Pirates rally in the 9th inning, lose to Brewers in the 10th
When the starting pitcher leaves early with an injury and two relievers allow three homers and five runs, a loss can’t be far behind.
In the case of the Pittsburgh Pirates, however, you never know.
Down by five runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night, the Pirates rallied to send the game into an extra inning.
Finally, the Brewers won, 7-6, in the first of a three-game series between National League Central rivals at PNC Park. The Brewers scored the decisive run in the top of the 10th on three consecutive singles off closer Felipe Vazquez.
“I wish I could take them back, but that’s baseball,” said Vazquez of pitches Orlando Arcia, Manny Pina and Lorenzo Cain turned into the biggest hits of the night.
“Next time, I’ll have to make better pitches, I guess.”
Nonetheless, those who remained among the crowd of 23,229 almost saw another Pirates comeback in the bottom of the 10th.
Elias Diaz and Adam Frazier singled to put the potential winning runs on base, but manager Clint Hurdle had exhausted his stash of pinch-hitters by that time. So, with Vazquez due up, Hurdle called on pitcher Joe Musgrove, who was 1 for 4 as a pinch-hitter this season. He struck out while taking three mighty swings.
“Crazy game, all over the place,” Hurdle said.
The craziness – or, more appropriately, misfortune — started way back in the fifth inning of this four-hour, 13-minute game. Steven Brault left in the fifth with shoulder discomfort after he had stranded three runners in scoring position in the first four innings.
“It’s almost like he’s a boxer,” Hurdle said. “He’s sparring out there. He takes a few punches and gets in the corner, pitches his way out. For a time there, he was probably working without his best stuff. It got to a point where he couldn’t compete any longer.”
But when the bulllpen was needed the most, it failed as Francisco Liriano gave up a home run to Arcia in the seventh and Dovydas Neverauskas allowed a pair of two-run shots by Jesus Aguilar and Pina in the eighth.
Why Neverauskas, who has pitched mostly in the minors this season, and not the more experienced Kyle Crick when down only one run?
Hurdle had an answer.
“Similar situation we used Neverauskas in (Wednesday),” he said. “We were one run down, he pitched a (scoreless eighth) inning. The last three days (before the All-Star break), I may have a chance to use (Crick) in two games. Tied or ahead, I’d probably prefer to use Vazquez and Crick. I chose Neverauskas and it didn’t work out.”
But it almost didn’t matter.
Down 6-1, the Pirates rallied to tie the score in the ninth on Starling Marte’s sacrifice fly, Josh Bell’s three-run home run and Jung Ho Kang’s eighth homer, striking against Junior Guerra on the first pitch he saw.
In the end, the rally couldn’t hide the fact that the Pirates (42-45) remained in fourth place, four games behind the Brewers (47-42). Yet, it still appeared to reinforce the feeling in the players’ minds that they can overcome anything.
“That’s the way they’re built,” Hurdle said. “It’s what they’ve really grown accustomed to doing.”
Bell, who has 27 home runs and 84 RBIs two days before the All-Star break, said the Pirates sent a message to the Brewers.
“It doesn’t matter what the score is,” he said. “We’re right there knocking on the door.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .