Mix together the little things that Pittsburgh hasn't done all season - throw out base stealers, drive in runners from third, add on insurance runs against the opponent's relievers, give up long balls - and a rare bullpen meltdown, and you have the ingredients for yet another "I can't believe it" loss.
Tonight it was a ten-inning, 5-4 defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers.
It was an "uh-oh" start when Paul Maholm walked Rickie Weeks to start the game, fell behind Corey Hart 3-0, and gave up a bomb to make 2-0. But the Bucs battled back.
Ronny Cedeno, whose eye appears back, led off the third with a double, the Pirate's first hit in eleven innings. An out later, McCutch singled him home to halve the lead. Jose Tabata and Neil Walker reached to juice the bases, but the 4-5 hitters, Garrett Jones and Pedro, popped and grounded out. It would be a recurrent theme; Pittsburgh was 2-for-11 with RISP.
Lastings Milledge tied it in the fourth with a blast, and Andrew McCutchen homered in the fifth. The Bucs got their first - and only - clutch hit when Pedro doubled home Tabata with two away to put the Bucs up 4-2.
But the Pirates wouldn't score after that frame, as the Brewer bullpen combined to toss five scoreless innings to carry struggling starter Doug Davis, giving up just three hits during that span.
Pittsburgh only generated a couple of chances against the pen, squandering one and running into some bad luck in the eighth when Milledge's ball, on its way to center field with Jones on second, hit the ump and became a dead ball, keeping Jones on second instead of coming around.
Maholm would be brilliant after the first two batters, although his control was iffy, giving up just two hits after Hart's dinger, walking two more, and plunking three (hey, it is the Brewers, the team Pittsburgh loves to bean).
He left after seven innings, with a line of two runs on four hits with four K's, throwing 100 pitches and getting 14 groundouts. He was in trouble only once, but came up with a key DP ball to quiet a mild threat. And turning over a two-run lead to the bullpen in the eighth has been money in the bank, even for the sad sack Pirates.
But not this evening. Joel Hanrahan gave up a gopher ball to Prince Fielder to cut the lead to one; it was the Pirate's 98th home run ball served, second highest in the NL. it was also the first run he allowed after putting together an 11 outing scoreless skein.
Octavio Dotel came on to face the Bottom of the Brew crew order. He gave up a one out bunt single to Carlos Gomez, who stole second and went to third when Dewey's throw rocketed into the outfield.
With the infield drawn in, George Kottaras hit what would have been a routine grounder past Jones into the right field corner - and he has quickly become a Buc killer - that Ryan Church, a defensive sub for Milledge, couldn't corral, and it went for a game tying triple. Gomez is hitting .227; Kotteras .197.
Dotel's next pitch was in the dirt and ricocheted off Ryan Doumit, but not that far; the slow Kotteras' dash to home was foiled when Dewey recovered and got the ball to OD for the out at the plate. It only prolonged the inevitable.
Walker led off the tenth with a knock, moved to second on an excuse-me grounder by Jones, and got 90 feet away from home on a wild pitch. Runner on third with less than two outs and the infield in? Hey, no problem - for the Brewers. Pedro went down swinging and Doumit struck out looking. Milwaukee could have sat their infield down for them.
Evan Meek took the hill in the tenth. Pinch hitter Jim Edmonds led off the 10th with a single, and Weeks bounced into a forceout. He stole second easily. Meek struck out Corey Hart, and JR opted to intentionally walked the left-handed Fielder to get to the right-handed Braun.
Braun was served a high slider that he spanked to the base of the wall in right, and Milwaukee's losing streak at ended at five games.
After the game, we were left wondering how a catcher who prior to this season had a 29% throw-out rate suddenly dropped to 10%? Heck, Dewey had a 31% caught stealing percentage in 2009; what happened this year?
And what exactly does Milledge have to do to keep from losing at-bats and innings to a 31-year old that's hitting .190? Church isn't part of the future, and when Aki Iwamura hit .182 and Jeff Clement .189, they were shipped to Indy. RC, though, just keeps piling up at-bats.
Ah well, questions for another day, we suppose.
Jeff Karstens takes on Dave Bush tomorrow night.
-- The Pirates have allowed at least one run in the first inning in each of the last four games, and also in five of their last six games. Twenty-two of the 36 runs Pittsburgh has allowed in the last five games have come in the first three innings.
-- Altoona SS Chase d’Arnaud was named to the Eastern League All-Star team as an injury replacement. Not exactly sure how a .242 average qualifies for the honor; must be a bad year for infielders. Actually, he's been hot as a pistol lately; d’Arnaud has raised his average 30 points since June 1st.
He'll join Curve players RHP Derek Hankins, LHP Rudy Owens, 3B Matt Hague, 2B Josh Harrison and C Hector Gimenez as EL All-Stars.
-- The Pirates signed 27th round draft pick RHP Kevin Kleis from Grossmont College. He's a 6'8", 18-year old reliever and will likely report to the GCL Bradenton Bucs.