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Pirates

Punchless Pirates swept by Braves, finish homestand with 7 runs in 7 games

Chris Adamski
| Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, 10:03 p.m.
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli reacts after being called out on strikes during the fifth inning against the Braves Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli reacts after being called out on strikes during the fifth inning against the Braves Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, at PNC Park.
Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams watches as the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. rounds the bases after hitting a lead-off home run during the first inning Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams watches as the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. rounds the bases after hitting a lead-off home run during the first inning Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, at PNC Park.

It was five pitches and less than 2 minutes into Wednesday night’s game.

The daylight still shined brightly down on parts of PNC Park, and the official gametime temperature had just been announced over the press box speakers.

And yet, when the Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. turned on an 83-mph changeup and struck it with a force that sent it 102 mph and 410 feet onto a small plaza behind a half-dozen rows of bleachers in left field, it felt as if the game was already over.

The Pirates offense continued its sputtering ways, ruining yet another strong pitching performance in capping off a punchless homestand with another dud, a 2-1 loss.

The Pirates managed three hits off Julio Teheran and two relievers as the Braves completed a sweep three days after arriving in Pittsburgh on a four-game losing streak.

Despite allowing just 13 runs over the seven-game homestand, the Pirates (63-65) won just twice because they scored only seven runs.

“I can’t look any of the hitters in the eye and not see fight, not see want-to, not see effort and all those other things,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s tough sledding right now.”

Is frustration boiling over? The dugout elevator was dented and damaged after a fit of apparent rage by a player during the bottom of the ninth inning of what was the Pirates’ eighth loss over their past 10 games.

Among the players inside the clubhouse after the game, though, there was more of a calm and measured vibe.

“I don’t think we are pressing or anything,” said Josh Bell, who went 0 for 2 with a walk. “I just know that you look around here, we trust everybody. We trust out lineup.

“We know we are not performing up to our own capabilities. We see that, but it’s one of those things where there is only so much you can want it. You are going out there grinding. You are going out there trying to have success. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. (But) we are out there competing every day and waiting for that (turning point) where it starts falling for us.”

The Pirates have flipped their season script multiple times this season, most notably during their 11-game winning streak in July. But they’re 11-16 and have fallen to two games below .500 for the first time since that July surge.

Trevor Williams continued his second-half run as one of the majors’ best pitchers, but his 1-2 changeup to Acuna Jr. to begin the game left Williams unable to win it.

“I knew immediately it was one of those homers out of the hand,” Williams said, “where you just hope he doesn’t swing.

“It was bad execution, but glad we were able to settle in.”

The homer was one of only two hits and one of only four runners Williams allowed in six innings.

He retired the final eight Braves he faced and has allowed four runs over his past seven starts (0.85 ERA). Wednesday was the third time over his past four starts Williams allowed two or fewer runs and the Pirates still lost.

“We know that when (the team is) on a run like this, you need to give the team the best chance to win,” Williams said. “It seems like when you do give up a lot of runs … it seems the game is out of reach.”

At least the loss wasn’t charged to Williams. Kyle Crick (2-2) did not retire any of the three batters he faced in the eighth inning (a leadoff single by Dansby Swanson was followed by two walks).

When Freddie Freeman hit a sacrifice fly to deep right on the second at-bat against Edgar Santana, the Braves had scored their second run — a total that would have beaten the Pirates in any nine-inning game this homestand.

The Pirates’ only run came on a two-out single in the fifth by Colin Moran in the fifth that drove in Adam Frazier. It was the first hit that Teheran (9-7) allowed Wednesday and the first run the Pirates had scored on him over 26 1/3 innings dating to 2016.

Until they were down to their final strike, the Pirates’ only other hit was a Francisco Cervelli two-out single in the seventh. Gregory Polanco almost tied the game with a high line drive to right off of Johnny Venters with two outs in the ninth.

But the ball struck just below the yellow-painted railing in front of the seating over the Clemente Wall. Polanco ended up with a double, and Cervelli weakly grounded back to Venters to end the game.

“We needed about three feet higher,” Hurdle said.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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