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Brewers' road winning streak snapped by Pirates

Despite strong start from Gallardo, Milwaukee downed by late rally

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates pinch-hitter Josh Harrison couldn't get a bunt down, so he swung away instead, hitting a two-strike, two-run home run that sliced through the wind and sent the Brewers on the way to an 11-2 loss at PNC Park on Thursday.

Don't believe the final score. The Brewers and Pirates spent most of the night in a nail-biter, where every big pitch, every clutch hit, every missed bunt meant something.

"It was a good ballgame until the seventh inning," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "We didn't do well offensively, and we let it get away from us out there."

Yovani Gallardo dueled Pirates starter Edinson Volquez for six entertaining innings before a 2-2 game got away from reliever Rob Wooten. He was not on the team at this time last week, but was Roenicke's choice for the seventh inning of a tie game against a division rival because the situation called for a right-hander, and Brandon Kintzler is hurt, Jim Henderson is still finding his way, Tyler Thornburg already is tied for the team lead in appearances and the Brewers have three left-handers in their bullpen.

So it was Wooten who took over for Gallardo in the bottom of the seventh inning and surrendered a leadoff single to Jordy Mercer. Up next was Harrison, pinch-hitting for Volquez and ordered to bunt the go-ahead runner into scoring position.

Harrison, 0-for-8 off the bench to start this season, bunted one attempt foul before looking at three straight pitches, including Strike 2. Wooten fired a fifth consecutive slider and Harrison didn't miss it, sending his go-ahead home run into the bleachers down the left field line.

"They say baseball is a game of adjustments and I was presented with the opportunity to bunt and didn't get it down, but you can't let that affect you," said Harrison, the nephew of Brewers coach John Shelby. "The at-bat wasn't over and I was just trying to do anything I could to keep my at-bat alive."

Andrew McCutchen, whose two-run home run off Gallardo in the first inning had put Pittsburgh on the board, added a run-scoring groundout for a 5-2 lead before lefty Zach Duke helped the Brewers escape the inning. Pittsburgh then tacked on six more runs in the eighth inning against another Brewers left-hander, Wei-Chung Wang.

"That's by far the most disappointed I've been in myself in my professional career, at any level," Wooten said. "Not only the hits, just mentally -- I don't really have words to describe it right now. It's pretty embarrassing."

Wooten was just called up last week to take Kintzler's place on the roster, but was not working in an unfamiliar role. He posted a 3.90 ERA in 27 Major League appearances last season, many in the late innings of close games, and was the last Brewers pitcher cut in Spring Training.

"I like Wooten," Roenicke said. "Last year when he came up, I put him right in tough situations. … I'm fine with Wooten no matter where he is. But there's times when you have the three lefties that you're not going to match up ideally."

Said Wooten: "I love pitching in situations like that. I thrive on that. The first pitch I made was, 'Boom, here we go.' Then, I don't really know, honestly."

Things got worse in the eighth inning for left-hander Wang, the 21-year-old who was plucked from the Pirates' Minor League system in December's Rule 5 Draft. In his second Major League appearance, Wang surrendered six runs on six hits, including Gaby Sanchez's solo home run and Pedro Alvarez's opposite-field, three-run home run.

"That's tough. It's part of the learning curve," Roenicke said. "This is a guy who was in rookie ball last year. Hopefully he can get beyond this because as long as he's here, he's going to have to pitch."

The Pirates' late rally came just in time to make a winner of the resurgent Volquez, who is 1-0 with a 1.71 ERA after surrendering two runs on eight hits in seven efficient innings. He needed only 77 pitches.

Gallardo was not as sharp but was just as effective, allowing McCutchen's two-run home run in the first inning, but little after that. He held the Pirates to those two runs on three hits in six innings, with a season-high four walks and six strikeouts. Gallardo has met the definition of "quality start" -- at least six innings with three or fewer earned runs -- in all four of his outings this season. His ERA after four starts is 1.46.

"It's the same: He keeps us in the game," Roenicke said. "He gives up two in the first, and then all zeros. He did a great job of hanging in there."

"I think I was battling myself a little bit more than my past few starts," Gallardo said. "Honestly, just overthrowing. That first hitter of the game, I started off trying to do way too much and I ended up walking the guy. Then the ball was just up to McCutchen. We tried to go down and away and it was right down the middle, thigh-high. Obviously, to a hitter like that, you can't make any mistakes."

Aramis Ramirez and Jonathan Lucroy drove in a run apiece for the Brewers, who led the Pirates in the hit column until the eighth inning. The loss was the Brewers' first on the road this season after a 6-0 start and spoiled a bid to match the Brewers' 1987 "Team Streak," which won its first seven road games on the way to a 13-0 start to that season.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy.
Read More: Milwaukee Brewers, Yovani Gallardo