MINNEAPOLIS -- The Pirates' frustration on Tuesday night was evident at the plate and in the visitors' dugout at Target Field. It was even more apparent in their clubhouse after a 5-2 loss to the Twins.
With a two-run lead and Jameson Taillon cruising through three innings, the Pirates were in position to secure an important win. Instead, they gave up their lead in the fourth inning, wasted the few scoring opportunities they had later in the game and fell to 4-4 on a three-city road trip that ends Wednesday afternoon.
"The reality is we lost the game, and we've got to win these kinds of games," catcher Francisco Cervelli said.
The Pirates have lost 10 of 18 games since the end of their 11-game winning streak, falling eight games behind the Cubs in the National League Central and five games out of the second NL Wild Card. Four teams stand between Pittsburgh and a playoff spot.
"If we're not playing well, it gives other teams the chance to gain ground," said Taillon, who put together his fourth straight quality start despite a three-run fourth inning. "I'm not going to sit here and say we're defeated on a .500 road trip, but at the same time, we would have loved to have won more at this point."
There was a more specific point of frustration for the Pirates, more narrowly focused than their standing in the postseason race. They had several disagreements with home-plate umpire Joe West about what some players perceived to be an inconsistent strike zone.
"I'm not one to call anybody out or put blame on anybody, because we had a chance to win the game," second baseman Josh Harrison said. "But when you're out on defense and you're consistently watching your pitchers not get pitches that are called on you and your teammates -- and some pitches that are better than what's been called -- you get frustrated."
Harrison went down looking at questionable called third strikes in his first two at-bats, and each time he turned to face West. Manager Clint Hurdle emerged from the dugout after Harrison struck out in the fifth, and the veteran infielder was clearly frustrated in the dugout during the sixth inning.
"At the end of the day, we all want a fair shake, man. That's all it's about, being consistent," Harrison said. "We know you're not perfect, but at the end of the day, we work too hard for people to shut us down on pitches that we know are balls."
Of course, that frustration might have faded if the Pirates won the game. But the Twins' fourth-inning rally undid the Bucs' early efforts against starter Jake Odorizzi. Cervelli ripped an RBI double to the gap in left-center field to put the Bucs on the board, and Colin Moran's run-scoring groundout gave them a 2-0 lead in the second.
Odorizzi escaped the second by striking out Harrison and getting Corey Dickerson to pop out. That began a streak of 12 straight Pirates hitters retired by Odorizzi before he left the game in the sixth inning,
The Pirates threatened again late, loading the bases with two outs in the eighth inning. Cervelli worked a full count against right-hander Matt Magill but hit a high popup to shallow center field, where John Forsythe settled under it for the final out.
After Pittsburgh's missed opportunity, Minnesota padded its lead. After Jorge Polanco hit a bloop double to shallow left field, Miguel Sano crushed an 0-1 fastball from reliever Richard Rodriguez 406 feet to right-center field to give the Twins a three-run lead.
"It's over and done with. Had a chance to win. Tough loss," Harrison said. "Come back tomorrow and try to even the series."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Second time's no charm: Taillon breezed through three perfect innings on 39 pitches before giving up three runs on five hits in a 23-pitch fourth. Joe Mauer led off the inning with a single to left and took third on Eddie Rosario's double to right. Polanco brought home both runners with a game-tying single to right field. Max Kepler knocked a single to right field, and Jake Cave slapped a single to center that scored Polanco from third base to give Minnesota a one-run lead.
"They got a little more aggressive, and then I was being aggressive," Taillon said. "That's kind of the ebbs and flows of the game and the adjustments. … I'm not going to sit here and say I made great pitches when I give up hits. Apparently I need to make them better, so I don't know. Nothing was wrong physically or anything that inning. They hit some pitches, and I need to make better ones."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Harrison is perhaps best known for using his instincts and athleticism to avoid tags, but he made a difficult play to catch Kepler stealing second base in the sixth inning. Cervelli's throw to second was sailing high over the sliding Kepler, but Harrison leapt to snag the errant throw and tagged Kepler in one smooth motion for the first out of the inning.
"Once I jumped, I've been blessed with pretty long arms. I had a feeling when it was up the line a little bit," Harrison said. "I knew if he was to do a slide, feet-first, guys are never flat like a head-first slide, so I just slapped the tag. Just trying to get an out."
HE SAID IT
"I'm not one to say go look at the tape, but feel free to go look at the tape. I got a great view at second base, seeing our pitchers attack the zone. Some pitches are [the] first pitch of the at-bat, better pitches than what we're getting rung up on. And I'm like, 'there you go.' It's tough for our pitchers to feel they have to throw down the middle, and I get it, they're not perfect. But if we get asked to pay attention to detail, that's all we ask of them." -- Harrison, on the strike zone
Shortstop Jordy Mercer was replaced by Adeiny Hechavarria in the fifth inning due to left calf discomfort. Hechavarria struck out in the fifth as a pinch-hitter and remained in the game at shortstop. Mercer walked in his only plate appearance of the night. Hurdle indicated that Mercer tweaked his calf while fielding Sano's grounder in the fourth inning.
Right-hander Chris Archer will make his third start for the Pirates at Target Field at 1:10 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Despite dealing with food poisoning, Archer picked up his first Pirates win last week at Coors Field. Right-hander Jose Berrios will start for the Twins.