Trailing 2-1 in a playoff race in September, Clint Hurdle frustratingly sent Jared Hughes out to maintain order in the seventh inning. Predictably, the Pirates quickly found themselves in a mess, but, surprisingly, a double play got them out just as quickly.
After an Andrew McCutchen homer tied it, 2-2, the pitchers clamored for in the seventh, Neftali Feliz and Felipe Rivero, fell apart in the eighth, the Brewers batted around and the Pirates lost another crucial game to Milwaukee, 7-4, over nearly four disheartening hours Saturday night at PNC Park.
Ivan Nova had another strong start, allowing five hits over six innings, striking out six and walking just one. He was staked to a 1-0 lead after Josh Harrison singled and scored on Gregory Polanco's sacrifice fly in the first. Nova's good work went down the drain in the sixth, though, when Chris Carter mashed a curveball out to left for a two-run homer to put Milwaukee ahead.
Hughes allowed a double to Orlando Arcia to start the seventh. After Martin Maldonado sacrificed Arcia to third, Hughes walked pinch hitter Domingo Santana on four pitches. Keon Broxton laid down a bunt that Francisco Cervelli handled easily, but nobody was covering first to get the out. (One can assume this was the responsibility of Josh Bell, who charged forward, in this case, as Bell has been prone to errors, both physical and mental, at first.) Hughes, Hurdle and, presumably, Bell, got off the hook when Scooter Gennett grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Things felt better having just gotten through the top of the seventh unscathed, then in the bottom McCutchen popped a solo homer to right-center to tie it at 2.
Feliz, a guy we've trusted a good bit, gave up a single to Ryan Braun to start the eighth and, after a fielder's choice replaced Braun with Hernan Perez, a single to Carter. Feliz was pulled with an apparent injury, and Rivero, another upstanding member of the Pirates bullpen, came on. He walked pinch hitter Jake Elmore to load the bases, then gave up a single to Arcia to score Perez for a 3-2 Brewers lead. Rivero then fanned Maldonado, but allowed a pinch-hit single by Manny Pina, which scored two including a twisting, sliding Elmore, whose safety was held up on review.
Kelvin Marte came on to clean up, making his MLB debut, and allowed an RBI single by Broxton, making it 6-2 Brewers, then walked Gennett before striking out Braun, the 10th batter of the inning.
Starling Marte homered to center to open the bottom of the eighth, then the Pirates got a little more going as Cervelli was hit high by a pitch and Jordy Mercer singled. John Jaso pinch hit and got a single through the middle, scoring Cervelli, but Harrison bounced into a double play.
Jeff Locke allowed another Brewers run in the top of the ninth, and the Bucs didn't get anything going against Tyler Thornburg in the bottom.
Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson wasn't very good, walking six with four strikeouts and four hits in 5 1-3 innings. The Pirates did not cash in, though, going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and leaving nine men on on the night.
The Cardinals lost to Cincannati in the afternoon, so the Pirates remained 2 1/2 games behind them. A Mets win over Washington pushed New York 1 1/2 ahead of the Pirates, in between them and a playoff spot, and the Marlins lost at Cleveland, keeping them half a game back of the Bucs.
Mathematically, it still doesn't look all that bad, but for those of us that *****get our heads out of our spreadsheets and watch the games (grumble, grumble)**** it continues to be extremely frustrating. Perhaps the Pirates are setting up for a monster series with St. Louis that will get the city all whipped up into a frenzy again, but, with every stupid, painful loss like Saturday's, and every opportunity lost against a bad team like the Brewers, it just really, really doesn't feel like it's going to happen this year.