After banging out 13 runs between their last two games, the Pittsburgh Pirates (77-56) could not get on the board Thursday night as Yovani Gallardo once again dominated the Pirates for seven shutout innings. On the other side, the Milwaukee Brewers (59-74) scored a run off Pirate starter Gerrit Cole in three of the first four innings to take control of the contest from early on and coast to a 4-0 triumph.
With the loss, Pittsburgh missed a golden opportunity to tie the St. Louis Cardinals for the lead in the National League Central. Pittsburgh trailed by half a game entering the evening’s match-up with Milwaukee, but fall to a full game back with the loss and St. Louis traveling to PNC Park for the weekend.
Milwaukee took the lead in the first when Jean Segura scored on a RBI single by Jonathan Lucroy. The run came across as unearned after Segura reached on a fielder’s choice, but advanced to third when a pick-off attempt by Cole missed Gaby Sanchez at first base.
Pittsburgh had an early opportunity to score early when Andrew McCutchen wound up at third on a liner hit to center that Carlos
Gomez misplayed and the ball went to the wall. The play was ruled a triple for McCutchen, who may have had a chance to score on the play and tie the game at 1-1, but base coach Nick Leyva held him at third.
“Risk versus reward, that’s what I think goes through a third base coach’s head,” Hurdle said. “He made a call, and we stand by it.”
Pedro Alvarez then grounded out to end the frame and strand McCutchen at second.
The Brewers added on in the second, after Carlos Gomez led off with a single and stole second base. Khris Davis then doubled off the right-field wall and Gomez scored to put Milwaukee up 2-0 while making up for his defensive miscue in the previous inning.
As with the first inning, Pittsburgh had another opportunity to cut into Milwaukee’s lead but did not capitalize. The Bucs put men on first and third with two outs, but Cole struck out to strand a man at third for the second time in as many innings.
“We couldn’t connect the dots,” Hurdle said. “We had a couple opportunities early, we put some guys on base for that big hit maybe, it didn’t happen.”
Cole pitched a scoreless third, aided by a inning-ending double play hit into by Lucroy, but Milwaukee extended its lead in the fourth by way of Aramis Ramirez’s ninth homer of the season, a solo bomb that went over the fence in right-center field.
From there, though, Cole settled in to record his longest start of the season. Cole pitched a scoreless fifth and perfect sixth and seventh innings.
“He’s thrown some very good innings for us already here,” Hurdle said. “But from my vantage point, the fifth, sixth, and seventh were the best innings he’s thrown for us all year. ”
Cole cited his ability to start feeling out a rhythm in the game, as well as where he’d be able to miss with his command. That, in addition to improved execution of his pitches.
“I just executed. I executed pitches early and late,” Cole said. “Early I was getting hurt a little bit with balls over the plate, but in the middle there I would get over the plate but I would do it like 1-0, or 0-1 where the swing would be shortened and they’d foul it off or they’d take it because they were surprised with the sequence.”
Even in those innings, though, the Pirates offense remained in hibernation as Gallardo matched Cole inning for inning. The Pirates recorded only one hit after the fourth inning, and were unable to move anyone past first base into scoring position.
One positive, though, was the performance of new catcher John Buck who debuted with a 3-for-3 day. Buck entered the game just 2-for-1o against Gallardo in his career but looked for Gallardo to offer off-speed pitches to him, and that’s what he got.
“He threw me a lot of off-speed stuff previously and I had pretty good success the last time we faced him,” Buck said. “I made some adjustments on him, tried to move it to right field a little more and he just continued throwing off-speed stuff so I was able to get to him.”
But Buck’s basehits made up half of the Pirates’ production in the hit column, with only McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Marlon Byrd recording knocks.
Gallardo pitched perfect fifth and sixth innings, and retired nine of the last 10 batters he faced. Gallardo had struggled this season, but has pitched well since he returned from the disabled list on Aug. 17.
“It was a different start for him this year,” Hurdle said. “But there’s downhill angle, he changes speeds, he stays out of the middle, there’s late life. ”
“He shut us down.”
While Gallardo exited after seven Hurdle left his horse in the game to pitch the eighth. And that’s where Cole ran into trouble.
After retiring pinch-hitter Nori Aoki, Scooter Gennett singled and Jean Segura executed a hit-and-run perfectly that put Gennett on third base. Marlon Byrd committed a throwing error that saw the ball go through the legs of Neil Walker, which allowed Segura to move to second.
Segura’s single was the knockout blow to Cole’s start, and the Pirate rookie finished after seven and one-third innings. Reliever Bryan Morris allowed Gennett to score from third on a sacrifice fly by Lucroy, leaving Cole (6-7) charged with four runs (three earned) on 10 hits and a walk.
While the outcome was disappointing, the takeaway for Cole may be a positive one after he showed “resiliency” and battled through his longest start of the season.
“I was proud of the effort, I was proud of the resiliency because he was kind of getting pushed in a corner. He was not sharp early,” Hurdle said. “For me, this one there’s definitely something for him to take and keep in his back pocket and hold on to. The distance traveled, number one, to get in the eighth inning. He’s pitched the seventh inning before, this is new territory, and he earned it.”
In addition, Cole impressed his new catcher who spent the majority of this season catching Cy Young candidate Matt Harvey and phenom Zack Wheeler.
“I was very impressed with him pitching out of situations,” Buck said. “Sometimes it’s hard as a young guy that’s a power pitcher to pitch to contact and get those ground balls like he did today. That’s beyond his years, as far as service time, to be able to do that in those situations.”
Cole, who may be his toughest critic, also saw some positive takeaway Thursday.
“I kept pitching out of problems early, kept the pitch count low to go deep in the game,” Cole said. “John [Buck] told me earlier, don’t hang your head on this, you competed and you kept everybody fresh for the St. Louis series.”