With runners and second and third and one out in the top of the ninth inning, the Pittsburgh Pirates were one hit away from stealing Sunday’s series finale in Colorado and avoiding a three-game sweep.
Instead, Jordy Mercer’s liner found the glove of Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado and Alex Presley popped out, capping the Bucs’ frustrating weekend at Coors Field. The Pirates’ 3-2 defeat Sunday marked the second straight game in which they blew a multiple-run lead, a rarity this season.
Pedro Alvarez’ first homer of August and Andrew McCutchen’s RBI single had pushed Pittsburgh (70-47) to a 2-0 lead in the third inning, but a questionable balk call against Pirates starter Jeff Locke helped Colorado get on the board in the bottom of the frame. An Alvarez throwing error in the sixth gave the Rockies their second run, then Arenado’s two-out double put the Rockies (55-64) ahead in the seventh.
Matt Belisle pitched a perfect eighth for Colorado, but the Pirates mounted a challenge immediately against Rex Brothers in the ninth when Neil Walker led off with a single. Russell Martin struck out, but rookie catcher Tony Sanchez roped a double to right field that looked like it might score Walker until third-base coach Nick Leyva held him up.
Bucs manager Clint Hurdle pinch-ran Starling Marte for Walker at that point – probably one batter too late – leaving the comeback in the hands of the bottom of the batting order. Following Mercer’s lineout, the Rockies intentionally walked Gaby Sanchez to face Presley. Brothers retired him to escape the trouble and give Colorado its 34th home win, the fourth-best total in the National League.
The NL Central-leading Pirates fell to 29-27 away from home, heading into another crucial series against second-place St. Louis this week. Despite dropping three to the Rockies over the weekend, Pittsburgh has a three-game lead on the Cardinals, who have largely struggled since the All-Star break.
Locke has had a difficult second half of the season, too, but he dodged four walks and three hits to permit just one earned run in 5 2/3 innings. The young lefty struck out three and left a two-on, two-out situation for fellow southpaw Tony Watson in the sixth. Watson got pinch-hitter Corey Dickerson to roll softy to the left side, but Alvarez gunned the throw into the stands, allowing Yorvit Torrealba to score.
Bryan Morris retired the first two batters of the Colorado seventh before Wilin Rosario singled and scored on Arenado’s double into the right-field corner.
Alvarez’ ill-timed error, his NL-leading 24th, partially obscured his line-drive dinger off Rockies starter Chad Bettis in the second. Alvarez continues to lead the league in home runs, although he went nearly two weeks between his 27th and 28th. Clint Barmes doubled in the third and eventually came around on McCutchen’s infield single; McCutchen had two hits to boost his team-leading average to .313.
Bettis, a rookie, went six innings while allowing four hits and two runs. Reliever Manny Corpas was credited with the victory after throwing a perfect seventh.
The Bucs start their series in St. Louis on Tuesday, as Charlie Morton is scheduled to oppose Adam Wainwright at Busch Stadium.