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Mistakes run virtually the gamut for Pirates

Errors, walks, wild pitches and more prove costly against Cardinals
@adamdberry
September 8, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- Earlier this season, manager Clint Hurdle explained the emphasis the Pirates place on avoiding “free 90s” -- giving away free bases. Pittsburgh operates with a small margin for error, so every out and every “free 90” matters. The Pirates gave the Cardinals too many free 90s on Saturday

PITTSBURGH -- Earlier this season, manager Clint Hurdle explained the emphasis the Pirates place on avoiding “free 90s” -- giving away free bases. Pittsburgh operates with a small margin for error, so every out and every “free 90” matters.

The Pirates gave the Cardinals too many free 90s on Saturday night at PNC Park. They walked five batters, hit two more, committed two errors and a balk, threw three wild pitches, permitted two stolen bases, let one passed ball skip by and didn’t do enough to make up for any of those miscues in a 10-1 loss to St. Louis.

Box score

"You work with them one at a time. I don’t think frustration from our part is going to help them at all,” Hurdle said. “They’re trying to work through it. Nobody wants to go out there and play poorly and not do their job.

“We’ve talked about those things. We’re practicing those things. After that, guys have got to go make plays.”

It was the 26th time in 142 games this season that the Pirates allowed at least 10 runs. They have lost 13 of their 18 matchups with the Cardinals this year.

While Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright put together a vintage performance, holding the Pirates to one run on six hits and a walk in seven innings, Pittsburgh left-hander Steven Brault battled through his roughest start since rejoining the rotation in late May. Pitching without his best command or his top two-seamer, Brault allowed six runs (five earned) on six hits in 5 1/3 innings.

Afterward, Brault referenced an idea most pitchers are taught at some point: Starters who take the mound 30 times a year will make four feeling excellent, four feeling terrible and 22 feeling somewhere in between.

“Tonight was somewhere in the middle, but near the bad side,” Brault said. “Three-run home runs are day-killers, so keep the ball out of the stands and it’ll be a different ballgame.”

The Cardinals did most of their damage against Brault in the third inning. The lefty got ahead of Wainwright, 0-2, then gave up a double to left-center. Brault then fell behind Dexter Fowler, 3-0, and Fowler capitalized with an RBI single to center. Kolten Wong then dropped a well-placed bunt, rolling it toward first base. Josh Bell got to it before Brault, but they couldn’t get the out at first.

Brault retired Paul Goldschmidt, only for both runners to advance on a balk. Marcell Ozuna made the Pirates pay for their mistakes with a three-run homer to right-center field. The inning continued with a throwing error by Bell before Brault escaped by inducing a double play.

“That whole inning, all that stuff, you can hold that inning,” Brault said. “I just wasn’t able to do that.”

The sixth inning was similarly sloppy. Brault issued a leadoff walk to Ozuna, who advanced to second on a passed ball.

Some of Elias Diaz’s issues behind the plate may have been due to a thumb issue, as Hurdle mentioned he saw the catcher shaking his left hand when he took his glove off. Diaz had his left hand wrapped after the game.

Then Paul DeJong’s fly ball to right field popped in and out of Jose Osuna’s glove, and DeJong stole second. Base hits by Tommy Edman and Harrison Bader brought home two runs and chased Brault.

“That sixth inning was just kind of some unfortunate stuff that happened, some hits that go through and stuff like that, and it’s going to happen sometimes,” Brault said. “I felt fine. The stats look bad. The line looks bad because of a three-run home run.”

After reliever Clay Holmes gave up a leadoff double and a one-out walk in the seventh, DeJong launched a fly ball off the wall in center. Starling Marte, who had two hits and drove in the Pirates’ only run for his career-high 82nd RBI, made a leaping attempt but didn’t come close to reeling in DeJong’s two-run double. Marte thought he had a chance to make the play because he got a good jump on the ball, he said, but he just “missed a little bit.”

Much will be made of the Pirates’ personnel decisions, roster moves and offseason transactions in the coming months. But to bounce back in any meaningful way next season, they must also play cleaner, more fundamentally sound baseball than they did on Saturday. And this game was not an isolated incident, as they began the night ranked last in the Majors in Defensive Efficiency Ratio, last in Ultimate Zone Rating and 25th in Defensive Runs Saved.

It’s not for lack of effort. Over the past few weeks, the Pirates have done more full-squad defensive work before games than they did most of the summer. They were out on the field running drills again Saturday afternoon.

The work just didn’t translate to results on Saturday night.

“The errors, they’re something we’ve tried to deal with periodically all year. We had another workout again today, team fundamentals,” Hurdle said. “We’re doing what we can to do it. Guys have got to go out and play the game and make plays. We haven’t done it. When you don’t do it, it obviously doesn’t help. Way too many free 90s today.”

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.