did last year, when we were winning: Keep it close, and find a way to grind it out in the end." The beginning has been grand: Correia completed the first spin of the Pirates' four-man rotation, joining Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens and James McDonald in allowing four runs in 25 innings. The awakening had come after the Pirates had been held to two hits through six innings for the third time in four games. Before Kershaw, Philadelphia's Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee had done the number on them. "Clay brought his 'A' game. I think he's over that flu," Hurdle said with a wry grin, referring to Kershaw exiting his Opening Day start after just three innings. "Today was the first day I felt normal," said Kershaw. "I got out of the first inning and Opening Day jitters and then got out of the second inning with a guy on third. But my stuff got worse as the game went on, which comes from only throwing three innings last time and not getting my pitch count up."
Both of those early hits were shockers, though it wasn't clear which was the bigger -- the fifth triple of McGehee's career, or the 28th hit of Correia's.It is unlikely that there is a bigger offensive sin in baseball than squandering a leadoff triple, and that's what the Pirates committed in the second. Of course, Kershaw was complicit in the offense. After McGehee led off with his triple to straightaway center, Kershaw fanned both Hague and Neil Walker before retiring the side on Rod Barajas' liner to left. "We had opportunities to score runs, and we didn't do it," Hurdle said. "At this level, it usually causes you some angst in you don't cash in the opportunities presented to you. We're still looking for that timely hit to prolong an inning." Or, to give the offense an earlier jump-start: Of the Pirates' total of eight runs, six have come in the seventh or later. The Dodgers got a run in the first, when Dee Gordon led off with a single. Gordon then stepping-stoned around the bases on his own steal, Mark Ellis' grounder and finally Kemp's scoring grounder. Correia would pitch out of both of his two-on jams, in the second and in the sixth. In his six innings, he was charged with four hits and a run, while walking two and striking out three. In summary, Hurdle said, "These are the kind of games we expect to play. We're not going to get blown out, and we're not going to blow people out. This is where we are, without much margin for error, no safety net."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.