MILWAUKEE -- Nine days ago, the Pirates erased a six-run deficit to beat the Tigers. On Sunday, they dug their way out of two three-run holes to beat the Padres in 11 innings. Over the last two days, they racked up 24 runs against one of the best teams in the American League.
So, really, who was worried about a little one-run deficit heading into the eighth inning on Friday night at Miller Park? The way the Pirates have been playing lately, it felt like only a matter of time before they came back again. And come back they did, rallying for one run in the eighth and another in the ninth to beat the Brewers, 3-2, in the series opener.
“We know that there’s a chance always. Games like this just confirm that,” shortstop Kevin Newman said. “The game where we came back from three runs twice, we know that we have that fight in us. We don’t count ourselves out, ever.”
The Pirates have won seven of their last eight games and are still two games below .500, but with little separation in the National League Central division, they’re only four games behind the first-place Cubs. Friday night was the beginning of a 16-game stretch against the NL Central rivals they’re chasing: the Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals.
“The last 10 or so days for us have been huge, since we left Miami,” starter Chris Archer said. “That series, slowly building, building, building and then to see where we’re at now -- it’s highly encouraging.”
The only discouraging aspect of the Pirates’ win on Friday was Archer’s early exit due to left hip discomfort. The right-hander confirmed the club’s announcement that he was removed as a precaution, but any injury news this season seems to be cause for concern.
Archer gave up two runs during a 30-pitch first inning, immediately putting the Pirates in a hole, but he bounced back with three scoreless innings after that. He aggravated his hip during a swing while batting with the bases loaded in the fourth inning.
Archer returned to pitch the bottom of the fourth, however, and showed no signs of discomfort. His fastball topped out at 96.2 mph, according to Statcast, and he worked a 1-2-3 inning, thanks to Jacob Stallings catching Lorenzo Cain stealing second after a leadoff walk.
After the game, Archer said his hip “doesn’t feel great” but wouldn’t rule himself out for his next start.
“I hope not,” he said. “A lot’s going to depend on how I feel tomorrow and the next day and whenever I throw a side [session]. As of right now, I don’t think so.”
With his starter done after four innings, Clint Hurdle aggressively planned the rest of the game. He used his high-leverage relievers an inning early -- Rodriguez in the fifth, Francisco Liriano in the sixth and Kyle Crick in the seventh -- and they worked three scoreless innings. He tabbed closer Felipe Vazquez for a two-inning appearance, if necessary.
“Once [Archer] went out and came in the dugout and said he had to go, just kind of drew that one up in the dirt,” Hurdle said.
In the eighth inning, with runners on the corners, Colin Moran delivered a run-scoring fielder’s choice, partly thanks to Josh Bell breaking up a potential double play at second base. Then in the ninth, Newman slapped a comebacker to reliever Jeremy Jeffress with runners on the corners. Instead of going for the out at the plate, Jeffress tried to turn an inning-ending double play, with was unsuccessful due to an inaccurate throw to second base.
The Pirates may not have the Majors’ most powerful lineup, but no team in the NL is harder to strike out. Behold, the value of putting the ball in play.
“We’ve been preaching it here for a long time, and tonight was a perfect indication of how good things can happen when you put the ball in play,” Hurdle said. “To win a 3-2 ballgame with two runs coming on two infield outs, ground balls, situational RBIs.”
Vazquez delivered the two-inning save Hurdle desired. The flamethrowing lefty made short work of Milwaukee’s top three hitters in the eighth, striking out Yasmani Grandal, Christian Yelich and Mike Moustakas in order on 13 pitches. A 1-2-3 ninth inning that saw him add another strikeout ended the game and gave Vazquez the victory.
“The top of the lineup, it gets a closer excited because it’s the best against the best,” Vazquez said. “When I saw the three guys who were coming up [in the eighth inning], I got a little pumped up.”
Newfound power for Newman
Newman cut Pittsburgh’s deficit in half in the third inning and extended his hitting streak to 18 games with a solo home run to left field off Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin.
Newman has gone deep in three straight games, and his 18-game streak is tied with Neil Walker (2010) and Rennie Stennett (1971) for the longest by a Pittsburgh rookie since 1900. Newman’s ability to hit helped make him a first-round Draft pick in 2015. The power surge is a bigger surprise.
He hit two home runs in three years at the University of Arizona. He hit 15 home runs in the Minors, including four last season for Triple-A Indianapolis. Now, he has five in 54 games this season.
“A lot of it is not doing too much. I’m really just trying to go up there and put good swings on good pitches, and it’s just showing up,” Newman said. “It’s not anything I’m trying to do different. It’s just showing up.”