Errors in the air in Bucs' loss to Braves

June 5th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates had played eight straight games and a season-high 77 straight innings without committing an error before they took the field Tuesday night. Kyle Crick had pitched 15 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing a run, the longest active scoreless streak in the National League.

Neither streak survived the night. The Pirates committed three costly errors that led to runs, and red-hot rookie Austin Riley hit a go-ahead homer off Crick in the Pirates’ 12-5 loss to the Braves at PNC Park. The Bucs have now lost three in a row and 11 of their last 15 games.

Pittsburgh has been playing cleaner defense lately, but it was an issue everywhere in the series opener against Atlanta -- behind the plate, in the infield and in the outfield. Asked about the errors after the game, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle recited the numbers from memory -- 77 consecutive innings, eight straight games.

“Not tonight,” Hurdle concluded.

If it’s not one thing for the Pirates right now, it’s another. Too often over the last month, their starting pitching hasn’t given them a chance to win or their bullpen has let a game get away before late-inning relievers can take the ball.

Yet the Pirates managed to carry a two-run lead into the seventh inning on Tuesday despite a four-inning start by Steven Brault and a lineup without Josh Bell. It was their defense that ultimately did them in.

Brault walked leadoff man Ronald Acuna Jr. in the first inning then gave up a single to Dansby Swanson. The Braves sent both runners on a double steal, and catcher Elias Diaz made an errant throw down the line. The ball sailed past third baseman Kevin Newman and into left field, allowing Acuna to score the first run.

The Bucs immediately answered by putting up four runs against Atlanta starter Max Fried. They sent nine men to the plate in the first and strung together five straight hits, including a two-run homer by Melky Cabrera and back-to-back doubles by Jose Osuna and Cole Tucker.

Both teams traded runs in the second then went scoreless until the sixth, by which time both starters had been knocked out after inefficient outings. Riley led off the inning with a grounder to third base, which Newman scooped up in his glove. But he dropped the ball on the transfer, allowing Riley to reach safely on the error. Riley moved to second when reliever Clay Holmes walked Ozzie Albies, then scored on pinch-hitter Matt Joyce's one-out single to left off Richard Rodríguez.

Still, the Pirates entered the seventh inning ahead, 5-3, with Crick on the mound against the middle of the Braves’ lineup. Crick struck out Freddie Freeman but walked Josh Donaldson. Nick Markakis hit an 80 mph liner to left, where rookie Bryan Reynolds couldn’t make the catch.

“I think if you ask him, it’s a play he feels he should have made,” Hurdle said.

Reynolds’ error put two runners on for Riley, who swung on an 0-1 slider away and knocked it into the right-field seats for a three-run homer. It was not a bad pitch by any means, Crick and Riley agreed. It was more than a few inches off the plate. But after whiffing on a first-pitch slider, Riley sold out to hit the outside breaking ball.

“I could have swung twice at the first pitch, I missed it so bad,” Riley said. “I was sitting on that second pitch, and I luckily put a good swing on it.”

Crick had not allowed a home run to a right-handed hitter since Detroit’s Nicholas Castellanos took him deep on April 25, 2018. It was only the fourth homer Crick has allowed in 86 appearances for Pittsburgh.

“I think I executed the pitch. Just a better piece of hitting,” Crick said. “Baseball’s a weird game, to be honest with you. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.”

No longer leading and unable to call on Clay Holmes or Richard Rodriguez because they had pitched before Crick, Hurdle summoned Geoff Hartlieb and Rookie Davis from the bullpen to finish the game. Hartlieb gave up a three-run homer to Donaldson in the eighth, and Freeman padded Atlanta’s lead with a two-run shot to center off Davis in the ninth.

“They’re a team that, when you face them, you think you’re going to get free-swingers. You’ve got a lot of guys who are big-swing guys. But they’re mature,” Brault said. “They wait for their pitch and they look for what they want, and they did a really good job of that tonight.”