After taking the first two games of their series in San Francisco in relatively drama-free fashion, the Pittsburgh Pirates created some on their own Wednesday afternoon.
As a result, a winnable game fell by the wayside, as did an opportunity to sweep an opponent they’re battling for a possible wild-card playoff berth.
Despite rallying from a pair of early deficits to take a one-run lead into the sixth, a combination of absent-minded baserunning and shoddy relief pitching doomed the Pirates to a 7-5 loss to the Giants at AT&T Park.
Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer slammed two-run homers to put Pittsburgh (57-50) ahead 5-4 in the top of the fourth, chasing San Francisco starter Tim Lincecum in the process. But the Giants (58-50) managed to avoid their seventh loss in a row with some help from a Pirates bumble for the ages.
After Gaby Sanchez walked and Travis Snider reached on an error to start the sixth against Giants reliever Jean Machi, Jordy Mercer laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners up. Chris Stewart batted next, and he drew a base on balls to seemingly load the bases.
However, the Pirates inexplicably ran themselves out of the inning when Snider, thinking he was forced to advance by Stewart’s walk, was picked off wandering too far from second base. While he was hung up in a rundown, Sanchez broke for home plate in hopes of allowing the two runners behind him to move up.
Sanchez’s gambit fell flat, as the Giants tagged out Snider quickly and got Sanchez on the relay. Instead of having the bases loaded and one out with pinch-hitter Pedro Alvarez coming up, the inning was over.
For a while, it appeared the Pirates might get away with it, as reliever Jared Hughes retired the Giants in order in the bottom of the sixth to preserve the 5-4 lead. But Justin Wilson saw a one-out walk burn him in the seventh when pinch-runner Juan Perez came around to score after back-to-back soft singles by Joe Panik and Gregor Blanco.
The 5-5 tie didn’t last long. Backup catcher Stewart couldn’t handle a Wilson pitch to Andrew Susac, and the passed ball allowed Panik to come home with the go-ahead run. Jeanmar Gomez allowed a run in the eighth, giving San Francisco relievers Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla enough margin to close out the game.
The Pirates’ three-game winning streak came to an end, dropping them a half-game behind the Giants for the National League’s second wild-card spot.
The loss can’t be pinned solely on the sixth-inning debacle or the leaky pitching that followed, since the Pirates offense went to sleep after the fourth. Only Stewart’s one-out single in the ninth prevented the Giants bullpen from a five-inning no-hitter.
The game had a volatile feel right from the start, with six consecutive Giants reaching base against Pirates starter Charlie Morton in the first. Runs scored on an infield single, a bases-loaded walk and a bloop hit, but it was clear Morton didn’t have his best control on this day.
Still, Neil Walker‘s leadoff double led to a run in the second, then Harrison made Lincecum pay for a walk to Morton in the third by launching his ninth home run to tie the score at 3. Harrison, who started at third base for the third straight game, has homered on four consecutive days.
San Francisco got a run back in the bottom half as Morton (5 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 2 K) continued to labor, but the surging Snider singled in the fourth and came around on Mercer’s moonshot to left, his seventh. Morton survived a two-on, no-out jam in the fourth and had a strong fifth to recover from what could’ve been a disastrous outing.
The Bucs, now 8-4 since the all-star break, head to Phoenix for a four-game set against the Diamondbacks (47-61). Pittsburgh took two of three from Arizona earlier this month.