This one will go down as the toughest loss of the season to-date. The Pirates blew a six-run lead and lost 9-8 to the San Diego Padres in front of a packed PNC Park, leaving Pirates fans hoping this is not the signature Jerry Meals game of the 2012 season.
James McDonald took the hill for the Pirates and he has been flat-out bad of late, giving up at least four runs in each of his last five outings. McDonald's first inning troubles have been well-documented and it only took two pitches for the Padres to get on the board as 5-foot-7 Alexi Amarista took a 91-mph fastball over the Clemente Wall for a 1-0 lead. McDonald now has a 6.65 ERA in the first inning of his starts this season -- 23 innings, 17 earned runs, and has allowed a ridiculous eight of 14 homers in the opening frame.
As a team the Pirates have now given up at least one first inning run in six of the last seven games and eight of the last 11. Incredibly, they have come back to at least tie all eight of those games by the third inning and they did so again tonight.
After wasting a first-and-third, no-out run scoring opportunity in the first the Bucs got one in the second on a two-out bloop single by Clint Barmes, a walk to James McDonald (after being behind 0-2 and seeing five straight breaking pitches from Edison Volquez), and an RBI single by Starling Marte.
Garrett Jones homered in the bottom of the third to put the Pirates ahead 2-1. Jones now has three career hits off of Volquez in ten at bats and all three are home runs.
The Bucs exploded for five in the fourth and appeared to put things out of reach. It again started with a Barmes single and a walk to JMac (his sixth of the season, Barmes has seven). After a Marte strikeout, Travis Snider hit an 85-mph change up deep into the right-center field stands to put the Pirates ahead 5-1. Pedro Alvarez added a two-strike, two-run single to center off of reliever Alex Hinshaw to make it 7-1.
At the same time James McDonald was cruising. He had a six-pitch fourth and when he got Will Venable to pop to third to open the fifth, he had retired 11 consecutive batters. Then the wheels completely fell off. A walk, four straight hits and a three-run homer by Chase Headley quickly tied it at seven and sent McDonald to the showers. I think one can certainly question whether Clint Hurdle, often wanting a starter to at least work five innings to be in line for the win, waited too long to get JMac. In Hurdle's defense, after the walk, the damage was done in 17 pitches.
Chris Resop came on and got the final two outs of the fifth and threw a scoreless sixth.
The Bucs again took the lead in the bottom of the sixth when Rod Barajas, who was hitting .150/.278/.233, with one homer, 15 strikeouts in 61 at-bats since July 1, dropped an 0-2 slider into center, scoring Garrett Jones, making it 8-7.
It wouldn't last. With one out in the seventh, Clint Hurdle made a double switch, pulling Chris Resop in favor of Tony Watson. Watson got Amarista to ground out on one pitch, but walked Everth Cabrera and Chase Headley, from the right side this time, hit a first-pitch slider just inside the left field foul poll to put the Padres up 9-8. And that's how it would end.
The Pirates went quietly, nine up, nine down, against Dale Thayer, Luke Gregerson and Huston Street in the last three innings and the Friars recorded their tenth straight win at PNC Park. Street, who's numbers are ridiculous this season, appeared to hurt an ankle on the last out, and his availablity for the rest of the series is questionable.
Since the All-Star break in six starts James McDonald has an ERA of 8.71. He has allowed 30 earned runs in 31 innings after allowing 29 in 110 innings the first half. Clint Hurdle said the team would make an announcement about the pitching staff after the game. Stay tuned.
The Reds beat the Cubs this afternoon in Wrigley 10-8 and the Cards lost to the Phillies 3-1. The Pirates enter Saturday 3.5 games behind Cincinnati.
UPDATE: Hurdle says Kevin Correia will start on Tuesday against the Dodgers, and the move is not a reaction to the events in tonight's game.