For an inning, it seemed the ship would be righted. Andrew McCutchen hit a 93 mph get-me-over fastball in a 3-0 count off San Diego starter Tyson Ross and Charlie Morton worked eight innings of one-run baseball as he delivered the ball directly to Mark Melancon to pitch the ninth.
The Pirates, they of the 74-2 record when leading after eight innings, found a loss added to that mark when the Padres scored two runs in the ninth off Melancon and Huston Street was perfect in the bottom of the ninth to ensure the Pirates would lose their first four-game series of the season.
Prior to Melancon’s mishap, the Padres took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when Jedd Gyorko walked, advanced to third on a single by Chase Headley, and scored on fielder’s choice hit to Pedro Alvarez off the bat of Tommy Medica. Alvarez appeared to hesitate on a throw to home with one out, but went to second base in an attempt to turn an inning-ending double play.
Alvarez’s throw reached second to send Headley back to the dugout, but Medica was able to beat out the throw to first which Neil Walker had difficulty making after Alvarez’s initial throw.
“If he gets the throw that’s an easier throw to handle we probably turn a double play,” Hurdle said. “I think if he would’ve made a good throw we would’ve had a chance to turn it.”
Each offense was quiet until McCutchen’s two-run home run. After allowing a single to Justin Morneau leading off the second, Ross got Marlon Byrd to hit into a double play and retired the next 15 men he faced.
The 16th man was Walker who Ross struck out but the pitch went wild and bounced out of play behind the plate into the camera well to allow Walker to reach first base. McCutchen then worked the count to 3-0 and took Ross’ offering over the fence between the xfinity and Trib Total Media signs in right-center field.
“He had a green light, 2-0 count, 3-0 count, different times you’re looking for one pitch in one zone,” Hurdle said. “He got a pitch in his zone, and he nailed it.”
McCutchen wasn’t expecting Ross to throw a fastball over the heart of the plate but when he did, the Pirates’ centerfielder took advantage.
“I just reacted, I was ready to hit,” McCutchen said. “I was ready to hit my pitch, he threw my pitch, and I was able to hit it.”
With McCutchen’s swing, momentum shifted to the Pirates’ dugout for the first time seemingly in the entire series as McCutchen took his curtain call in front of the 27,640 in attendance Wednesday.
Morton finished his outing in the next frame, and capped with his ninth strikeout of the game when Ronny Cedeno went down looking. The strikeout total tied Morton’s single-game career-high, which he last accomplished nearly three years ago against the then-Florida Marlins on Oct. 2, 2010.
“Just a big-time effort, good sinker, both sides of the plate, the curveball worked well. He was able to keep everybody off-balance,” Hurdle said. “The punchouts showed up, 12 guys retired on three pitches or less. It was a wonderful outing for Charlie.”
While the strikeouts were a solid tally for Morton, his focus wasn’t on striking batters out. The strikeouts came as a byproduct of Morton executing his sinker, curveball, and split-changeup as well as he has in any of his starts since returning from Tommy John surgery.
“I don’t try to strike people out, and I think tonight we were mixing well,” Morton said. “I think I got quite a few swings on sinkers in off the plate to righties which is good. And then also being able in the zone with off-speed.’
But to repeat, Morton wasn’t focused nor concerned with the number of strikeouts he recorded.
“I honestly don’t really care about the strikeouts, it’s nice and yeah it’s great,” Morton said. “I’d rather pitch in the eighth and ninth inning than strike people out. Any time. Any day.”
Morton pitched through the eighth, and Melancon pitched the ninth. There, Gyorko led off with a basehit and was replaced by Andrew Cashner as a pinch-runner.
Chris Denorfia pinch-hit for Alexi Amarista and singled to right to send Cashner to third and Cashner scored on a single to right by Logan Forsythe. The run tied the contest at 2-2, and Denorfia took third on the play.
The next batter, Rene Rivera, singled to right as well and Denorfia scored the go-ahead run.
“You just gotta tip your hat, they put the ball in play and found some holes,” Melancon said. “They did a good job, sometimes it happens that way.”
With the loss, the Pirates fall to 87-65 and have lost three games in a row following a loss in a style of game it seems the Pirates have won so often in 2013.
“It does hurt a little bit,” McCutchen said.
‘It’, being the loss, is one fans will likely have more difficult time swallowing than the clubhouse will.
“I think results are often a byproduct of attitude, but that’s not a given,” Morton said. “We could have a great attitude and just not win. If you could execute and not win, there are circumstances that are out of our hands.”
“I honestly think that the way we move on is just to move on and play tomorrow.”
The Pirates do so sooner rather than later, at 12:35 p.m. Thursday. While Morton delivered possibly his best pitching performance of the season, the offense was anemic again as part of a stretch now stretching back through the last week of games.
“I know we can do a lot better than we’re doing right now. We only have so many games left, it’s time to pick it up and time to get going,” McCutchen said. “We don’t have time to be making it as close as it’s been these past few days.’