Pirates bullpen collapses in loss to Cubs
A week after Tony Watson imploded and threw the back end of the Pirates bullpen into chaos, debris continues to fall.
A ninth-inning meltdown by Juan Nicasio and Watson on Friday turned what could have been a feel-good victory into a gut punch.
"It set up the way we talked about it setting up, but we didn't finish it off," manager Clint Hurdle said.
The Cubs sent 10 batters to the plate in the ninth, scored six runs to flatten the Pirates, 9-5.
"A roller-coaster ride," said Josh Bell, who hit a home run and a two-run triple.
Four of those runs belonged to Nicasio, who couldn't protect a 4-3 lead and blew a chance for his second career save. Watson served up three hits, including a go-ahead single by pinch-hitter Jon Jay, and allowed two runs.
"They came in aggressively," Nicasio said through an interpreter. "I did everything I could to throw my strikes, but they came in aggressively. No excuses. I threw my pitches where I wanted them, and (the Cubs) did their jobs."
Nicasio might not have pitched in the ninth if Addison Russell hadn't battled through a 10-pitch at-bat against Felipe Rivero in the eighth.
With a runner on third and two outs, Russell fouled off five pitches before striking out. Rivero threw 20 pitches in the inning, so manager Clint Hurdle called on Nicasio for the ninth.
"That's 20 pitches, high-intensity, right through the meat of their order," Hurdle said. "That tipped it for us (to use Nicasio)."
Nicasio gave up back-to-back doubles to start the ninth, which tied the game at 4. Tommy La Stella singled. Kris Bryant was intentionally walked.
"Quick damage," Hurdle said.
Nicasio gave way to Watson, who last week was deposed as the closer after a pair of blown saves. The only other options were rookie Edgar Santana (5.40 ERA in three outings) or newcomer Jhan Marinez (4.18 ERA in 26 games).
"We got to the point where we tried to do the best we could with where we were to try to get out of it," Hurdle said.
Jay hit Watson's first pitch into left field for an RBI single. Anthony Rizzo lined a two-run single. With two outs, Russell ripped a two-run double.
Each of the first eight batters against Pirates starter Trevor Williams reached base: two walked, two doubled, two singled and two got on via a fielder's choice. Throw in a wild pitch and an ejection, and it added up to a quick 3-0 lead for the Cubs.
Rizzo blasted the third pitch of the game into the Allegheny River. The ball hugged the right-field line and first-base umpire Clint Fagan emphatically ruled it a home run, but the umps immediately huddled and reversed the call.
During and after the replay review — which quickly confirmed the ball was foul — Cubs manager Joe Maddon pestered the umps until he finally was ejected
"After that first inning, I couldn't let it get out of hand," Williams said, "In the second inning, it wanted to get out of hand, but I didn't allow it to happen."
La Stella led off the second inning with a double. Eddie Butler poked a single to right. With runners on the corners and no one out, Williams regrouped and retired the final 12 batters he faced without allowing another run.
It was quite a turnaround for Williams, who threw 42 pitches over the first two innings and 34 over the next three. He could have gone an inning or two deeper but was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fifth.
Butler had a long-sleeved, white T-shirt under his jersey in the first inning. When the Pirates objected, Butler tried to roll up his sleeves.
That didn't work, so a Cubs trainer was dispatched with scissors to hack off the sleeves.
"I've never seen a guy pitch with white sleeves," Hurdle said. "A little gamesmanship. The ball's white, and this guy's got white sleeves on. Our hitters mentioned it."
Forearms bared, Butler whizzed through the first three innings without allowing a hit.
Bell shattered Butler's shutout bid in the fifth with a 418-foot home run to the notch in left-center field. The ball slipped over the low wall and landed in the first row of seats.
Bell's 12th home run tied him with Jason Bay for second-most by a Pirates rookie before the All-Star break. The leader is Ralph Kiner, who went deep 15 times in the first half of the 1946 season.
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.