If anyone watching tonight’s game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers closed their eyes and somehow forgot that this is the year 2013 and the Pirates are going to the playoffs, this game would’ve seemed like it came straight out of 2012.
Or 2011. Or 2010. Or 2009. Or 2008. Or any one of the last few years when the Brewers rang up a winning percentage around .75o against the Bucs.
“I keep using the word strange because there were a lot of weird plays out there today,” second baseman Neil Walker said. “Jeff [Locke] didn’t get hit very hard and gave up a few runs and then they chased him out of there and we were able to fight back.”
The Brewers hopped out to a 5-0 lead after five innings at the expense of Jeff Locke, and the Pirates responded to tie the game at 5-5. But the Pirates never managed to take the lead Tuesday night, as the bullpen uncharacteristically allowed not just one but two runs, and Pittsburgh only scored one more run on Pedro Alvarez’s league-leading 33rd home run in the seventh.
Milwaukee (58-73) ended on top 7-6, with the Pirates falling to 76-55 and fell to 1.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals the race for the NL Central division.
Milwaukee struck for a run in the first when Nori Aoki scored on a double play by Aramis Ramirez with the bases loaded. With a man on third and two outs, Locke induced a groundout off the bat of Carlos Gomez to third base and keep the deficit at a single run.
Locke held the Brewers down in the next two innings, as he retired the side in order in the second and received an inning-ending double play in the third when Jean Segura lined out to Alvarez who threw to first to nab Aoki after he broke on contact.
“Those things are big boosters,” Locke said. “Defense has picked me up all season-long, my hat’s obviously going to go off to those guys.”
Aramis Ramirez hit career home run no. 350, his eighth of the season, over the bullpen in left-center field to double the Brewers’ lead in the fourth.
Meanwhile, the Pirates offense put runners on in three of the first four innings but were unable to advance a man into scoring position against Milwaukee starter Kyle Lohse.
Then, in the top of the fifth, the wheels fell off the Jeff Locke-mobile.
Scooter Gennett began the frame with a basehit, Lohse bunted him to second, Aoki walked, and Lucroy drove Gennett in with a single to left. Gennett barely beat Jose Tabata’s throw to the plate, or so the umpire thought to the chagrin of the 23,801 Pirates fans in attendance.
Ramirez then came up again with the knockout blow to Locke’s outing, as he scored Aoki and Lucroy with a double to left. Vin Mazzaro entered and walked Gomez, but retired Khris Davis on a flyout to center to end the frame.
“Depends on how you look at things,” Hurdle said in evaluation of Locke’s start. “He had some good sequences, the overall consistency it probably short of what we’ve seen in the past.”
Locke’s line finished after four and two-thirds innings in which he allowed five runs on eight hits, two walks, and struck out four. Locke lasted for only 77 pitches, and his ERA continued its ascent to 3.22.
“I just gotta pitch better,” Locke said. “A lot of things are in the game that can change, and a lot of things can happen.”
But as Locke exited the game, the Pirates’ bats finally showed up. Andrew Lambo reached on what should’ve been a routine play by Betancourt at first base (the first baseman who spent the last eight years playing shortstop) and Felix “The Foot” Pie drove him home after hitting a deep fly ball to right-center that Aoki dropped.
Tabata then legged out an infield single deep behind second base, and Neil Walker followed with a 419-foot three-run home run on a 1-0 slider Lohse hung over the middle of the plate.
“We were quiet there for most of the first half of the game, and it was nice to put up a four-spot there,” Walker said.
Andrew McCutchen then singled, and the Pirates caught a bad break when Alvarez went opposite for a double that bounced into the seats. Had the ball stayed in the park, McCutchen would’ve scored easily from first base to tie the game.
“That’s one of our plays that’s kind of hung around in our pocket here in the last week,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Instead, Russell Martin and Gaby Sanchez were retired by Lohse to end the frame. The Pirates did tie the game in the next inning after Jeanmar Gomez retired the Brewers 1-2-3 in the top of the sixth, when Pie came up big again for the Bucs with a RBI single that scored Lambo again.
Pie finished 2-for-3 off the bench, with a run scored and two RBI. After his RBI single, Lohse was pulled in favor of Rob Wooten who induced a flyout from pinch-hitter Garrett Jones and struck Walker out.
“You love seeing guys coming off the bench and providing a spark,” Hurdle said. “This opportunity, he’s trying to do everything he can to move on it.”
Lohse’s final line after five and one-third innings stood at five runs allowed on 13 hits, but the starter did not figure in the final decision.
Milwaukee re-took the lead off reliever Justin Wilson in the seventh, as Jonathan Lucroy singled and then stole second base. Ramirez followed with a soft fly ball that dumped into left-center and Lucroy scored.
Alvarez followed in the bottom of the frame with his home run that clanged about halfway up the foul pole in right, but that ended the Pirates’ scoring. Alvarez went 4-for-4 with a pair of singles, a double, and his solo home run.
Milwaukee responded immediately in the eighth, as Betancourt doubled with one out and scored on a sacrifice fly to right field off the bat of pinch-hitter Caleb Gindl.
With a 7-6 lead in tow, Brandon Kintzler and Jim Henderson each worked a scoreless inning to carry the win home. Henderson earned save no. 22 on the season, while Rob Wooten (3-0) earned the win after allowing a run in one and two-thirds innings pitched over the course of the sixth and seventh innings.
Pittsburgh threatened in the ninth, as McCutchen ripped a ball off the glove of a diving Ramirez into foul ground and took two bases which was followed by a walk issued to Alvarez. But Martin flew out to center and Sanchez grounded out to shortstop to end the game.
“We move on to tomorrow,” Walker said. “Today’s over, we look forward to tomorrow.”