Pirates fall to Brewers in 2nd-half opener
MILWAUKEE — During his pregame media briefing Friday, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was made aware the Milwaukee Brewers entered last season's All-Star break with 53 wins. It was a reminder placement in the standings can be fragile in a difficult-to-predict game. The Brewers suffered through an epic collapse in the second half.
Hurdle's Pirates are stuck on 53 wins after opening the second half with a 4-1 loss to the last-place Brewers.
The Pirates are 3½ games behind in the NL Central after a St. Louis Cardinals' win over the New York Mets.
Little can be taken for granted in the game, including what appeared to be a relatively routine groundball off the bat of Gerardo Parra in the seventh inning. With runners on the corners and no outs, Parra hit a sharp, two-hopper directly at Pedro Alvarez, who could have thrown home or started a double play. Instead, the ball went under his glove and between his legs for his 15th error of the season.
Scooter Gennett, who began the inning with a single off Charlie Morton and advanced on a Shane Peterson single, scored from third to give the Brewers a 3-1 lead. Jonathan Lucroy followed Parra by grounding into a double play that scored Peterson from third, who could have been cut down had Alvarez fielded the ground ball cleanly, to give the Brewers a 4-1 lead.
Alvarez has the most errors by a first baseman since Prince Fielder committed 15 in 2011 for the Brewers. Fielder played in 162 games. The Pirates have 73 to go.
The hits — Morton had gotten ahead of Gennett and Peterson — and the error played a role in eliminating any momentum gained after the Pirates cut the deficit to one run in the top of the inning.
“If we play a little better on the (defensive) side of the ball in the seventh inning, who knows how that inning plays out,” Hurdle said. “We didn't meet the demands of the game. I don't think it needs any more explanation than that.”
In the top of the seventh, Jung Ho Kang did something he did 40 times last season in the Korea Baseball Organization but had not accomplished in a calendar month: He homered.
Kang lifted an 89 mph Mike Fiers fastball, a pitch so many of his teammates struggled with Friday due to his downhill angle and deception, into the left-center bullpen for his fifth home run of the season but his first June 17 at U.S. Cellular Field.
Fiers had not allowed a hit until the fourth inning and gave up just three hits and one run over seven innings. The homer cut the Brewers' lead to 2-1.
Kang has said he is not pleased with his home run totals. But the Chicago White Sox's and Brewers' home parks are much more favorable to right-handed power compared to PNC Park and much more comparable to the hitting environments of the KBO.
The Pirates also hope it's a sign Kang will produce more power with more regular playing time with Josh Harrison out.
The good news for Kang's home run production is the Pirates play seven fewer home games in the second half. The unfortunate news for the Pirates' win total is they are playing .667 baseball at home (32-16), and they are just about a .500 club (21-20) on the road.
For Morton, who allowed four runs in six innings, it was a night of threes.
The Brewers needed just three pitches to tally their first run in the first inning. Parra began the game by slashing a double down the left-field line. Lucroy followed by advancing him with a bunt, and Ryan Braun bounced Morton's third pitch of the inning to second to score Parra.
It was the only scoring of the game until the fifth when Morton hit Gennett with a pitch — an inning after Kang became the second hit Pirates batter of the night (Pirates pitchers hit three Brewers) — and Parra followed by dumping Morton's third-best pitch, a split-changeup, into the right-field corner for a run-scoring double to give the Brewers a 2-0 lead.
Did the long lay-off affect Morton?
“No, I don't think so,” Morton said. “I felt like I was pretty efficient.”
And in the seventh, Morton fell victim to an Alvarez error as the Pirates are stuck at 53 wins.