A ninth-inning meltdown ruined the Pirates’ home opener Monday night and they went on to drop a 6-5 decision to Milwaukee in 11 innings at PNC Park.
The Bucs looked poised to even their record at 2-2 as they took a 5-1 lead into the ninth inning on the strength of two home runs by Colin Moran and a key two-run single from Jarrod Dyson in the seventh inning.
But the visiting Brewers rallied for four runs in the ninth to tie the game and send it to extra innings.
Monday’s game was the first time the Pirates experienced the new extra-inning rule that puts a runner at second base to start the 10th inning. The Brewers’ Omar Narvaez took second base and made it as far as third on reliever Dovydas Neverauskas’ wild pitch.
But Neverauskas struck out Justin Smoak swinging and got Brock Holt on a called third strike to end the inning.
The Pirates fared no better in their half of the 10th, as Dyson failed to advance the runner – Cole Tucker – with a bunt and ultimately struck out looking.
Tucker reached third on Adam Frazier’s ground out to second but Brewers’ reliever David Phelps induced Kevin Newman to ground out to short to end the inning.
Holt took second to start the top of the 11th for Milwaukee, and Eric Sogard followed by doubling to left field, driving home Holt with the go-ahead run. After a ground out, Keston Hiura followed with an infield single to put runners at first and third, but the Brewers failed to add to their lead, leaving the Bucs trailing by a run heading into the bottom of the 11th.
With Newman at second, Josh Bell grounded out to first, advancing Newman to third. Erik Gonzalez worked the count full, but struck out on a check swing, and Bryan Reynolds struck out to end the game. Reynolds remained hitless on the season.
After eight innings, the prospect of extra innings didn’t seem to be in the cards, thanks in part to Moran’s bat and some strong pitching from Chad Kuhl.
The right-hander, who hadn’t appeared in a big league game in more than two years, looked solid in relief of starter Steven Brault, who was pulled after working the first two innings and a one hour, 42-minute rain delay.
Kuhl worked 3 2/3 innings, giving up three hits and two walks while striking out four.
Moran’s solo home run in the second gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead that held up until the seventh inning.
With Nik Turley on in relief for the Pirates, Avisail Garcia led off the seventh by taking a pitch out over the plate to right field for a double. Smoak lined out to Moran at third and Manny Pina grounded out to Frazier at second, with Garcia taking third
Turley then walked Sogard, and Lorenzo Cain followed with a base hit to left, bringing home Garcia with the tying run.
When Newman failed to field Hiura’s grounder to short, that left the door open for the Brewers to move ahead, but Turley responded by getting Christian Yelich to fly out to Dyson in center, ending the threat.
That set the stage for Moran’s heroics, as he crushed a 1-1 pitch into the Allegheny River, giving the Pirates a 2-1 lead.
A walk to Reynolds and an errant throw by pitcher Devin Williams on a tapper by Jose Osuna put runners at second and third, but Gregory Polanco – back in the lineup after recovering from COVID-19 – struck out swinging for the second out. Jacob Stallings followed with a walk, with left-hander Alex Claudio looking to face the left-handed hitting Dyson.
But Dyson ruined that strategy by lining one just over second baseman Hiura, driving in a pair of runs and widening the lead to 5-1.
After Turley’s appearance, the Bucs got a scoreless eighth inning from Richard Rodriguez.
But things fell completely apart in the ninth.
Michael Feliz loaded the bases with one out and then hit Hiura to force in a run to make it 5-2.
Yelich then grounded to Josh Bell at first, but rather than going to second to prevent the tying run from moving into scoring position, Bell took it himself at first. That resulted in the second out, but also enabled Sogard to score, cutting the lead to 5-3.
That ended Feliz’s night and brought on Kyle Crick, who got two strikes on Ryan Braun before he took a hanging slider and drilled it into the left field corner, tying the score at 5-5.
The Pirates will look to even the series tonight at 7:05 when they send Derek Holland to the mound to oppose former Pirate Josh Lindblom.