PITTSBURGH -- The book on Brewers rookie Keston Hiura is inconsistent defense but a heck of a bat, and for the 28,770 Pirates fans who were watching the 22-year-old for the first time on a marathon Saturday at PNC Park, that sounded about right.
Hiura’s misplay on a potential inning-ending double-play ball helped spark an unlikely Pirates comeback, but his tying, two-run home run in the ninth off lights-out Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez extended the Brewers’ hopes for four more innings before they won in the 13th, 12-10, on Orlando Arcia’s second two-run home run of the day.
Long Saturdays at the office have become habitual for the Brewers, who have gone to extra innings four of the past five weeks. Two of those games surpassed the five-hour mark, and another fell four minutes shy. This Saturday was the longest by time, clocking in at five hours and 23 minutes.
“It took everyone to get that win,” Hiura said.
That was almost literally true. The Brewers’ bench was empty by the ninth inning, leading to a pinch-hit appearance for Sunday scheduled starter Zach Davies in the 12th. Five relievers combined to pitch nine innings, including Matt Albers and Adrian Houser for two scoreless innings apiece after the ninth, leaving Corbin Burnes as the only rested reliever in the bullpen.
Arcia’s seventh and eighth home runs this season came about five hours apart before he helped Hiura gain further redemption. The duo teamed for a slick double play to end the game -- the second of extra innings in which Hiura took part.
The call at first base initially was safe, but it was overturned upon review. That ruling sent the Brewers into the month of June with a hard-fought win.
“He bounced back,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Hiura. “The home run was huge, off a really good pitcher. That’s big league baseball. You get another chance.”
Now the question is whether Hiura will continue to get chances. Infielder Travis Shaw is due back from a rehab assignment by Tuesday, and will resume duties at third base. That presumably would push Mike Moustakas back to second, though Moustakas exited Saturday’s game with a bruised right hand after Vazquez hit him with a 101 mph fastball. X-rays were negative.
If Moustakas doesn’t miss time, where would that leave Hiura?
“Whatever happens, happens,” Hiura said. “I’ve always gone about that saying, ‘Wherever they send me, wherever they have me playing, I’m going to give my best effort.’”
Before the game’s smooth finish, there were plenty of moments in which whatever could go wrong for the two teams, did, from Hiura’s third-inning error that didn’t go into the books as an error, to Christian Yelich’s go-ahead, three-run home run in the sixth after the Pirates missed a foul popup, to the first blown saves of the season for each teams’ All-Star closer.
But Hiura answered Starling Marte’s three-run homer off Josh Hader with a two-run homer off Pittsburgh’s Vazquez, who not only had converted all of his saves this season, but 41 of his last 42 chances dating to last year. Hiura hit a 97.9 mph fastball with an elite spin rate of 2,517 rpm, the sort of pitch a hitter is not supposed to drive over the fence. With MLB on a record-setting home run pace, it was only the 10th long ball across the game this season on a pitch with that kind of velocity and spin.
Hiura delivered another hit in the 11th, but the Brewers continued to come up empty until Arcia hit the game’s 499th pitch, a two-seamer from Pirates right-hander Alex McRae of New Berlin, Wis., in McRae’s third inning of work. It sailed into the Brewers’ bullpen to break the tie.
Then he teamed with Hiura for the defensive play that sealed Houser’s first Major League win.
“That’s going to happen to all players. You’re not going to make every play,” said Arcia of Hiura’s earlier miscue. “He was able to make an adjustment there later on in the game, make a good throw and we were able to turn it.”
Not to mention hitting the tying home run off a tough closer.
“Increíble,” said Arcia, rendering translator Carlos Brizuela temporarily unneeded.
At the start, it looked like the Brewers might breeze to a win behind top starter Brandon Woodruff, who was spotted a 5-0 lead. But it began to slip away in the bottom of the third inning after Hiura couldn’t convert a one-out grounder off Josh Bell’s bat into a double play; Hiura’s feed to Arcia was high, and the Brewers got only the out at second base.
“I wish I could have made a better feed and taken that big inning away,” Hiura said.
Instead of an 18-pitch scoreless inning, it turned into a 39-pitch, four-run inning for Woodruff, who went: RBI single, walk, three-run double, hit batsman, walk, to the next five hitters. The Pirates pulled within 5-4, and would take a 7-5 lead two innings later against Woodruff and Junior Guerra.
“Look, we screwed up a double play and it cost us four runs,” Counsell said. “Woody still has to make pitches after that, but we had a double play to end the inning, and that changed the game.
“But we got a break on the other side with a popup. That kind of describes the game. A lot of stuff just happened.”
Enough good stuff for the Brewers to emerge victorious.
“Realistically, we’re not going to make every play; I didn’t make every pitch,” said Woodruff. “So that’s not even on [Hiura]. It was good to see him turn that last one there to get the win. That was a huge win for us because the offense kept picking us up. It was a good team win.”