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Pirates falter, lose lead and game to Braves 10-4

Middle relief? Far from it.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Atlanta Braves
Well, that hurt.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Just when you thought it was safe to think that the Pirates might pull one out against the current World Series champion Atlanta Braves ...

... a 4-2 Pirates lead turned into a 10-4 Braves victory at Truist Park, courtesy of the Bucs’ middle relief basically doing this:

Atlanta’s starter, Charlie Morton, faced his old team for the first time since he was traded in 2015, and in the top of the first inning, it looked like he was going to live up to his nickname of Ground Chuck.

First, there was this:

Then Daniel Vogelbach went VogelBOOM:

The Bucs’ glory in their early lead faded quickly in the bottom of the first when Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley both smacked bombs off Zach Thompson. However, both pitchers settled down after that. Thompson was solid in his five innings, only giving up one other hit outside of the homers, walking one, and striking out four.

B-Rey helped out again in the fifth inning, doubling the HBP Tyler Heineman home for a 3-2 lead. Ke’Bryan Hayes, who batted third today (Tucapito Marcano was lead-off, he went 1-4), doubled Reynolds in. It was 4-2 through five-and-a-half innings, Marcano and Jack Suwinski flashed some major leather, and things were looking bright on the Pirate Ship.

Thompson had only thrown 67 pitches, so it was to the BD Commentariat’s confusion that Derek Shelton pulled him after the fifth and brought in Duane Underwood Jr.

Underwood got through the sixth inning, but in the seventh, he gave up a double to Marcell Ozuna and walked William Contreras. Adam Duvall then hit into what was thought to be a double play, but the initial call was overturned. With runners at first and third, Michael Harris II singled to score Ozuna and cut the Bucs’ lead to one. Shelty came out, sent Underwood packing, and brought in Chris Stratton.

Indeed we do. Stratton, as has been his habit lately, promptly hit Acuna, gave up a single to Dansby Swanson that scored Harris and Duvall, gave up another single to Riley, and intentionally walked Matt Olson to load the bases. So of course this happened because Chris Stratton, that’s why:

It is a delicate science to know when—or if—to change pitchers, and it’s one that new managers take a while to learn. If either Underwood or Stratton could be trusted to keep baserunners to a minimum, it might not have been that bad to take Thompson out at that time.

Right about now, that’s a big if.