Charlie Morton and two Pittsburgh Pirates relievers held the Milwaukee Brewers to three hits as the Pirates avoided a three-game sweep and won the final game of their series, 2-0. Morton held the Brewers hitless until the fifth, pitched seven and a third innings, walked three, and struck out six. He also induced nine of his trademark ground-ball outs from a Brewers lineup that appeared consistently off-kilter and flummoxed* by his assortment of sinkers and devastating curves.
Yet despite Morton's dominance, the game was closer and more nerve-wracking than it might have been thanks to overly aggressive baserunning and an inability by Pirates batters to put the game away with a big hit. They left seven men on base and scored their two runs on 11 hits, including three singles each by Jung-Ho Kang and Jordy Mercer, two by Andrew McCutchen, and a 438-foot solo homer to right by Pedro Alvarez in the bottom of the second.
In the early innings, it seemed as if the Pirates as a team had made a decision that the way to beat the pesky Brewers in the last game of this series was to abandon all caution on the base paths.
Gregory Polanco led off the game against Brewers pitcher Kyle Lohse with a double off the wall in right field. With Starling Marte at the plate, a pitch in the dirt scooted to the right of catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and Polanco dashed for third, beating Lucroy's throw only because it was wide of third base. Polanco ran on contact as Marte squibbed a slow bouncer to third baseman Aramis Ramirez, Marte beat the throw to first, and Polanco scored the Pirates' first run. After Marte stole second base with McCutchen at the plate, Cutch lined a single to left center. But the big inning that seemed to be developing disintegrated when third-base coach Rick Sofield inexplicably windmilled Marte home; the throw from left fielder Shane Peterson beat Marte by several feet, Lucroy applied the tag, and instead of first and third and no outs, the Pirates had Cutch on second with one out. The inning ended on a fielder's choice by Neil Walker and a grounder to third by Kang--who, it should be said, contributed a please-don't-do-that moment of his own after leading off the fourth inning with a sharp single to center and then getting thrown out easily at second trying to stretch it to a double.
The Pirates had chances to pad the lead all evening, the best of which came in the bottom of the sixth when they loaded the bases with no outs on singles by McCutchen and Kang around a walk to Walker. No insurance runs were forthcoming, however--Alvarez popped up and Francisco Cervelli grounded into a double play.
Still, it feels greedy to complain about poor baserunning and clutch hitting amid the abundance of pitching excellence that was on display tonight. When Morton tired in the eighth and put two men on, Tony Watson bailed him out by getting Jean Segura to hit into an inning-ending double play. Mark Melancon then dispatched the Brewers easily in the ninth on seven pitches--two comebackers to the mound and a harmless bouncer to third.
This Pirates team can beat opponents in several ways. Tonight they did it on pitching, in two hours and 22 minutes.
* Yes, I still miss Lloyd McClendon from time to time.