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PIT@MIL: Pirates lose heartbreaker on walk-off homer

MILWAUKEE -- Major League closers live on baseball's jagged edge. It's a tough job but, as Joel Hanrahan discovered Saturday night, trying to do someone else's job can be even tougher.

Closers can blow saves, but they don't often lose games in two pitches, as Hanrahan did.

He came on in the ninth to preserve a 2-2 tie with the Brewers because his recent saves opportunities have been rare and because, in manager Clint Hurdle's words, "he gave us the best chance to hit again."

Instead, leadoff man Corey Hart hit Hanrahan's 0-and-1 pitch into the left-center seats, giving the Brewers a 3-2 victory and the Pirates a deja vu Miller Park horror experience.

Hart's 26th homer of the season tilted a tense, seesaw game in the favor of Milwaukee and its embattled closer, John Axford, over the Bucs and Hanrahan (4-1).

After starting Hart off with a slider for a called strike, Hanrahan threw him "a hanging breaking ball. Poorly executed. That might've been Corey's first hit off me."

Almost: Hart had been 1-for-10, a single, with seven strikeouts against Hanrahan prior to this meeting.

"Of course it's frustrating," said Hanrahan, visibly steamed. "These guys battled their butts off, and I come in and throw two pitches and the game is over? Just a poorly executed pitch."

The National League's leader in saves, Hanrahan has had only one save opportunity since Aug. 8, so he has been asked to chip in more frequently in non-save situations.

After being throttled for seven innings by Marco Estrada, the Bucs had fought back to a 2-2 tie on Andrew McCutchen's broken-bat two-out RBI single in the eighth off of Jim Henderson.

Milwaukee had snapped a 1-1 tie in the seventh on Carlos Gomez's two-out run-scoring double. Gomez's hit, the Brewers' second of the night, came on the first breaking ball A.J. Burnett hung all night. The last, too -- because it was Burnett's exit act.

"A.J. really gave us the start we needed," said Hurdle. "He pitched very well. One wild pitch, and the only breaking ball he hung all night -- that's how they got their runs."

The wild pitch had directly given Milwaukee its first run in the third -- three innings before the Brewers would record their first hit.

For the second time in a little more than a month, Burnett flirted with a no-hitter. The effort again fell short, ending on Rickie Weeks' first-pitch opposite-field single with two outs in the sixth.

The second hit off him was enough to knock him out. Among the toughest things that can happen in sports, getting knocked off the mound by the second hit you allow -- in the seventh inning -- must rank pretty high.

Or, low, if one goes by Burnett's chin late Saturday night.

"I tried to keep us in the game as best I could after the one to the backstop," said Burnett, referring to his run-scoring wild pitch. "Didn't hang one up until the one to Gomez, and he put a pretty good swing on it."

Burnett and Marco Estrada both started off as if hitting a ball had become a federal offense. Through two innings, between them they threw 61 pitches -- 41 of them strikes.

Thereafter, Burnett lost some precision, but Estrada remained sharp. He averaged fewer than three balls through five innings -- a total of 14, compared to 48 strikes. He started off eight of the 17 men he faced in that span with 0-2 counts.

And when he teetered, the Pirates could not close out a sixth-inning threat against him -- just as Pedro Alvarez could not close the deal on a terrific at-bat at the game's biggest moment. Yes, the two misses were related.

Alex Presley had doubled with one away, then Travis Snider drew a four-pitch walk -- Estrada's only one of the game. McCutchen swung through a full-count pitch for the second out, but Garrett Jones got an infield single when Estrada broke late to cover the bag on his hit to Hart at first base.

Alvarez, whose solo homer in the second accounted for the Bucs' first run, gave Estrada a royal battle climaxed by fouling off four full-count pitches. Alvarez let the last pitch by however, judging it to be inside -- but was called out on the overall 11th pitch of the at-bat by plate umpire Marvin Hudson.

"It was awesome," Estrada said of that showdown. "You don't want to be in those situations, but when you come out on top of it, it feels really good. I made a lot of good pitches and he kept fouling them off, fouling them off. It was just a battle. That last pitch, I just happened to throw it exactly where I needed to and he let it go."

That would not be the last time a Pittsburgh batter was called out on strikes with the bases loaded and two outs. It happened to Presley in the ninth.

Alvarez's homer turned out to be an easier way to score than the way the Brewers did in the third, as they took a more protracted process to score the tying run: Gomez walked, stole second, then third with one out -- so, with Estrada at bat, the Brewers set up for a squeeze bunt.

Estrada squared around to bunt as Gomez came down the line -- but when Burnett's delivery skipped by catcher Rod Barajas for a wild pitch, it robbed the play of all its drama.

"I had no idea," Burnett said when asked whether detecting the Brewers' ploy had thrown him out of kilter. "The ball just cut out of my hand. I tried to throw it as hard as I could."

It was a just no-decision standoff between the right-handed starters.

Burnett allowed two hits and two runs in his 6 2/3 innings, with four walks and nine strikeouts.

Estrada gave up four hits and a run in his seven frames, with one walk and 10 strikeouts.

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