Wasted opportunity haunts Pirates in loss to Brewers
No one will know if Andrew McCutchen could have stretched his triple into an inside-the-park home run Thursday.
It's useless to wonder if scoring a dramatic run in the first inning would have changed the tone of the game and saved the Pirates from absorbing a 4-0 loss against the Milwaukee Brewers. And yet ...
McCutchen's cut-short sprint was the game's most electric moment, but it produced no more than a sense of letdown as the Pirates were blanked for the 10th time this year.
The Brewers took a 1-0 lead against rookie right-hander Gerrit Cole in the top of the first inning. It was an unearned run, but Cole still deserves some of the blame. His errant pickoff throw sent Jean Segura from first to third base with one out. Jonathan Lucroy followed with a soft RBI single.
Righty Yovani Gallardo got two quick outs in the bottom of the inning. On a 2-2 count, McCutchen drilled a fast-sinking fly ball into medium-depth center field. Carlos Gomez charged and tried to make a shoestring catch, but the ball went under his glove by a couple of inches and rolled to the wall.
McCutchen did not get a good jump out of the batter's box. He took a couple of hesitant steps and paused to watch the ball in flight. As left fielder Khris Davis chased the ball, McCutchen revved it up and rounded first base.
“It would've been easier if I had been running a little harder from the start,” McCutchen admitted. “You hit a liner right at somebody, and you're thinking, ‘Get down!' You're not thinking about running.”
McCutchen has elite speed, so he figured to have a chance to score despite the slow start. He made a perfect turn at second base — a blur. Second baseman Scooter Gennett readied to catch Davis' relay throw.
With McCutchen halfway to third base, coach Nick Leyva thrust up both hands.
“I was a little surprised,” McCutchen said. “It would've been a close play either way. Nick didn't want to take the chance. I think he made the right decision.”
McCutchen skidded to a halt at third. The crowd of 23,747 groaned.
“It's always an exciting play when (McCutchen) is coming to third,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Risk vs. reward is what goes through a third base coach's head. We've all got Nick's back. He made a call, and we stand by it.”
It would be up to Pedro Alvarez, with Marlon Byrd on deck. Gallardo attacked with a 91 mph cutter, and Alvarez hit a harmless roller to first base. Inning over.
The Brewers responded by scoring single runs off Cole (6-7) in the second and fourth innings. Cole pitched in the eighth inning for the first time — he was superb in the fifth, sixth and seventh — but the offense never got anything going against Gallardo (10-9).
“(Gallardo) got pretty lucky today. That's how I see it,” McCutchen said. “We squared some balls up, hit some balls hard, and people happened to be in the right place at the right time. I won't say he dominated because in my mind I don't think he did.”
It was Cole's first start since Aug. 21, a plan designed to keep his innings in check during his debut season. He has lost four of his past five decisions.
Cole worked 71⁄3 innings and gave up four runs (three earned) on 10 hits. He put at least one runner on base in each of the first five innings but was aided by three double plays.
“I started to get more of a feel as the game went on about when they were just going to swing, because everyone knows they like to swing,” Cole said. “There was a handful of good pitches that fell for hits, and there was a handful that weren't very good.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.