Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bucs Break Down In Eighth, Lose 6-4

Hey, your first place Buccos take the field tonight against Bud Norris and the Astros, trying to make hay before the big boys come to town.

With one away, Chase d'Arnaud walked on a 3-2 pitch and went to third on Neil Walker's bouncer into right, just past Carlos Lee, who was holding the runner. But McCutch missed a high fastball and popped out, and Garrett Jones went down swinging at a low and away slider, so the Pirates came up empty.

Paul Maholm watched Michael Bourn roll a 3-2 pitch between his legs for a leadoff knock. He was bunted to second - maybe Clint Hurdle gave the sign - and went to third on a bouncer to second. PM got Hunter Pence to pop out, so a little smoke but no fire for both teams in the opening frame.

The Bucs blew another chance in the second. With an out, Brandon Wood walked. Mike McKenry lined a single to left to put runners at first and second. Maholm bunted to the box; Norris looked at third, threw to second, and pulled Keppinger off the bag to load the bases.

Like McCutch, Alex Presley got a high slider he tried to get under. He hit it off the handle and popped out. d'Arnaud at least laid some wood on the ball, but lined out to second. Pittsburgh has stranded five after two.

The Pirates didn't play the second like a first place team. Carlos Lee dinked a double into short left, and Jay Michaels followed with a pop to right that Garrett Jones apparently couldn't find in the early evening sun, putting runners at first and third. A high-and-away curve bounced of McKenry's mitt. He corralled the short passed ball in time for a play, but bobbled the pick up and Lee scored. After two, it was 1-0 Houston.

Walker led off with a liner to right; he never got off first. McCutch K'ed looking, Jones bloop into right was run down by Pence, and Bourn snagged Lyle Overbay's rope to center.

Bourn started off the third with an infield knock, a hopper that got past Brandon Wood, who was playing tight, at third. No problem; Bourn broke on Maholm's first move, and was picked off 1-3-6. But walking light hitting Angel Sanchez on five pitches was a problem after Keppinger ripped a slider far into the Crawford boxes, his third dinger of the year, to put the 'Stros up 3-0. Now the Bucs have to get to work and hope those early chances they muffed wouldn't haunt them.

McKenry lined a one out single in the fourth. In an odd at bat, Maholm took a strike, then showed bunt and swung away later, striking out in the process. The King bounced out to end the Bucco half of the frame.

With one out, Clint Barmes singles, and Humberto Quintero followed with a slow roller on an 0-2 pitch into left that stayed down and under d'Arnaud's glove. Norris bunted then over, but Maholm came up big and got Bourns swinging to keep it at 3-0.

The Pirates finally got on the board in the fifth when Walker crushed his ninth homer into the second tier of right field to make it 3-1 Astros.

With an out, Keppinger drilled a liner off the left field scoreboard for a double. Lee singled a batter later on a roller. d'Arnaud made a diving stop to save the run, but the throw from his knees was a step late. Michaels lined one up the middle; The Pittsburgh Kid made a leaping grab to end the inning.

Overbay made the glovework worth it when he hit his seventh homer of the season over the right field wall. Wood followed by blasting his fifth long ball over the left center wall, and it was a tied game. McKenry dropped a double into the right field corner, and the Bucs looked like they were cooking.

But Maholm popped out trying to bunt and Presley went down looking. d'Arnaud rolled an infield single to short to put runners on the corners, and in came Wilton Lopez, as Brad Mills decided to go with the righty. Walker laced a ball up the middle, and it was 4-3 Bucs. They almost added on, but McCutch's drive into right center was nicely run down by Pence.

That was it for Maholm, too. He went fives innings, giving up three runs on nine hits with a walk and three K's, tossing 80 pitches. PM wasn't on today, but tightened up when the pressure was on and kept the game within reach. Dan McCutchen took the hill. He gave up a couple of hard hit outs, but pitched a clean inning.

Lopez kept the Bucs off the board in the seventh, giving up a single to Overbay, who's hit the ball on the nose all four at bats tonight. Xavier Paul went to right and Chris Resop to the mound. He pitched a 1-2-3 frame, getting two flies and a pop out. Into the eighth, and it's 4-3 Pittsburgh.

Sergio Escalona did the honors in the eighth, and set the Bucs down in order. Jose Veras came on for the Bucs, and the wheels fell off.

He walked Pence on five pitches. A Lee chopper moved him to second, and he stole third. That was the key to the inning; a good throw by McKenry had him dead to rights, but the catcher never took the ball out of his mitt. Brett Wallace banged one to short with the infield in; Pence beat the tag under a high throw, according to plate ump Tim Timmins, although it appeared McKenry had him on a bang-bang play.

Barmes hit a two hopper to third with DP written all over it, but it went off the heel of Wood's glove to again put runners on the corners. Quintero singled up the middle, and Houston had the lead. Chris Leroux came on and got a pop out, but Bourns singled in another run.

It was a terribly played frame, and the Bucs fell behind 6-4 with three outs to go. JV walked the leadoff batter in a one run game, McKenry didn't make the throw to third, d'Arnaud made a high throw to home, Wood booted a DP ball...the bullpen didn't blow up; the gloves did.

Mark Melancon came on, and put away the Bucs routinely. It was his seventh save and remarkably, the first Astro save since June 7th.

The little things the Bucs have been doing well lately - making the plays in the field and bringing home runners - they didn't do tonight. It shows up in the limelight a little more when you're in a pennant race. And it does highlight the holes in the lineup that Hurdle has to jury rig his way around. But hey, there's tomorrow afternoon to make amends. It's a big series to take with the Reds and Cards coming to town.

The afternoon game will match RHP Kevin Correia (11-7, 4.01) against LHP Wandy Rodriguez (6-6, 3.52)

  • Neil Walker now has a ten game hitting streak. He's also second in MLB with two-out RBIs, 32, over half his season total of 62. That's pretty clutch hitting.
  • Walker had four hits, McKenry three, and Overbay a pair. But the 1-2-4-5 hitters, Presley, d'Arnaud, McCutch and Jones, went 1-for-18 to offset their performance.
  • This is the fifth time this season that Paul Maholm has left the game with the lead and ended up with a no-decision.
  • Steve Pearce is raking in Indy, and his return seems imminent. The brass want him to work at several positions in the field - he was at third tonight - and when they're satisfied he's ready be a super utility guy again, he'll be back. We think it'll be soon.

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