Tonight was a night of missed opportunities:
Brewers on the Brink
Realistically, the Brewers probably needed to sweep the Pirates this weekend to get fully back in the Wild Card hunt. After losing Friday night, they needed to win the final two games of the series just to narrow the margin between the two teams to 2.5 games. So tonight the opportunity was there for the Pirates to inflict the final blow to the Brewers postseason hopes.
However, with their narrow 1-0 victory tonight, the Brewers kept their elimination magic number at five, and from the sound of their noisy celebration that echoed down the long tunnel that curves around the interior of PNC Park and separates the two clubhouses, they still apparently feel like they are very much alive.
Tonight's loss also means the Pirates missed an opportunity to pull into a tie with the Giants for the first Wild Card spot. Earlier in the day the Giants lost to the Padres, 3-2.
A game for the taking
Tonight's game was scoreless through the first eight innings, but the Pirates had both the most and best scoring opportunities.
In the first inning, they had runners at first and third and one out. The average run expectancy (RE) for that base-out state is 1.12. In the fourth, Russell Martin led off the inning with a double, creating a RE of 1.04. Finally in the eighth, they had runners at first and second, no outs (RE=1.40) and then the bases loaded with one out (RE=1.51). The Pirates failed to convert any of their chances, and finished the night 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
For their part, the Brewers did not have a runner in scoring position with no outs all night. Through the first eight innings, they had a man on second with one out only twice. They broke through for their only run in the ninth, after loading the bases with one out off Mark Melancon.
In addition, the Pirates had the pitching advantage, as Brewers had to go to their bullpen in the fifth inning after Matt Garza was ejected for hitting Andrew McCutchen with a pitch for the second time in the game.
"Pitchers were out there and kept putting up zeros," Clint Hurdle said. "We had some opportunities and left some men on base. We couldn't push one across and they did. You'd like to execute every opportunity you can when you got guys in scoring position, but it doesn't always work that way."
Failed baserunning trickery
With two outs in the seventh, the Pirates had pinch runner Gregory Polanco on third base and Josh Harrison on first. As Will Smith squared off against Jose Tabata, Harrison took a big lead and then took off for second before Smith had delivered to the plate. When Smith threw over to first baseman, Lyle Overbay, Harrison was caught between first and second and stopped running. As Overbay held the ball, Polanco took off for home. Overbay threw home and a sliding Polanco was out by a wide margin.
While the sequence appeared to be terrible TOOTBLAN, it was actually a set play that the Pirates have run a few times in the past.
"The intent of the play is to get a throw from the first baseman [to second base]," Hurdle said. "If we get that throw off, I believe Polanco scores easily. [But] Polanco took off a little too early. We took some chances swinging the bat and didn't score a run, so I thought we'd give that a shot."
McCutchen hit twice
The Pirates did not miss in their first opportunity to retaliate for Andrew McCutchen getting hit by a pitch. However, they were not able to retaliate the second time he got hit. So, rightly or wrongly, as the code of these things go, they may feel like they owe the Brewers one more brush back pitch tomorrow.
With two outs in the third inning, Andrew McCutchen was hit by a pitch. In the top of the fourth, Brewers leadoff hitter Ryan Braun was brushed back pretty aggressively by Edinson Volquez. He did not actually hit Braun, but it did even the slate. After the brushback, warnings were issued to both teams.
However, in the fifth, and again with two outs, Garza hit McCutchen with another pitch and was ejected. As he walked off the field to a chorus of boos, Garza waved his arms at the crowd and appeared to be yelling, "Shut up! Shut up!"
Obviously, much of the discussion in both clubhouses following the game was about exchange of hit batsmen-brushback pitches. Here is a sampling of what was said by the participants.
- Hurdle doesn't know if pitches to McCutchen were intentional.
"A guy gets squared up like McCutchen did the first time, and really there hadn't been a lot of other times moving people back, so you never know [whether it was intentional]. You don't like it. And then obviously the warnings were given and he was hit again. So, I think the right move was made after that ... If [Garza] doesn't get tossed then I do."
- Volquez doesn't believe there was intent on either side
"No, I just want to pitch inside. That is the way I've been pitching against him. And I don't think he hit [McCutchen] on purpose. There are two outs and I know he is the best hitter on our team, but I don't think he hit him on purpose."
"We got ****ed off. You don't want to see your best guy get hit like that. We got pumped up and everyone started screaming but, like I said, I don't think he tried to hit [McCutchen]."
- McCutchen says Garza knows he can't miss over the plate inside.
"The intent was to get the fastball off the plate in, that was the intent. As far as hitting me, I'm not to sure. But they know better then to throw me a fastball over the plate in. So, if they're going to throw it in there, they're going to throw it off the plate. ... He's not going to try to [pitch over the plate] because he knows what can happen."
McCutchen's right forearm was wrapped after the game. He said it felt "as good as it's going to be."
- Garza had a lot to say.
"If people think I hit McCutchen on purpose, with a 1-2 count in a game like this, then you're an idiot. That goes for the Pirates TV crew that kept insinuating that that's what we were doing, then you're an idiot."
"I tried to plead my case to the umpire. He just told me, 'In this type of situation, my hands are tied.' I said, ‘Come on, you know it.' He's like, ‘Yeah, I know,' and all three umpires over there are like, ‘You've gotta understand the situation.' I was like, ‘It's a playoff atmosphere situation, of course everybody's on the edge of their seats right now.'"
Finally, Garza was asked if could understand why the Pirates might be sensitive to McCutchen getting hit, given what happened in Arizona.
"I don't care what happened to him in Arizona last month. I'm just worried about today. He's not on my team. It happened, oh well. I wasn't there. I'm worried about my guys."
How this plays out
If warnings are not issued before tomorrow's game, it is fairly likely that Vance Worley will throw one purpose pitch in the first inning tomorrow. The Pirates have been pretty aggressive about making sure they even things up in this regard all season. After that, warnings will certainly be issued, and then it'll be up to Brewers to decide how things progress.
However, it could get tricky if warnings are issued before the game. If the game is tight all afternoon, then this likely becomes an issue that carries over to next season. If the game becomes a blowout either way, the Pirates probably won't respond until later in the game and things could get messy after that.