Pirates fall in 11th after bullpen has rare misstep
Pittsburgh unable to secure win for first time when leading after seven
PITTSBURGH -- It was a rare night at the ballpark. Only seeing the Loch Ness Monster stick its neck out of the Allegheny River would have been more unusual than what actually transpired on its shores, in PNC Park.
The Houston Astros outlasted the Pirates, 4-2, in 11 innings. Whenever two baseball teams meet, anything can happen, so the rarity wasn't the outcome itself, but how it came about.
The Astros had been 0-26 when trailing after seven innings. The Pirates had been 18-0 when leading after seven innings.
Naturally, then, the Astros tied the score in the eighth before breaking a 2-2 tie on a controversial run in the 11th that led to argumentative Pirates manager Clint Hurdle's ejection.
You want rare? Afterwards, Hurdle essentially apologized to plate umpire C.B. Bucknor, saying he had been right to call Jason Castro safe on his slide into catcher Russell Martin's block.
Castro, who had begun the 11th with a double off Bryan Morris (1-2), came in from third base on Matt Dominguez's grounder to second with one out. He slid into and over Martin's extended left leg. Bucknor signaled safe, Hurdle vehemently beefed and drew his second ejection of the season.
"I thought we had a play and weren't able to get an out," Hurdle said. "And then I went inside [the clubhouse to check on a replay] and the ump made the right call. He made a good call. He got a good look at it and he was right."
J.D. Martinez's pinch-hit RBI single later in the inning opened up a two-run lead and made the crowd of 32,925, the season's largest since Opening Day, accept the fact that the Bucs' four-game winning streak was about to end.
If the original mound matchup of A.J. Burnett against Erik Bedard seemed to favor the Pirates, the later duel between their world-class bullpen and Houston's young crew was even more in the Bucs' favor.
As it is often said, "That's why they play the games," and thus Mark Melancon, perfect in 15 previous hold situations, stubbed his toe in allowing the tying run in the eighth.
And Jose Cisnero, who throttled the Pirates for 3 2/3 innings, picked up his first Major League win.
"He did a tremendous job of saving the rest of the bullpen and keeping the game right there, and gave our offense a chance late to put together that two-run rally," Houston manager Bo Porter said.
Cisnero should have gotten more than just a win, according to Hurdle.
"He kept us off the board, and any time you get that kind of push from one guy, he probably should get the win and the save," Hurdle said.
The official save instead went to former Pirates setup workhorse Jose Veras, who retired the side in order in the bottom of the 11th for his sixth save of the season in his 344th big league appearance.
The Astros didn't hit Melancon hard for the tying run, but they hit him right -- identical bouncing singles up the middle by Trevor Crowe and Jose Altuve, then a cracked-bat flare into left by Chris Carter for the RBI to make it 2-2.
"Two three-hop ground balls and a broken-bat single. I think that shows you how impressive he's been all the times before -- because you can be throwing well and still give up a run," Hurdle said of Melancon, who had give up his only other run this season on April 14. "That's really good."
Burnett escaped major trouble in the first inning, when the Astros loaded the bases with one out. He responded the way one would expect of someone leading his league in strikeouts: He fanned both Carter and Carlos Pena, needing a mere seven pitches to do so.
The Pirates struck quickly for a 1-0 lead in the bottom of that first, on back-to-back two-out doubles by Andrew McCutchen and Gaby Sanchez.
McCutchen was the centerpiece of the go-ahead rally in the sixth, too. He followed Jose Tabata's leadoff bunt single with another double. Tabata was eventually erased on a grounder, so McCutchen got to score the go-ahead run on Brandon Inge's single.
Strange plays seem to follow the Astros around. Their tying rally in the fifth wasn't quite on par with their losing folly in the ninth inning Friday, but was odd in its own right.
Marwin Gonzalez began it with a grounder to second, on which Sanchez and Burnett converged at the first-base bag. Neil Walker had to make a snap decision to whom to throw the ball and picked Burnett, who couldn't step on the base ahead of the runner. Gonzalez then ran into Sanchez and required the trainer's attention for a jaw bruise.
Bedard managed to lay down a bunt on an 0-and-2 pitch. Martin went for Gonzalez, but his throw to second was tardy. Yet shortstop Jordy Mercer's relay to first nabbed Bedard. Gonzalez took third on a grounder and, following a walk of Crowe, scored as Inge tripped atop the third-base bag while trying to field Altuve's grounder, which went for an infield RBI single.
"I could've gone for the backhand," said Inge, who lost his balance when trying to get in front of the grounder, "but if it bounces over my wrist and goes down into the corner, it scores another run. I was trying to keep it in front of me, just couldn't handle it cleanly."
Burnett again went seven innings, allowing five hits and four walks to one run, while fanning seven. It was the fourth consecutive start that he has gone seven innings.
"That's my approach, to go deep in games," he said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I'm not a 'me' guy."
Bedard was a worthy adversary, as he is apt to be. The lefty went six innings, allowing two runs on seven hits to remind the Pirates of the Bedard they'd occasionally see last season.
Out of his 24 starts for the Bucs in 2012, Bedard went six-plus innings while allowing two runs or fewer seven times -- and did not see the fifth while allowing five-plus runs seven other times.