By the bottom of the third the Pirates found themselves trailing the Brewers by three runs.
Jordan Lyles, returning from an early exit due to hamstring discomfort in his last start, looked to not be affected as he had an easy first inning, but ran into trouble in the second when Eric Thames led off with a walk and came around to score on singles by Hernan Perez and Orlando Arcia.
An inning later, Ryan Braun lined a single with one out and came around when Thames, the former KBO star, lifted a high fly into the seats in right for his seventh homer of the year.
Saturday’s 12-10 loss to the Brewers featured several comebacks by both teams, and a three run deficit didn’t seem like a lot to the Pirates faithful.
Their hopes were raised again in the fourth when Starling Marte led off with a bunt single and continued all the way to third on the pitcher Zach Davies’ throwing error. Josh Bell’s grounder scored Marte, narrowing the score to 3-1, but the Pirates weren’t done. Melky Cabrera and Jacob Stallings both singled, putting runners at first and third with two outs. Adam Frazier knocked a soft liner back to the mound that went in and out of Davies glove...and then back in again as Davies snatched the ball out of the air on his second try, ending the inning.
Lyles settled down, but again was burnt by Thames, who lined a double to left center in the sixth to score Christian Yelich with an insurance run. On the day Thames scored twice and drove in three with his two hits.
The Pirates threatened again in the bottom of the sixth when Josh Bell led off with a double, but the next three batters went out easily, stranding him at third.
In the seventh, pinch-hitter Jose Osuna reached on catcher’s interference, but Kevin Newman hit into an inning ending double play.
Then the eighth was a replay of the sixth, as Bryan Reynolds led off with a double laced to left center, but found himself stranded at third.
Davies was still on for the start of the ninth inning, even as his pitch count stood at 104. When Colin Moran led off with a double, Davies was done as Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell brought in the lefty Alex Claudio to face pinch-hitter Gregory Polanco, who looked like he’d grounded out easily to second but instead reached base on catcher Manny Pina’s second interference call in three innings.
Down two runs, with runners at first and second and only three outs left in the game, Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle then elected to sacrifice one of those precious outs as he signalled for Adam Frazier to put down a bunt - but Claudio’s throw forced Polanco at second, leaving the tying runner still at first base.
But it was for naught anyway, as another new pitcher, right-hander Corbin Burnes, got Elias Diaz to wave at a slider for strike three and Newman to ground out to second to end the game.
The team left only eight runners on bases, despite it seeming like many more, likely because of their being 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position, failing to cash in any of their leadoff doubles in the sixth, eighth and ninth.
The loss drops the Pirates two games below .500 at 28-30, in fourth place five games behind the now division leading Brewers, who slipped ahead of the Cubs on the strength of winning three games out of four in Pittsburgh.
The Pirates take a much needed day off on Monday before hosting the Braves at 7:05 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday. Lefty Max Fried (7-3, 3.19) is scheduled to face Steven Brault (2-1, 5.87)