PITTSBURGH -- Jonny Venters' slider veered toward the bottom of the strike zone, right into the barrel of Gregory Polanco's bat. With two outs in the ninth inning, Polanco sent the pitch soaring out to right field, watched it for a split-second, then sprinted out of the batter's box.The ball
PITTSBURGH -- Jonny Venters' slider veered toward the bottom of the strike zone, right into the barrel of Gregory Polanco's bat. With two outs in the ninth inning, Polanco sent the pitch soaring out to right field, watched it for a split-second, then sprinted out of the batter's box.
The ball bounced high off the Clemente Wall, no more than two feet away from tying the game, and back into play for a double. But Polanco was stranded when Francisco Cervelli grounded out to end the Pirates' 2-1 loss to the Braves at PNC Park on Wednesday night.
"He hit it hard," Venters said. "I'm lucky that wall is tall out there."
The way the Pirates have hit lately, wasting one dominant start after another, every moment is magnified. Every mistake becomes costly, and every near-miss becomes a missed opportunity. That was the case again on Wednesday as Pittsburgh's ongoing, collective slump overshadowed yet another excellent start by right-hander Trevor Williams.
The Braves' three-game sweep of the Pirates completed a 2-5 homestand in which Pittsburgh allowed 13 runs, scored seven and fell 7 1/2 games out of a National League Wild Card spot. The Bucs managed only three hits in Wednesday's game, the club's lowest output since Aug. 6.
"I can't look any hitters in the eyes and not see fight, not see want-to, not see effort and all those other things," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's tough sledding right now."
It's particularly tough because the Pirates' worst offensive skid of the season has come at a critical point of the schedule and forced Pittsburgh's pitchers to be just about perfect if they want to win.
Williams gave up a leadoff homer to Ronald Acuna Jr. then settled in and allowed only one more hit and two walks while striking out four in six innings. The right-hander has given up four runs in 42 innings over his past seven starts dating back to July 11, lowering his ERA from 4.60 to 3.44 during that span.
"I was able to hit the reset button [after Acuna's homer], stay in the windup and kind of just roll from there," Williams said. "It was a big mistake pitch. I knew immediately it was one of those homers out of the hand where you just hope he doesn't swing. It was bad execution, but I'm glad we were able to settle in and get us six."
Williams did his part, moving forward after Acuna's 20th home run of the season. The Pirates tied the game in the fifth, when Adam Frazier broke up Julio Teheran's perfect game with a one-out walk and scored the tying run on Colin Moran's single to right. Trying to put himself in scoring position, Moran then ran into the last out of the inning at second base.
Right-hander Kyle Crick, who was hit in the back by a comebacker in his last appearance, led off the eighth inning by serving up a single to Dansby Swanson then loaded the bases with a pair of walks. Edgar Santana minimized the damage but could not escape unscathed, as Freddie Freeman hit a sacrifice fly to deep left that gave the Braves a 2-1 lead.
It was an impressive escape act by Santana, a moment that might be praised on any other night. But the Pirates' comeback effort in the ninth fell a few feet short, so Freeman's sac fly turned out to be the difference.
"We're doing some things really well," Hurdle said. "We're not scoring runs at the end of the day, which can complicate things and put you under a magnifying glass in every other aspect of the game."
According to STATS LLC, the Pirates are the fourth team in the live-ball era to average one run or less per game while allowing two runs or fewer per game during any seven-game stretch. The other three to do so were the 1992 Cardinals, '68 Cubs and '38 Phillies.
HE SAID IT
We're showing up at the yard and doing what we do best. We know that when you're on a run like this, you need to give the team the best chance to win. It seems like when you do give up a lot of runs when you're in a rut like this, the game seems out of reach. We know what we have to do to limit the damage as much as we could. -- Williams, on the rotation's recent performance. The Pirates' starters posted a 1.69 ERA over the last seven games but finished with a 1-4 record
Right-hander Joe Musgrove (5-7, 3.31 ERA) will start for the Pirates when they open a three-game series with the Brewers at Miller Park on Friday at 8:10 p.m. ET. The Bucs will put their personalities on display with colorful uniforms and unique nicknames as part of Players' Weekend. Musgrove struck out five while allowing five earned runs over 7 2/3 innings in a no-decision against Milwaukee on July 15. Southpaw Wade Miley (2-2, 2.18) will start for the Brewers.
Mason Wittner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.