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Locke drops duel despite outstanding outing

Replacement starter allows three hits over seven innings

PITTSBURGH -- If you think of a 1-0 game as three hours of inaction, you weren't at PNC Park on Sunday afternoon.

The Brewers got out of town with that 1-0 victory, and it was anything but bland.

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PITTSBURGH -- If you think of a 1-0 game as three hours of inaction, you weren't at PNC Park on Sunday afternoon.

The Brewers got out of town with that 1-0 victory, and it was anything but bland.

View Full Game Coverage

Minimal score, maximum dramatics.

Two reviewed plays, one decision preventing a Pirates run and one giving them hope in the ninth. Two ejections at the home team's expense. Repeated efforts by the Bucs, each leading nowhere, at times ruined by scintillating defense by the visitors.

All that is not even considering the day's only run, which had 35,001 fans upset with the 35,002nd, and Jeff Locke biting his lips.

Baseball can be a cruel game. Many have heard that before, but on Sunday, Locke experienced it.

Recalled from Triple-A for an emergency start that could turn into rotation tenure, Locke pitched extremely well against Milwaukee. Just well enough to have his heart broken, in fact.

Locke's loss to the Brewers and their ace, Yovani Gallardo, came on a fan-tainted run.

Jonathan Lucroy led off the seventh by yanking a soft liner down the left-field line that even he didn't think would stay fair -- explaining why the Brewers catcher stopped running halfway to first.

"He thought it was going foul," Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said following the game. "He probably lost the ball when he looked up and didn't see where it was coming down the line."

Not only did the ball land fair, a few inches inside the line, Lucroy wound up on second when a first-row patron in the left-field corner -- in foul territory -- bent over to pick up the souvenir.

"Fan interference. That was the call," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, with resignation -- which is how he had come out to argue the decision, knowing that such rule-book calls are automatic.

That was all the opening the Brewers needed -- Lucroy made it to third, barely, on Carlos Gomez's lineout to center fielder Andrew McCutchen, then scored as Aramis Ramirez was badly fooled on a changeup and squibbed a grounder to first baseman Gaby Sanchez.

"Funny how it goes like that," said Locke, who in the second half of last season couldn't pitch well enough to be frustrated. "I pitched a lot of games here where nobody's been fooled at all. You don't have to hit it very hard -- just hit it in the right spot."

The Pirates, conversely, kept Gallardo in trouble much of the afternoon, without being able to follow through on a threat. They left 10 men on base and were 1-for-11 with men in scoring position -- ugly numbers at the end of a 1-0 defeat.

"Tough game. There were challenges all over the place," said Hurdle. "A lot of calls, a lot of situations, and not many to our advantage. We got guys on, and weren't able to plate them. A lot went on to kinda make you shake your head."

The Bucs made their biggest move in the seventh, when they loaded the bases with one out on a Russell Martin single, Pedro Alvarez fielder's choice grounder (on which no out was recorded) and Jordy Mercer's bunt single.

However, with still an opportunity to reward Locke with a win, his pinch-hitter, Jose Tabata, fanned at the end of a tough eight-pitch battle, then Josh Harrison's popup ended the inning.

Their scoring chances were not over, however, as the Bucs made another run in the ninth. Starling Marte walked and was caught stealing second, but the call was overturned after a challenge. Pinch-hitter Ike Davis then walked and Travis Snider nearly delivered the game-tying single, but he was robbed by Brewers shortstop Jean Segura. Harrison then flied out to end the game.

Same old Locke, who was paged to step in for Gerrit Cole, taking a timeout with a fatigued right shoulder? Maybe better.

"Outstanding. Outstanding," Hurdle said. "His fastball command was spot-on. He kept shoving it in there for strikes, sometimes off the plate to get them to move. That's the young man we saw in the first half of the season last year."

Eight times in his first 18 starts of last season, Locke went six innings or longer and allowed three hits or fewer.

Sunday, he rode the same All-Star-making vehicle. Through six, he held the heavy-handed Brewers to two infield hits. By the end of their respective seven-inning stints, Locke had thrown merely 75 pitches to Gallardo's 121.

In his seven frames, Locke allowed the three hits and the one run, with one walk and five strikeouts. He started off 17 of his 24 batters with first-pitch strikes. Gallardo's seven shutout innings came on a yield of four hits, and he also had one walk while fanning eight.

Locke retired the first 11 men he faced, then gave up a pair of two-out hits in the fourth that did not leave the infield. Lucroy hit what should've been a comebacker -- except Locke, thinking Lucroy had hit the ball off his foot for a foul, didn't make a play for it. Then Gomez hit a sharp one-hopper into the second-base hole stopped by Neil Walker's dive from reaching the outfield. Ramirez's fly to center ended the Brewers threat.

It transcended being just another early-June game, for both managers.

Roenicke called on Francisco Rodriguez to collect his first four-out save in three years.

"It was a great ballgame," K-Rod said. "The atmosphere was huge. And obviously we expected that, playing a team that we've got in our division, so it's going to be fun from now on."

And Hurdle called on his players to get over it.

"We've got to get rid of it, and got to move on," Hurdle said. "That's the challenge of the game at this level: to stay after it."

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Jeff Locke