Pirates squander Williams' steady start

Right-hander yields one run over six frames as offense freezes

July 26th, 2017

Even after scrapping their way back to .500 and into the National League Central race, the Pirates are on the outside looking in. Every self-inflicted wound and missed opportunity is a setback, another degree of difficulty added to their path back to the postseason.

They were dealt both Wednesday afternoon when they lost a 2-1 decision and a three-game series to the last-place Giants at AT&T Park. After sweeping the first-place Brewers at home, the Bucs began their nine-game West Coast road trip by losing four of six against the Rockies and Giants.

The loss dropped Pittsburgh four games behind division-leading Chicago in the NL Central standings. The Pirates fell two games below .500 with only a weekend series in San Diego standing between them and Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline.

It would be difficult to lament the particulars of the Pirates' 11-3 loss on Tuesday, but Wednesday was a different story. A winnable game was lost in the eighth inning.

With the score tied at 1, two outs and on third base, hit a high fly ball to left field off reliever Tony Watson. misread the potential final out and tried to recover, but it was too late. He watched the ball fall beside him for a go-ahead double.

"I heard the sound of the crack of the bat, and I knew the ball came off pretty hard and strong. I tried to get the best judgment on the ball," Marte said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "As I was reading it, the wind started taking it away and unfortunately what happened, happened."

Much credit is due to the performance of San Francisco starter Jeff Samardzija, who held Pittsburgh to one run on four hits while striking out eight in seven innings. But right-hander delivered a similarly effective start for the Pirates, keeping them in the game after a perilous first inning.

Williams faced a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first, but he allowed just one run. He fired five scoreless innings after that, limiting the Giants to five hits and recording 13 of his 18 outs on the ground.

"Our game plan going in was to own the fastball to the lower third [of the strike zone], sliders and changeups down in the lower third as well. We did a good job doing that," Williams said. "I fell behind some hitters in the first inning, and luckily, we were able to [do] damage control."

Williams' strong start went unrewarded, however, and the Pirates lost to the Giants for the fifth time in six meetings this year. The Pirates have also lost six of their seven matchups against the Reds, who are in last place in the NL Central.

Still, the Pirates feel good about where they stand. Less than three weeks ago, they were seven games below .500 and eight games behind the Brewers. Their next five opponents own losing records. A few losing series have not diminished their confidence.

"This team's really in a good place," Hurdle said. "We fought and battled back to get in the hunt, so I think we just stay focused on getting a little bit better. … This team, mentally, is in a really good place."