Brandon Cumpton suffocated the Phillies for five innings. Groundout after groundout prevented Philadelphia from having any players bat with a runner in scoring position. He got 13 of his first 15 outs on four pitches or fewer. Cumpton, once again, put the Pirates in a place to win.
But he could not finish what he started in the Tuesday night 3-1 loss that snapped a nine-game Pirates winning streak. In the 6th inning, a seeing-eye single then a bloop single were the precursors to three hard-hit balls and suddenly the Phillies were leading by three.
A three-run inning hurts, but it only kills if you can’t scare up three runs yourself. The Pirates got two prime opportunities to thrill the baseball-focused crowd of 30,301 fans at PNC Park. The first: Three straight hitters at the top of Pittsburgh’s lineup reached base in the 3rd inning, but Garrett Jones swung and missed three Jonathan Pettibone fastballs to leave them stranded.
“He hit his spots pretty well today,” Jones said. “Hitting the corners, mixing in his four-seamer when I was looking sinker… He came after hitters.”
Cumpton also hit his spots well for eight groundouts over five shutout innings , allowing just two hits, one walk and one hit-by-pitch. Over his three MLB starts, the right-hander has allowed just two runs in innings 1-through-5. Pitching coach Ray Searage told the spot starter he did a “hell of a job” and his manager was similarly complimentary of Cumpton, who was called up earlier in the day.
“He continues to come in and throw strikes, be aggressive,” Clint Hurdle said. “I think the fastball got up on him a little bit [in the 6th] and the slider lost its angle a little bit.”
Though he came into that 6th inning with just 72 pitches, Cumpton’s third time through the Phillies lineup was a struggle. He got into three straight 1-0 counts, then “left some pitches up” to give up three straight RBI’s to Ryan Howard, Domonic Brown and Delmon Young.
“I’m going to build off those first five innings, try to not think about the 6th,” Cumpton said. “Just try to get better at them, attack the strike zone with a little more strikes in that 6th inning.”
After Andrew McCutchen grounded into a double play in the Bottom 6th, Jones provided the only Pirates run by smashing one of Pettibone’s four-seamers into the right-center field seats to make the score 3-1. Though he was removed after giving up the home run, Pettibone was on his pitching game, allowing just two other hits for singles and notching six strikeouts.
Once Pettibone exited, a new episode of the Charlie Manuel Show debuted. The Phillies manager used six of his seven relievers to seal the victory, none of them throwing more than 16 pitches.
In the 8th, rookie J.C. Ramirez walked Russell Martin (his third BB of the night) and nearly gave up the game-tying home run to McCutchen. Manuel yanked him for left-hander Antonio Bastardo with two lefties and unremarkable right-handed-hitting Neil Walker due up. Pinch-hitter Brandon Inge batted for Jones (Hurdle cited Jones striking out his last two times facing Bastardo) and struck out swinging. Pedro Alvarez walked and Walker hit a line-drive single to chase Bastardo, but Martin was wisely held at first.
Young righty Justin De Fratus entered to face Jordy Mercer with the bases loaded and struck him out with a slider. Jonathan Papelbon finished it off with a 1-2-3 save.
“We were able to get him to make some moves,” Hurdle said. “The moves worked for them.”
So after writing out W’s for the last nine games, and despite getting three more shutout innings from the bullpen, the Pirates have to mark down an “L.” Still, Pittsburgh maintains baseball’s best record and sends sharp young pitchers Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole the next two days to try to avoid its first series loss since June 5.