Harrison's 5 RBIs help Pirates pound Brewers
MILWAUKEE — Miller Park felt haunted Friday night. Its retractable roof was left open because of the comfortable temperature, which allowed fog to roll in off Lake Michigan in the middle innings.
The Brewers' home has been a house of horrors for the Pirates, who have lost 53 of their past 67 games in the ballpark. Some players even claim the team hotel in Milwaukee, The Pfister, is haunted.
The Pirates played Friday like they are tired of hearing ghost stories, routing the Brewers, 8-3.
Led by a career-best five RBIs from Josh Harrison, the Pirates won the opening game of a crucial series. The Pirates (66-62) trail the Brewers (71-57) by five games in the NL Central.
“It was a big show-up night for (Harrison),” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “All five of the RBIs came with two outs, those are game-changers.”
In this most unwelcoming of environments, against a pitcher, Yovani Gallardo, who has tormented the Pirates his entire career — he entered the game with a 12-4 mark and 2.57 ERA against them — the Pirates played like a completely different team than the one that had fallen out of wild-card position.
The Pirates did not commit an error. They technically received a quality start from Jeff Locke, who allowed two runs over six innings though his command was shaky. The bullpen did not implode, and an offense that had gone dormant at times recently finally erupted.
The Pirates jumped on Gallardo in the second inning. Russell Martin reached on an error, and Gaby Sanchez and Starling Marte walked. Jordy Mercer drove home Martin with a sacrifice fly. After Locke struck out, Harrison again demonstrated his opposite-field power, slashing a two-run double to right center that gave the Pirates a 3-2 lead.
Harrison added a run-scoring single in the fourth to stake the Pirates to a 5-2 lead, and in the eighth, he smashed his 11th home run of the season just over the left field wall, a two-run shot off Brandon Kintzler that gave the Pirates an 8-2 advantage. Harrison went 3 for 5 and raised his average to .308.
“It's just taking advantage of mistake pitches,” Harrison said. “He left me a couple out over the plate.”
But the most important hit came off the bat of Andrew McCutchen.
In the fifth inning, McCutchen uncoiled on a Gallardo fastball, sending it deep over the right field wall. The ball bounced off the concourse and glanced off an SUV on display there to give the Pirates a 6-2 lead. More importantly, the homer by McCutchen showed he has made a swift recovery from an avulsion fracture.
Gallardo allowed six runs — three earned — and eight hits in five innings.
Locke's outing didn't begin well. He walked Jonathan Lucroy in the first, then elevated a changeup to Ryan Braun, who slammed the pitch into the left field seats to give the Brewers a 2-0 lead. But the Brewers didn't score again until Rickie Weeks' RBI single off former Brewers closer John Axford in the eighth.
Locke allowed two hits but walked six and didn't record a strikeout. The walk total matched that of Locke's first eight starts combined this season.
“It was a lot like last year's first half,” Locke said of his start. “So many games we had four-plus walks, two or three hits and no runs, one run (allowed).”
Still, as poorly as the Pirates have played in Miller Park since 2007, they're 7-7 in Milwaukee over their past 14 games. And as badly as they stumbled over the past two weeks, the Pirates have responded to a seven-game skid with a two-game winning streak.
Maybe the fog is lifting.