Pirates' fortunes change quickly vs. Rockies
Two-run sixth-inning lead turns into deficit in bottom half of frame
DENVER -- Perhaps if Saturday's game were played in Pittsburgh one week ago, the pieces would have somehow formed a complete puzzle for a ninth-inning comeback.
The Pirates had already rallied to cut the Rockies' lead to two, Neil Walker standing on first and their two most potent bats about to step to the plate representing the tying run. But the Pirates could not manufacture any of their previous magic after a one-hour, 48-minute rain delay at Coors Field on Saturday night, dropping their second straight game to the Rockies, 6-4.
The Pirates' second straight loss will cost them a series victory. But the losses have come as precisely the right moment, as they still hold a four-game lead over the scuffling Cardinals in the National League West.
Andrew McCutchen bit at a full-count slider down and away in the ninth, with third baseman Pedro Alvarez striking out on a similar pitch from closer Rex Brothers, this after he walked the leadoff batter and then allowed back-to-back singles. Brothers proved their match, quickly dispatching the club that has the third-most come-from-behind victories of any NL team.
"We fought back, and you got Cutch up there with a chance to go ahead, and you got Pedro; you like your chances," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
"Brothers has done a fine job for them. He's been a very, very good pitcher for them this year and he was able to challenge Cutch and just make pitches that looked like strikes out of his hand and they didn't finish there."
With two outs in the sixth, the Pirates were in control with a two-run lead, their surprising star A.J. Burnett was on pace for another dominant outing against a Rockies club he suppressed in a complete-game victory last Sunday. But things changed quickly when the Rockies plated five runs in the sixth.
Michael Cuddyer singled to lead off the bottom of the inning before Burnett (5-8) recorded two quick outs. That single turned into trouble after Arenado double into deep right to score Cuddyer, and pinch-hitter Charlie Blackmon smacked another double to tie the game at 3.
"We got some clutch hits and put together some clutch at-bats against some real good pitching," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said.
Colorado's hit parade continued when Dexter Fowler singled to score two more, the Rockies suddenly jumping out to a 5-3 lead. That marked the end of Burnett's night, the right-hander ultimately surrendering six runs (five earned) and striking out eight over 5 2/3 innings.
"I couldn't make a pitch," Burnett said. "Left balls over the plate too much to [Arenado], and first pitch to [Blackmon], you tip your hat; that wasn't a bad pitch. But it all started with me throwing too much over the plate on an 0-1 pitch to [Arenado]."
The inning nearly ended on a Corey Dickerson single off reliever Tony Watson when Fowler tried to race to third. But when third baseman Pedro Alvarez applied the tag, the ball was knocked out of his glove by Fowler's slide and into foul territory.
Fowler scored easily on that play to put the Rockies ahead, 6-3. After a brief visit from the trainers and manager Clint Hurdle, Alvarez played the rest of the game.
"He caught a spike right on his index finger on his glove hand," Hurdle said. "But he was able to stay in the game, and he took swings and we'll see how he feels tomorrow."
It took the bat of a player with a strong record of success at Coors Field to break up a tie in the top of the sixth. Garrett Jones, hitting .391 in eight career games in Denver, smoked a triple past the glove of a sprinting Fowler to score Russell Martin.
That offensive surge may have never happened had Martin not slipped an infield single past the glove of Nolan Arenado, the third baseman slapping his glove in frustration as the ball trickled into the outfield grass. Two days after he was the walk-off hero in Pittsburgh, Martin finished 3-for-4 with two singles and a double.
Jose Tabata's infield single handed the Pirates a two-run lead, enough to chase Juan Nicasio. The Rockies' starter allowed three of six hits and two of three runs in the sixth, striking out four in 5 2/3 innings.
But after the Rockies retook the lead in the sixth, the seventh was a steady fall.
The trouble began when a fastball struck leadoff hitter Starling Marte his left hand in the top of the seventh, the left fielder doubling over in pain and leaving the game. Marte and Hurdle said X-rays were negative and labeled it a contusion.
Hurdle would be back on the field minutes after tending to Marte, as second-base umpire Adrian Johnson ejected him in the seventh for arguing that shortstop Troy Tulowitzki did not have his foot on second base when he turned a 1-6-3 double play. But even that fiery display could not inspire the Pirates to mount another late rally.
"I trust my eyes, and my eyes were wrong," Hurdle said after the game. "I went out there, and I really felt confident he was off the bag. Adrian made the right call."
The Rockies first took the lead in the second, when Jonathan Herrera sneaked a ball just past the diving glove of first baseman Garrett Jones to score Todd Helton.
The Pirates had McCutchen's speed to thank for their first run, the outfielder flying home from first when catcher Martin dropped a double into the right-center field gap. McCutchen led off the inning with a walk.
After Burnett left, Pittsburgh's bullpen shined once again, relievers Watson and Justin Wilson not allowing a run in the 2 1/3 innings.
Rockies reliever Wilton Lopez (2-4) tossed just 1/3 of an inning, but it was enough for the win.