SAN FRANCISCO -- Clint Hurdle's best-laid plans went awry Saturday night. His ninth-inning strategy was a long shot. But when shortstop Clint Barmes' throw died in the dirt at catcher Rod Barajas' feet, they had no shot.
All they had was a 4-3 loss to the Giants, and faces that grew just a bit longer.
"I've got to make that play. If I throw to the target, we got two outs and a chance to get out of the inning," Barmes kept saying repeatedly soon after his throwing error on Melky Cabrera's grounder with the bases loaded and none out had ended the Bucs' sixth one-run game of this very young season.
Chris Resop, the fifth Pittsburgh reliever to enter a game that had been deadlocked at 3 since the fifth, had the ninth begin with consecutive singles by Emmanuel Burriss and pinch-hitter Ryan Theriot. That led to the obligatory intentional walk of Angel Pagan, setting up the possibility of a force at home and perhaps a double play.
"I thought that would be the most effective way to get out of that inning," Hurdle said. "But you need to make that first play to get any further."
Barmes didn't. With the infield up, Cabrera sent the full-count pitch directly at the shortstop, who charged and threw home on the run -- at Barajas' feet.
"I tried to be too quick. But in that situation, you've got to make sure you get at least one," Barmes said. "I gave the game to them."
Hours before the throw got away from Barmes, a two-run lead had gotten away from Charlie Morton. That shouldn't be minimized, either: Making his first start, Morton had been presented with the first two-run lead any Pittsburgh pitcher has had this season.
"And I squandered the offense we had. Very disappointed in that," said Morton who, even while not yet officially part of it, was well aware of the staff's runs-rationing. "We get an early lead finally, and I give it up. Not good."
For the Bucs, then, this post-mortem was the same as the pre-Morton.
Morton was activated from the disabled list a couple of hours before game time.
"I felt new," the right-hander said of his sense of excitement taking the mound.
Morton actually had a couple of leads before ultimately departing a 3-3 tie after five.
The Pirates made a contribution to Barry Zito's renaissance, with a modest six hits in seven innings off the veteran left-hander, who walked one and struck out four in pitching to a draw.
The day after addressing the importance of having the Bucs break a pattern by scoring first, Andrew McCutchen took matters into his own bat. His single with two outs in the first sparked a two-run rally, converted in typical fashion by Neil Walker's single with the bases loaded.
"The biggest thing was just being able to shut the door after the first inning," Zito said. "Giving up two runs in the first is never a good thing. I tried to minimize the damage and get some quick outs. There were a couple of base hits I couldn't do anything about. It's the walk [to Barajas to load the bases for Walker] that bothers me."
There may be no certainties in life, but Walker coming through with the bases loaded comes pretty darn close. That hit made him 13-for-23 lifetime in that situation, with a total of 31 RBIs. Also, it marked the first time the 2012 Pirates had a lead of more than one run.
"We need Neil in the offense, and he knows that," Hurdle said. "Some of the other guys hopefully will start playing along with him."
Another significance of Walker's single: In their fifth game of the ongoing road trip, the Pirates finally had their first hit with men in scoring position, after 14 misfires. They wouldn't get another in their next six shots, leaving them 1-for-21 on the tour.
The 2-0 lead held up only one inning but, in a strange way, the Giants' two-run response in the second actually turned into a positive for Morton, because the two runs were already in when San Francisco still had runners at the corners with none out -- and wouldn't get more. Zito's popped-up bunt and a couple of grounders got Morton back into the dugout still tied.
"I was leaving sinkers over the plate," Morton said. "When you see balls against me hit up the middle like that, it means I'm getting pitches up."
Following the exchange of fifth-inning runs, he also got into the showers tied. Considering Morton had dodged five hits within the first two innings, his final opening line (seven hits and three runs in five innings) was commendable.
The Bucs got a gift run in the top of the fifth to take a 3-2 lead. Alex Presley, aboard with a one-out single, scored all the way from first as Giants infielders committed two errors on one grounder by Jose Tabata.
That 3-2 lead was even shorter-lived. Pagan tripled to AT&T Park's deepest nook with one out in the bottom of the inning and came in on Pablo Sandoval's two-out infield single.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.