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Bucs' exhilarating 9th followed by loss in extras

@JakeCrouseMLB
July 6, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- For the first eight innings of Friday’s 7-6 loss at PNC Park, the Pirates continued a marked trend of scoring woes against the Brewers, who held them to five runs over three games in Milwaukee to end June. However, the Pirates finally broke through in a five-run ninth

PITTSBURGH -- For the first eight innings of Friday’s 7-6 loss at PNC Park, the Pirates continued a marked trend of scoring woes against the Brewers, who held them to five runs over three games in Milwaukee to end June.

However, the Pirates finally broke through in a five-run ninth inning to force extras, though the joy was cut short when their largely reliable closer, Felipe Vázquez, was squared up for the most hits (3) he’s allowed this season.

Box score

“Crazy game,” manager Clint Hurdle said, “all over the place.”

The way the Brewers limited the Pirates back in June was astounding given Pittsburgh’s run of success around that series. In the two prior sets, the team had scored 19 runs against the Padres and 25 runs in Houston. The Pirates rebounded from their Milwaukee trip to put up 32 runs on the Cubs over four games.

Early in the game, the Pirates scuffled with balls in the park again, and it appeared the game was headed to become a replay of that earlier series. The big hit eluded them, most notably when an Adam Frazier ball to deep center was a Lorenzo Cain highlight-reel catch away from clearing the bases with a double in the second.

But when Josh Bell launched his 27th homer of the year with a three-run drive in the ninth off Deolis Guerra, the limits the Brewers had placed on the Pirates’ bats felt as if they’d finally been lifted. As an exclamation, Jung Ho Kang went back-to-back with Bell with a Statcast-projected 422-foot homer, tying the game at six on the first pitch that reliever Junior Guerra threw.

“I think, at the drop of the hat, we can score five, six runs,” Bell said. “We’ve done it for a couple of months now.”

So much for that tough early batting luck.

“Every time you hit a ball out of the ballpark, you get runs,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes, you hit it in the ballpark, you hit it hard, there’s no reward.”

The rally put Pittsburgh in the ideal situation to pull off a swing in the National League Central table: Milwaukee had burned their closer, Josh Hader, by lifting him with a five-run lead entering the ninth. The Pirates -- who made the bold decision to throw Dovydas Neverauskas in the eighth, which led to four runs -- now had their flamethrower in Vazquez ready to step in and take over.

But just as the Pirates rallied for three straight singles in the ninth to give way to Bell and Kang’s homers, the Brewers strung together three consecutive hits of their own in the 10th. The final of the group was an RBI single by Cain on the third changeup in a row that Vazquez offered him.

“I wish I could take them back, but... that’s baseball,” Vazquez said. “Those hits, those weren’t supposed to be there.”

The Pirates tried to rally back with a pair of singles, but the odds had tipped back in the Brewers’ favor: the pitcher’s spot was due up, the entire bench was burned and so Pittsburgh turned to Joe Musgrove, who struck out.

The loss pushed the Pirates to four games back of the division-leading Brewers in the division standings. But they know they still have time to take Friday’s “drop of the hat” rally and turn it into a big series win.

“They continue to play, and they’re going to continue to play,” Hurdle said. “That’s the way they’re built. It’s what they’ve grown accustomed to doing throughout the season.”

Jake Crouse is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter @JakeCrouseMLB.