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Pirates drop another dispiriting game to the Brewers, 8-5

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With Francisco Liriano scratched shortly before game time with a stiff neck, sixth starter/long man Vance Worley was enlisted for an emergency start. Quickly in the top of the first, the Pirates were poised to stake Worley to a big early lead. After Gregory Polanco reached on an infield single, Neil Walker served a hit into center field that got past Carlos Gomez for a run-scoring triple and scored on a wild pitch by Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson. Nelson, erratic in the first inning, then walked Andrew McCutchen and gave up a single to Starling Marte. When Jung-Ho Kang hit a grounder to shortstop Jean Segura for what looked to be the first Pirates out, Segura threw the ball into center field, scoring McCutchen and putting the Bucs ahead 3-0. Nelson then hit Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates had a three-run lead and had the bases loaded with no outs. But the inning fizzled as quickly as it started: Francisco Cervelli flew out to short right field, Ryan Braun threw out Marte easily at the plate, and Jordy Mercer struck out.

Nelson settled down in the second and in subsequent innings as the Brewers began eroding and then overcoming the Pirates' early lead. In the bottom of the second, after singles by Aramis Ramirez and the annoying Scooter Gennett, Nelson drove both in with a two-out, late-swing single down the first-base line. In the next inning, Jordy Mercer booted a routine grounder by Braun with one out. After Worley hit Ramirez with a pitch, Gennett's single up the middle scored Braun to tie the game.

The pivotal at bat came in the bottom of the fourth. With two out and none on, Worley was unable to get a third strike past Gerardo Parra, as Parra worked a 10-pitch at bat for a walk. Cervelli visited the mound after Worley threw ball one to the next hitter, Jonathan Lucroy, to give the visibly tiring Worley a breather. Too late. Lucroy deposited Worley's low-inside breaking pitch into the left-field seats, and the Brewers took a 5-3 lead that they never relinquished.

It was a gritty performance by Worley in a tough spot. Probably concerned about bullpen depth (unless there is an injury to Kang that we don't yet know about), Clint Hurdle made the curious move of double switching in the bottom of the fifth, replacing Kang with Sean Rodriguez at third base and bringing Deolis Guerra in to pitch and bat fifth. After surrendering a home run to Ramirez in the fifth, Guerra walked Braun with two outs in the sixth. Braun then stole second and went to third on a throwing error by Cervelli. After a walk to Carlos Gomez, Ramirez singled through the hole between first and second to put the Brewers ahead 7-3.

The Bucs showed some life in the seventh. Polanco led off with a double off Nelson, who then struck out Neil Walker before Brewers manager Craig Counsell brought in Jeremy Jeffress to face McCutchen. After issuing the third Brewers' walk of the evening to McCutchen--they pitched around him all night--Jeffress got ahead of Marte 0-2 before Marte doubled to left on a breaking ball, scoring Polanco and moving McCutchen to third. Pinch-hitter Travis Ishikawa, in to bat for Guerra, hit a grounder up the middle that scored McCutchen, but Segura made a great play to record an out, keep the ball in the infield, and prevent Marte from scoring from third. Predictably, Pedro Alvarez, who has looked lost at the plate and in the field the entire series, struck out on a series of breaking balls, stranding Marte.

Hopes for another miraculous Pirates comeback ebbed in bottom of the seventh when Khris Davis homered off Antonio Bastardo with two outs after great plays in the field by Mercer and Rodriguez. Bastardo escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the eighth thanks in part to Ryan Braun's failure to track the number of outs in the inning, easily getting doubled off second after a foul pop-up for the third out. But Francisco Rodriguez dispatched the top of the Pirates' order with quiet efficiency in the ninth, and that was that.

The Brewers are loose and relaxed, and they are hitting like crazy. It will not be easy for Jeff Locke and the Pirates to salvage a game tomorrow in what is now another nightmarish series in the Miller Park House of Horrors.