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Fifth homer allowed by Archer sinks Pirates

Righty gives up four second-inning home runs in rain-shortened game
@adamdberry
June 12, 2019

ATLANTA -- When the ball boomed off Brian McCann’s bat, Chris Archer briefly followed its path toward the right-field seats at SunTrust Park. Archer quickly turned and pulled off his glove in one motion, clutched his cap with both hands then walked off the mound hanging his head. The saying

ATLANTA -- When the ball boomed off Brian McCann’s bat, Chris Archer briefly followed its path toward the right-field seats at SunTrust Park. Archer quickly turned and pulled off his glove in one motion, clutched his cap with both hands then walked off the mound hanging his head.

The saying goes that solo home runs won’t beat you, and Archer tested the limits of that axiom on Tuesday night by allowing four solo shots in the second inning. But it was McCann’s three-run homer that did in Archer during his rematch with Atlanta. That sixth-inning, tie-breaking blast was the biggest hit in the Bucs’ rain-shortened 7-5 loss to the Braves.

Box score

“I threw four pitches pretty much right down the middle. I didn’t execute at all,” Archer said. “I was throwing strikes, but I didn’t execute. They’re a good team. They hit the ball really hard in this ballpark, so you’ve got to keep the ball down and not throw stuff right down the middle.”

The Pirates are 30-36, a season-worst six games below .500, after starting this road trip with five straight losses. Pittsburgh has lost eight of Archer’s 11 starts this season.

Archer was coming off two encouraging outings: a seven-inning win on May 31 followed by six innings of one-run ball against the Braves last Thursday. It seemed like Tuesday might bring more of the same when Archer, immediately granted a 2-0 lead by Josh Bell, needed only 11 pitches to work a perfect first inning.

"He was throwing really good tonight, too. That’s a credit to our guys,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “His line doesn’t show it, but he was nasty. His stuff was really good."

Then the Braves pulled ahead with a combined 1,558 feet worth of home runs in the span of five batters in the second inning. Josh Donaldson hit a fastball, located up and over the plate, out to right field. Nick Markakis blasted a 3-1, center-cut fastball to center to give the Braves back-to-back homers.

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McCann hit another fastball in the middle of the strike zone, driving it out to center field with one out. Then Ozzie Albies pulled a first-pitch changeup out to right field, completing Atlanta’s second pair of back-to-back blasts.

“I think it’s missed locations as much as anything,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Four were fastballs and one of them was a changeup, and they were all pretty much middle-middle elevated.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time the Pirates allowed four home runs in one inning since July 8, 1956, when four New York Giants homered in the fourth inning of a game at the Polo Grounds. In that game, the first half of a doubleheader, Willie Mays started the spree with a homer off of Vern Law.

Archer could salvage some silver linings, like finishing six innings or racking up eight strikeouts, but the home runs ultimately defined his start. He has surrendered 16 home runs in 59 2/3 innings this season and at least one homer in nine of his 11 starts this season.

But solo home runs supposedly don’t beat you, remember? Sure enough, Archer bounced back with three scoreless innings and the Pirates were still in the game entering the sixth. Colin Moran pulled Pittsburgh within a run by knocking a fourth-inning RBI double to right, and Kevin Newman scored on a grounder in the fifth to tie it up, 4-4.

Nine of Archer’s first 12 pitches in the sixth were out of the strike zone, and the Braves capitalized by putting two men on for McCann. Catcher Jacob Stallings set up his glove for a fastball up and in, but Archer’s 3-0 pitch sailed up in the zone and over the middle of the plate -- a perfect place for McCann to hit it.

“No matter how hard you’re throwing, how good your stuff was the inning before or the game before, if you throw stuff down the middle, you’re going to get blasted,” Archer said. “They’re an aggressive team. They jumped me. I didn’t make the adjustment. I should have. I didn’t. That was pretty much the ballgame.”

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The Pirates chipped one run off their deficit when Bryan Reynolds knocked a pinch-hit, RBI triple to right in the eighth inning. That turned out to be their last chance.

With Luke Jackson on the mound and the top of Pittsburgh’s lineup due up in the ninth, rain began pouring down on SunTrust Park and forced a delay. After an hour and 48 minutes, the game was called.

Hurdle said he was told that it would have taken an hour to prepare the field, but the forecast called for another two hours of rain. That didn’t dampen their disappointment, however, and it brought back bad memories of May 23, 2017. That night at SunTrust Park, the Bucs held a lead after six innings, sat through a delay of more than three hours and wound up losing.

“It’s a bad taste in your mouth. Two runs down, you’re in a game and you don’t get an opportunity to finish the game,” Hurdle said. “There have been some tough things to swallow the last two nights by the people who make decisions.”

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.