It seemed impossible - that Colin Moran could score from first base, but with two outs and the game already tied in the bottom of the tenth, the relay throw from center field skipped through the legs of Brewers’ catcher Eric Kratz, all the way to the backstop, as a dead to rights Moran slid into home with the most improbable winning run as the Pirates competed a five game sweep of the formerly first place Milwaukee Brewers.
Early in Milwaukee’s Jhoulys Chacin and Pittsburgh’s Joe Musgrove efficiently mowed through the opposing lineups. Travis Shaw lifted a solo homer into the right field seats, his 18th of the year, in the second inning, even though it was struck at only 94 mph. The Pirates bounced back an inning later when Chacin threw away Musgrove’s bunt for an error and Corey Dickerson then returned the favor, dropping a ball struck at 95 mph into the first row in right for a 2-1 Pirates’ lead. That would be the only hit Chacin would allow on the day.
It stayed that way until the sixth when the Brewers tied it up at two. With one out Christian Yelich doubled to right and after a wild pitch and a walk to Jesus Aguilar, Tyler Saladino lined a single to left to score Yelich.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell seemed determined to not let a win slip away. After getting Starling Marte to ground out to open the sixth, Chacin had thrown only 73 pitches to 20 batters, allowing only Dickerson’s homer, a hit by pitch, and had two errors committed on the field. None the less, the lefty flame throwing fireman Josh Hader was brought it to face the lefty swinging Gregory Polanco, who had homered in each of his previous three games. Hader proceeded to strikeout Polanco, finishing the day with four in five batters faced.
Musgrove had been very efficient with his pitch count, throwing only 72 in six innings, and 88 through seven, but appeared to tire as he started the fourth time through the order. In the eighth Yelich singled on a sharp grounder to the right side and Jesus Aguilar walked on four pitches. Shaw flew out to left on the first pitch and Saladino was called out on a 1-2 pitch, but Nate Orf worked another walk on 3-1. With Musgrove’s pitch count up to 105, Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle elected to let him finish the inning, but his day lasted only one more pitch as Brett Phillips ripped it into right center for a bases-clearing double which gave the Brewers a late 5-2 lead.
With still only one hit in the game and facing All-Star reliever Jeremy Jeffress in the bottom of the eighth, the Pirates did not lay down. He quickly retired Jordy Mercer on strikes and pinch-hitter Jordan Luplow on a fly to center, but Dickerson lined a double to right and Marte grounded a single through the right side to plate Dickerson and cut the lead to 5-3. Counsell brought in his closer Corey Knebel for a four-out save, but he walked Polanco before retiring Elias Diaz to end the inning.
After a scoreless ninth by the newly clean-shaven Steven Brault, Knebel took the mound for the bottom of the inning to close out a two-run Brewers lead. Colin Moran lined a single up the middle and Josh Bell ran the count to 3-0 as Knebel’s fastball was consistently high and away to the left handed batters. Bell swung and missed at and obvious ball four away, but then lined the next pitch into left for a single that put runners at first and second, bringing Max Moroff to the plate. Moroff had come into the game when Josh Harrison’s tight hamstring forced him to leave and had struck out in his previous atbat. Knebel got a generous call for strike one then got the count to 1-2 in the pitcher’s favor. Moroff held his swing, avoiding the punch out, then watched two balls as he drew the walk which loaded the bases with nobody out. Everything seemed set for a Pirates comeback. Knebel had allowed four of the five batters he faced to reach, and had the tying run at second and winning run at first. Hearts dropped as Jordy Mercer then grounded a 0-1 pitch to third for a 5-4-3 double play, but which did plate another run. With two outs and the tying run at third, it was up to pinch-hitter David Freese. Knebel got a strike call and a foul swing on two 98 mph fastballs low and away, then threw another up and in to back Freese off the plate. One more fastball away...and Freese lined it deep to right, bounding high off the wall, about a foot short of a winning homerun. Freese stood at third with a triple, representing the winning run, but Dickerson grounded out to second to end the inning.
With the game going to extra innings, all of the relievers in Clint Hurdle’s Circle of Trust had pitched in the four wins in the previous three days. Starting pitcher Trevor Williams was said to be available, but Hurdle sent out rookie Tanner Anderson, called up earlier in the day and who had allowed six runs in two innings in his only other major league appearance.
This wasn’t to be Anderson’s day either. Shaw led off with a walk and was sacrificed to second, but pinch-hitter Keon Broxton walked as well before Brett Phillips smacked a sharp grounder only a step or two to Mercer’s right a shortstop, but which he was unable to corral as it rolled into left for a single which drove in the go ahead run. After Eric Kratz grounded into a double play, the Pirates were once again staring up at a deficit on the scoreboard.
Starling Marte worked the count to 3-0 off new reliever Taylor Williams, but lined out right at the second baseman. Polanco reached for a ball outside and poked it through the right side, but Elias Diaz fouled out to first base on the first pitch.
Two outs, man on first, down a run. With a left handed batter due up, Counsell again played the platoon splits and signaled for lefty throwing Dan Jennings. Before Jennings had completed his warmups, the skies opened up. Despite the deluge falling from the skies, the umpires did not call for the tarp as there was potentially only one out left in the game. Colin Moran called time to wipe the rain out of his eyes, then lined the 1-0 pitch into left center to put runners at first and third. The first pitch to Josh Bell nearly went over the catcher’s head for a game tying wild pitch, but the second pitch was lined deep to center field at 111 mph. Lorenzo Cain had caught almost anything hit his way in the series, but took a bad route, cutting across before going back as the ball sailed over his head and one-hopped the wall. Polanco has scored the tying run and the Pirates’ slowest base runner Moran was then grinding through the mud around second and then around third.
Run Colin, RUN! Run, RUN, RUN!!!
He was dead. The relay came in on a bounce, straight to Kratz, before Moran had even begun his slide...but the bounces stayed down and scooted between the catcher’s legs and to the backstop as Moran came to a stop next to the plate, and reached around Kratz’ blocking leg to smack the plate with the winning run.
Tanner Anderson got his first major league win. The Pirates ended the game with as many hits as the Brewers, who came to Pittsburgh in first place but left two games behind the Cubs in the standings.
With their sixth consecutive win and eight of their last nine, the Pirates’ improved their record to 48-49, 8.5 games out of first place and 5.5 games out of the second Wild Card as they head into the All-Star break, perhaps giving the front office some hope that the team is still competitive as they approach the July 31 trade deadline.
The Pirates resume play Friday night in Cincinnati.