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Bucs unable to hold lead in rare 9th-inning blip

Bucs were 21-0 when leading after eight innings prior to Sunday's defeat
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates aren't used to seeing off-line throws from sure-handed shortstop Jordy Mercer. They aren't used to watching closer Felipe Vazquez walk off the mound in the middle of an inning. And they aren't used to letting games slip away when they're ahead after eight innings.

It all happened in an ugly ninth inning on Sunday afternoon. The Pirates scrapped and blasted their way to a one-run lead in the eighth, but a couple critical mistakes in the infield negated their comeback effort. The Padres stormed back to beat the Bucs, 8-5, and win the four-game series at PNC Park.

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates aren't used to seeing off-line throws from sure-handed shortstop Jordy Mercer. They aren't used to watching closer Felipe Vazquez walk off the mound in the middle of an inning. And they aren't used to letting games slip away when they're ahead after eight innings.

It all happened in an ugly ninth inning on Sunday afternoon. The Pirates scrapped and blasted their way to a one-run lead in the eighth, but a couple critical mistakes in the infield negated their comeback effort. The Padres stormed back to beat the Bucs, 8-5, and win the four-game series at PNC Park.

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"A loss is always kind of hard to swallow. We had a chance to win," second baseman Josh Harrison said. "Baseball. You've got to play 27 outs, sometimes more than that."

The problem was that the Pirates handed the Padres extra outs to work with in the ninth. Vazquez gave up a pair of singles to begin the inning, putting the tying run in scoring position. Cory Spangenberg then hit the ground ball the Pirates wanted, but Mercer's errant throw bounced off Harrison's glove and into center field, allowing Jose Pirela to score from second.

Video: Pirela scores on E6, ties game

"We wanted to turn [the double play]. Tipped off my glove just enough," Harrison said. "At the end of the day, you give that to him nine more times, he's going to get it. That said, he's human."

Added Mercer: "Just a bad throw."

Freddy Galvis dropped a squeeze bunt with runners on the corners, bringing home Franchy Cordero for the go-ahead run. Vazquez rolled his right ankle while fielding the ball and turned to first base for the first out, but nobody covered the bag in time. After a double-steal, A.J. Ellis lined a two-run single to right-center field to give the Padres a three-run lead.

"We had a rough ninth inning. Defensively, we didn't help ourselves," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Tough to give a team extra outs, especially in the ninth inning."

Video: SD@PIT: Galvis plates go-ahead run on bunt in the 9th

The Pirates had been 21-0 this season when leading after eight innings, which made Sunday's loss tough to absorb. It was particularly painful given the way they climbed out of a three-run hole to set up a victory.

Pirates starter Trevor Williams, facing his hometown team for the first time, pitched three perfect innings to begin the afternoon. Things went awry after that, as Williams gave up a two-run shot to Christian Villanueva in the fourth followed by a pair of hits, a run-scoring groundout and a squeeze bunt in the fifth. Just like that, the Pirates' one-run lead turned into a three-run deficit.

"I didn't execute pitches where we could have gotten through the second time through the lineup a little more smooth," Williams said. "It was really just a few pitches today that got away from me that ended up costing us four runs."

Pittsburgh quickly swung its way back into the game as Austin Meadows ripped his first Major League home run -- a two-run shot -- into the center-field seats off Jordan Lyles in the sixth and Mercer crushed Lyles' next pitch out to left field to tie the game. Harrison's sac fly capped their eighth-inning rally against Padres reliever Kirby Yates.

Video: SD@PIT: Meadows launches his 1st career home run

It all went to waste, however, as the Pirates lost their third straight game.

"Just move forward. Forget about what happened today. Forget about this series," Vazquez said. "Go to Cincinnati and try to win the whole thing and come back here and keep winning more games."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Squeezed out: Galvis' squeeze bunt in the ninth was the Padres' second successful attempt of the day. With one out and Ellis on third in the fifth inning, Lyles put down a perfect bunt that rolled between the plate and the mound. Williams ran in, scooped the ball in his glove and flipped it to catcher Francisco Cervelli. Ellis beat the toss home, however, and Lyles ran down the line to first to give San Diego a 4-1 lead.

"They took a risk, and they got the reward," Williams said. "It's a do-or-die play on both sides. I can't take the out at first base if I see the out in front of me, and I thought we had the out in front of me. It was bang-bang, could have gone either way."

Video: SD@PIT: Ellis scores on Lyles' suicide squeeze

SOUND SMART
Before Meadows, the last Pirates center fielder to hit a home run in one of his first three games was Ralph Kiner in 1946. The Hall of Famer homered in his third career game.

HE SAID IT
"These four-game sets have been challenging. This series, especially, we were able to push back in all three games and not finish the game off."-- Hurdle. The Pirates have lost three of their four four-game series this season, beating the Reds but losing to the Phillies (sweep), Nationals (sweep) and Padres (three of four).

UP NEXT
Jameson Taillon will start for the Pirates on Tuesday as they begin a series against the Reds at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Taillon one-hit the Reds on April 8, and he's put together a 1.98 ERA in an injury-interrupted May. Former Met Matt Harvey will start for the Reds at 7:10 p.m. ET.

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

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