For the third night in a row a Pirates starting pitcher tossed a gem, but this time the offense was unable to get a big hit when needed, and Bucs dropped a disappointing 2-1 loss to the Padres.
After a rocky start in which he allowed the first four Padres to get on base and two runs, Francisco Liriano ran-off 20 straight outs without allowing a hit or a walk. The streak of outs included 10 ground outs and four strikeouts. When a Padre did finally reach base again in the seventh on a walk, he was quickly forced out at second on yet another ground out.
Liriano's gem (66 game score) lasted seven innings and included only three hits and two runs. Over his last five starts, the left-hander has pitched 32 innings and posted a 1.68 ERA.
Clint Hurdle pointed towards Liriano's health and fastball command as an important reason for his recent success.
"It is getting back to what we saw last year," Hurdle said. "It's strike one and if he gets it in there he goes to the swing-and-miss stuff and pitches a little backwards. It's been really fun to watch."
The Pirates offense was not able to get much of anything started against Padres starter, Eric Stults. After scoring a run in the first, the Bucs next best opportunity to score came in the seventh after Jayson Nix led the inning off with a single and was sacrificed to second. Pedro Alvarez was then called on to pinch hit, which prompted Bud Black to relieve Stults with Alex Torres.
For the second night in a row crowd reacted with a loud cheer when Alvarez's name was announced, which is a little surprising given his recent issues on both sides of the ball and the tendency of Pirates fans to boo him during such struggles in the past. With the stage set for something dramatic to happen, Alvarez launched a fly ball that for a moment looked like could turn into one of his patented towering home runs. However, as the ball reached its apex and the crowd glanced down to see San Diego's centerfielder, Abraham Almonte, slowing down well short of the warning track, the excited charge of energy quickly dissipated. Josh Harrison followed Alvarez and bounced out in front of the plate.
In the eighth, the Pirates were quickly back in a threatening stance when Jordy Mercer led off with a single, and Russell Martin doubled off the Clemente Wall. But then Ike Davis lined out to second, Starling Marte struck out and Gregory Polanco flew out harmlessly to right field. This sequence of outs, and the subsequent loss of a golden opportunity to tie or take the lead, may be worth remembering as the season's tight pennant race continues to unfold over the next month and a half.
"We weren't able to get good outs, let alone a hit," Hurdle said of the missed chances in the eighth. "We had a 3-and-1 count and he was able to get a tight fastball in on Ike. Marte's at bat he had a couple good swings, fouled balls off and then he might have chased high on the 3-and-2 count. And, Polanco got a swing off. Nothing happened that we needed to happen for us."
The ninth inning started with Neil Walker making his first plate appearance in three days. With the count 1-and-1, Joaquin Benoit threw two 96 mph fastballs up in the zone and right past the late swings of Walker. After Michael Martinez also struck out, it was left up to Travis Snider to extend the game. Snider, who has had a flair for big hits in the last season and a half, worked back into the count after falling behind 1-and-2, only to chop out on a swinging bunt.
"Opportunities were there to tie, go-ahead and we weren't able to cash in," Hurdle said.
With the loss the Bucs fall 2.5 games behind the central leading Brewers.
- Walker will be back in the lineup if he "feels good tomorrow."
- Hurdle said that Andrew McCutchen is continuing to feel better and that he took some swings and threw from 90 feet this afternoon.