The Milwaukee Brewers got a Herculean effort from their bullpen on Sunday, but it wasn’t enough as the Pittsburgh Pirates completed a season sweep while winning their ninth consecutive game, 2-1 in 14 innings.
The Brewers dropped their fifth straight game and fell 16 games under .500 at 32-48, their worst record since finishing the 2004 season 27 games under at 67-94. Martin Maldonado was 3-for-5 for the Brewers, but the rest of the Milwaukee attack hit as if their bats had already been sent on to Washington for the team’s next series. Other than Maldonado, the rest of the Brewers were a combined 1-for-41 on Sunday.
The Pirates moved to a Major League-best 51-30 at the midpoint of their season and opened a two-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central Division when Russell Martin slapped a pinch-hit single to center field to score Gaby Sanchez from second base with one out in the bottom of the 14th.
The Brewers led 1-0 until the Pirates tied the game in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Starling Marte rifled a shot off reliever Jim Henderson that Milwaukee shortstop Jean Segura couldn’t handle for an infield single. After Marte moved up to second on a ground ball out, Andre McCutchen drilled an RBI single to left field. The Pirates rally ended there when McCutchen was thrown out trying to advance to second.
For Henderson, it was his third blown save of the season.
Milwaukee had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the second, getting an unearned run off Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton when Yuniesky Betancourt reached on an error by Pirates shortstop Cliff Barmes with one out and advanced to third on a single by Martin Maldonado. Logan Schafer laid a bunt down on the right side of the infield that brought home Betancourt.
The beleaguered Milwaukee bullpen looked as if it might get a break on Sunday when Kyle Lohse got off to a strong start. But with two outs in the bottom of the second, umpires stopped play due to heavy rain and the tarp was brought out.
After a delay of 2:20, Lohse was done after just five outs. Brewers starters have now worked just 17.1 innings in Milwaukee’s last five games. Tyler Thornburg, just recalled from Triple-A Nashville on Friday night, did yeoman’s work, however, allowing just two hits and striking out four with one walk over five scoreless innings.
After Thornburg plunked Michael McKenry with a breaking ball that didn’t in the bottom of the seventh, John Axford was summoned from the pen and struck out Barmes to end the threat.
But the Pirate pen was able to match Milwaukee’s effort, and then some. Vin Mazzaro relieved Morton after the rain delay and pitched five perfect innings, the longest stint of perfect relief pitching since Jake Westbrook of the Cleveland Indians worked seven perfect innings against the Detroit Tigers on April 19, 2004 (per baseball-reference.com).
In all Pittsburgh’s relief corps worked 12 scoreless innings on Sunday and allowed only two hits while striking out seven. Pirate pitchers needed just 143 pitches to work 14 innings in all, with 107 of them thrown for strikes.
By contrast, the Brewer pitchers threw 234 pitches, 138 for strikes.
The Pirates avoided having to juggle their starting rotation when Martin came through in the 14th. Martin was batting for reliever Tony Watson, who had worked three perfect innings and earned the victory to improve to 2-1. Behind Watson, Pittsburgh had Jeff Locke ready to come into the game. Locke is scheduled to start the Pirates’ next game, Tuesday at home against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Francisco Rodriguez (1-1) took the loss for the Brewers, allowing three hits a run and walking three, one intentionally, in 1.1 innings. Rodriguez had escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the 13th by inducing Pedro Alvarez to hit into an inning-ending double play.
The Pirates also had a chance to end it in the bottom of the ninth. After Mike Gonzalez got the first two outs of the inning, Sanchez drew a walk and advanced to second on a McKenry single to center. Jordy Mercer came on to pinch-hit for Barmes and worked a walk to load the bases.
But Gonzalez was able to strike out pinch-hitter Brandon Inge, batting in the pitcher’s spot, on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning.
The Brewers got a terrific relief performance from Brandon Kintzler, who worked three perfect frames in extra innings before giving way to Rodriguez.
Milwaukee also got a game-saving defensive play in the seventh inning when Schafer leaped high over the wall in left-center field to rob Sanchez of a game-tying home run (see video below).
The Brewers continue their seven-game road trip Monday when the open a four-game series against the Nationals in Washington. Yovani Gallardo (6-7) is scheduled to go for Milwaukee against Jordan Zimmermann (11-3). Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is off Monday before opening a three-game home set with the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday.
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