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White flag relievers let Pirates down in 6-5, 14-inning loss

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MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Chad Kuhl battled through control problems to throw five solid innings and the Pirates came from behind to tie three times. Their decision to load the bullpen with relievers who don’t belong in close games, though, came back to haunt them in a rain-delayed, 6-5, 14-inning loss to Arizona.

Kuhl got off to a promising start. After a double and a walk put two on to start the first, he struck out three tough hitters to get out of trouble. In the second, he got three straight ground outs. In the third, though, Kuhl walked a pair and gave up a two-run triple to Jake Lamb. The hit was actually a routine single, but Andrew McCutchen missed a diving catch and let the ball roll past him. Kuhl nevertheless battled through two more scoreless innings despite getting into a number of three-ball counts. He faced just six batters with the help of a double play.

The Pirates meanwhile were overmatched in the early going against the unheralded Zack Godley, who’s been filling in due to injuries. Godley blew through the first eleven hitters with his pedestrian stuff, fanning four. The only thing resembling a well hit ball was a hard grounder by Kuhl. John Jaso and David Freese finally got the Pirates a couple baserunners with two-out singles in the fourth, but Francisco Cervelli couldn’t come through.

In the fifth, though, McCutchen and Jose Osuna led off with a pair of doubles. Osuna went to third on a weak grounder by Jordy Mercer, then scored the tying run when Gregory Polanco, batting for Kuhl, singled to right. Designated runner Tyler Glasnow replaced Polanco, but Adam Frazier grounded into a double play.

The tie didn’t last long, as Daniel Hudson, close to graduating from the White Flag Academy, flunked his final exam by serving up a gopher ball to the first batter he faced, Paul Goldschmidt. A double followed by a bunt and a groundout produced another run in the inning. The Pirates got one of those back on the bottom half when David Freese hit into a force play with runners at the corners, making it 4-3.

That’s the way it stayed until the bottom of the ninth. The Pirates appeared headed for a win when Arizona closer Fernando Rodney walked Cervelli and McCutchen to start the inning and Goldschmidt botched Gift Ngoepe’s bunt attempt to load the bases with nobody out. Mercer hit into a double play, though, which tied the game but left two out, and the slump-ridden Josh Bell fanned to end the inning. Bell had entered the game in a double switch in the seventh and ended up going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, dropping his average to .222.

The Pirates went with their real relievers — Wade LeBlanc, Juan Nicasio, Felipe Rivero and Tony Watson — to keep the D’backs at 4 through the 10th. In the 11th, though, the Bucs had to go back to the White Flag Academy and Johnny Barbato gave up a longball to noted slugger Nick Ahmed. The Pirates came back again in the bottom half on Mercer’s fifth HR, leaving it 5-5 after the 11th.

And then the rain came. The game was delayed for about an hour and a half. Once it resumed, the Pirates were down to Jhan Marinez. He actually pitched fairly well, surviving a leadoff double in the 12th. In the 14th, though, he couldn’t pitch around a couple of ground ball singles and the D’backs picked up a run. The Pirates meanwhile were helpless over the last three innings against journeyman reliever T.J. McFarland. The only baserunner he allowed was an intentional walk to McCutchen with two out in the 13th and Marinez on deck. Clint Hurdle had, of course, used six relievers to pitch six innings and had no hitters left, either, so Marinez had to bat. In the 14th, McFarland fell behind all three hitters 1-0 and all three chased, and were retired on, the next pitch, giving McFarland the gift of a six-pitch inning. That ended it, 6-5.

Having dropped back-to-back series at home, the Pirates will head to New York after an off day to face the Mets.