A three-run sixth inning propelled the Philadelphia Phillies to a 3-1 victory Tuesday night at PNC Park, cutting off the Pittsburgh Pirates’ winning streak at nine games in the opener of a midweek series.
Pirates rookie pitcher Brandon Cumpton threw five scoreless innings to begin his third spot-start in three weeks, but the Phillies got all the offense they would need in the sixth. RBI hits from Ryan Howard and Delmon Young sandwiched a Dominic Brown sacrifice fly, chasing Cumpton after 5 2/3 innings.
Garrett Jones’ solo home run in the bottom of the sixth raised hopes of a Pittsburgh comeback, but five Phillies relievers combined to finish what starter Jonathan Pettibone began, sending the Pirates (51-31) to their first loss in nearly two weeks. Despite the defeat, the Bucs are still 15-6 since early June and 28-14 overall at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh had promising chances to rally in the seventh and eighth innings, but a combination of bad luck, poor baserunning and inopportune strikeouts kept Philadelphia (40-44) in the lead.
Jordy Mercer played a role in both squandered opportunities, as he was thrown out trying to stretch a leadoff single in the seventh and fanned with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth. Also of note in the late innings: deep flyouts to center by Gaby Sanchez and Andrew McCutchen with runners on, a lineout from Starling Marte, a single by Neil Walker hit too hard to score Russell Martin from second base and a pinch-hit strikeout from Brandon Inge.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel wore a path to the mound during the drama, going to Jacob Diekman (1/3 of an inning), Phillippe Aumont (one), J.C. Ramirez (1/3), Antonio Bastardo (1/3) and Justin De Fratus (1/3) to bridge the gap from Pettibone to closer Jonathan Papelbon, who pitched a perfect ninth.
The 6-foot-6, 22-year-old Pettibone allowed three hits and whiffed six Pirates en route to 5 2/3 effective innings. He threw 102 pitches, with Jones’ long homer to right-center the only extra-base hit against him. Pittsburgh loaded the bases with two outs in the third inning after Andrew McCutchen’s infield single, but Jones struck out to end the threat.
Cumpton, on the other hand, struck out just three and watched the Phillies drive the ball around the yard for most of the night, but those balls fell into gloves until the decisive sixth. Singles by Michael Young and Jimmy Rollins set the table for Howard, whose looping liner dropped to the grass, bringing home the game’s first run.
Brown followed with a sacrifice fly to center, then Young hammered a flat off-speed pitch deep into the North Side Notch in left-center field. The ball rolled all the way to the 410-foot sign on the padded wall, giving the slow-footed Howard just enough time to lumber around from first.
The Pirates still hold the best record in Major League Baseball and maintain their lead over St. Louis in the National League Central, but their offense has gone missing over the past three games. Since scoring four or more runs in seven straight contests, Pittsburgh has five runs in its last 31 innings.
The Bucs will try to get their bats going Wednesday night when they face Phillies lefty John Lannan (4.83 ERA in six starts). The surprising Jeanmar Gomez (2.76, eight starts) or rookie Jeff Locke (2.06, 16 starts) will oppose for Pittsburgh.
Notes: The Pirates went 2 for 4 with runners in scoring position despite needing Jones’ homer to avoid a shutout…The crowd of 30,301 was the seventh straight to top 30,000 at PNC Park…It was Pittsburgh’s first loss of the season following an off day. The Pirates had gone 10-0 with the benefit of additional rest prior to Tuesday…Howard and Young were the only players in the game with multiple hits; they had two each…Pittsburgh’s nine consecutive wins was the franchise’s longest streak since 2004, when the Pirates won 10 in a row.