Prior to the nine-game winning streak that boosted them to the best record in the major leagues, the Pittsburgh Pirates gradually made their way up the standings by claiming series victories.
After their season-long run, the Bucs have done the opposite. As a result, they’ve lost some ground as the all-star break approaches.
For the second straight night, the Oakland Athletics didn’t need much offense to top the Pirates at PNC Park, as the visitors earned a 2-1 win Tuesday night to clinch the three-game series. Pittsburgh (53-37) has dropped four games in a row and three straight series to fall 1 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the National League Central lead.
One night after going 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position, leading to just a single run on nine hits, the Pirates could manage a mere three hits against four A’s pitchers. With the exception of Pedro Alvarez’ long home run to center field in the second inning, the Bucco bats never showed up following a precautionary weather delay that pushed the first pitch back to nearly 9 p.m.
While Alvarez’ team-leading 23rd bomb of the season was a solo effort, Oakland (54-37) used a two-run shot from former Pirate Brandon Moss to vault ahead in the fourth. Moss’ line drive over the right field wall was easily the loudest hit against Pittsburgh rookie starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, who went seven innings and allowed five hits in the longest outing of his month-long MLB career.
A’s starter Dan Straily was just as effective as Cole, if not moreso. The 24-year-old righty threw 6 1/3 innings of two-hit ball in his 20th career big-league start, striking out seven Pirates along the way. Oakland relievers Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour closed the deal, with Balfour fanning two to earn his 24th save.
Jose Tabata led off the ninth with a ground-ball single against Balfour, but the fiery Australian struck out Andrew McCutchen and Alvarez before retiring Russell Martin to end the game and send 24,560 Pirates fans home unhappy.
Starling Marte had the only other Pittsburgh hit, a leadoff single in the seventh that chased Straily. The Pirates have scored three runs or fewer in seven of their last 10 games, going 4-6 during that span. McCutchen’s 0-for-3 evening cost him a 10-game hitting streak, which pushed his batting average above .300 for the first time since early April.
The bullpen was a positive for the Pirates yet again, with Tony Watson and Jason Grilli tossing scoreless frames. Grilli saw game action for the first time since last Wednesday, when he earned his MLB-best 28th save against the Phillies.
Since then, the Pirates are 1-5, matching their worst six-game stretch of the season. Pittsburgh started the season 1-5, losing two out of three to the Cubs before getting swept by the Dodgers.
The Pirates will send resurgent lefty Francisco Liriano to the mound Wednesday night to try to salvage a game against the AL West-leading A’s. Oakland is scheduled to counter with Tommy Millone. ESPN will televise the game outside the Pittsburgh area, a first for the Pirates this season.
Notes: Second baseman Neil Walker was placed on the 15-day disabled list before the game. Walker, who had been experiencing pain in his right side, was replaced on the 25-man roster by infielder Josh Harrison…After nine straight home crowds over 30,000, the Pirates have drawn less than 26,000 to PNC Park for the first two games of this series…Balfour has converted 42 consecutive save opportunities, an A’s franchise record. The 35-year-old’s ERA is now 1.72…Time of the game was 2 hours, 27 minutes, which helped make up for the delayed start under mostly sunny skies…The Pirates have an off day Thursday before hosting the Mets over the weekend leading into the four-day all-star break.