The Pittsburgh Pirates did a lot of things right Sunday afternoon at PNC Park, but not enough to overcome a combination of bad umpiring calls and poor luck in a painful 1-0 loss to the first-place Milwaukee Brewers.
With their third loss in their past four games, the Pirates (29-33) dropped eight games behind their National League Central rivals, reversing the good feelings from Friday’s 15-5 series-opening victory.
Jeff Locke pitched wonderfully in subbing for Gerrit Cole, who was placed on the disabled list with shoulder fatigue. The left-hander allowed just three hits in seven innings on 75 efficient pitches, permitting only one run that should have an asterisk attached to it.
More on that in a bit, but misfortune haunted the Bucs every step of the way. They didn’t need any of that with Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo on the top of his game, firing seven shutout frames, although he needed 120 tosses to match Locke’s longevity. Gallardo struck out eight to Locke’s five, although he allowed one more hit than his mound opponent.
The extra hit didn’t matter, not with the umpiring crew helping Milwaukee (38-26) out. Neil Walker appeared to be safe at the plate in the first inning when trying to score on Gaby Sanchez‘s fly ball to right field, but he was ruled out by home plate umpire Ed Hickox – and the replay inexplicably wasn’t enough to overturn the call.
Fast-forward to the top of the seventh, when Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy lifted a shallow leadoff hit down the left-field line that a dim-witted fan interfered with. Lucroy stopped running because he thought the ball was foul, but the umpires awarded him second base nonetheless.
That controversial decision cost the Pirates dearly when a pair of consecutive productive outs pushed Lucroy to third base and then home plate.
Despite the difficult circumstances, Pittsburgh had a big opportunity to at least tie the score in the bottom of the seventh. Russell Martin singled to start the frame, then the Brewers didn’t get an out on Pedro Alvarez‘s fielder’s choice. Jordy Mercer followed one out later with a bunt single, but Jose Tabata struck out and Josh Harrison popped out to strand three.
In the eighth, Andrew McCutchen laced a one-out double to left-center off reliever Rob Wooten. However, Sanchez flied out and Martin was called out on a dubious third strike, triggering an emotional explosion from Martin that led to his ejection and that of his manager Clint Hurdle.
The Pirates had a final run-scoring chance pass them by excruciatingly in the ninth. Marte and pinch-hitter Ike Davis walked against erratic Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez with one out, setting up Travis Snider. The bad-luck demon haunted Snider in that critical spot, as his one-hop smash up the middle was snared by shortstop Jean Segura, who flipped to second baseman Rickie Weeks to get the second out and hold Marte at third.
A frustrating afternoon ended one batter later when Harrison’s sinking blooper settled into the glove of lunging Milwaukee center fielder Carlos Gomez.
The Pirates look to recover with a four-game series against the Cubs at PNC Park. Charlie Morton gets the start Monday night at 7.