MILWAUKEE -- What better -- or, worse -- place for the Pirates to confront their fate than Miller Park, their Overlook Hotel for years? But this was demoralizing, even for them.They went toe-to-toe with the heavy-handed Brewers, but could not go foot-to-foot with the five tape-measure homers that lifted Milwaukee to a 12-8 victory that finished off a weekend sweep and dropped the Bucs' record here since 2007 to 7-44. "We had leads in two of the three games. Just made too many mistakes off the mound," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, searching for a context in which he could hold his pitchers responsible on Sunday, starting with James McDonald. The "leads" approach was a good try, although Hurdle had to be aware that he was referencing a couple of 1-0 early-game leads against a team that has been firing on all cylinders for a couple weeks, and dropped 24 runs on the Bucs in three games. Hurdle had noted even prior to Sunday's game that the Brewers, still under .500 but now winners of 11 of 13, were "a very dangerous club right now, very dangerous. Sometimes you get in situations where your best opportunity is to finish strong, and wreck other people's season." They definitely took a good shot at the Pirates' season during what was like a weird double-feature mash-up: "Lost Weekend at Bernie's." A bleak blow, but hardly a fatal one to the Bucs' postseason hopes. They remain within a game-and-a-half of the Wild Card spot being held by St. Louis. And now they have their marching orders: If they are to make a serious, extended move, it has to be in this week's six-game homestand against the Astros and the Cubs. "In 72 hours, the questions being asked and the stories being told sure turned around," noted Hurdle, contrasting the scenario following the Pirates' series win over St. Louis to the one following this series. "It's just time to get after it. We didn't get it done here, so we got to move on and get right [Monday]." Sunday's game was not safe for pitchers -- nor for Bernie Brewer, the mascot who started to reach for an oxygen tank between slides to celebrate Milwaukee big flies. The Pittsburgh offense included rookie Brock Holt, who in his first start claimed his first two big league hits and also his first RBI -- but not Pedro Alvarez and Josh Harrison. Milwaukee's outsider was Martin Maldonado. Those were the only three starters without a hit. Two of the better pitchers in the National League faced off, but rather quickly both McDonald and Yovani Gallardo were hoping at least one of the balls smashed off them would hit the reset button. Gallardo is one of the frontrunners to be awarded National League Pitcher of the Month honors for August, as he won all five of his starts and posted a 2.02 ERA. And while he got 11 runs in four innings Sunday, he couldn't last the five innings necessary to qualify for this win. "If you'd have told me we could have seven runs in less than five innings off Gallardo, I'd have said, 'OK, let's roll.' But it doesn't always work that way," Hurdle said. Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said Gallardo was simply "out of whack. He had thrown so well for so long, and he just had a game that he wasn't on. The rhythm wasn't on. He tried to fight it, we tried to get him through five [innings], and unfortunately we couldn't do it." Gallardo still lasted two innings longer than McDonald, who in 2 2/3 might have compiled the pitching line of the year: One walk, six strikeouts -- and also eight runs and six hits allowed, four of them home runs. "I didn't have the good fastball command," McDonald said. "And they hit good pitches. They hit the ball well. Really, that's all you can say." An auspicious top of the first was quickly blown up in the bottom of the inning. A two-out threat against Gallardo -- Andrew McCutchen beat out an "infield" single to second baseman Rickie Weeks in short center and Garrett Jones walked -- was cashed in on a single by Gaby Sanchez, who celebrated his 29th birthday with his first hit in 14 at-bats with men in scoring position with the Pirates. Then, McDonald began the bottom with a four-pitch walk of Norichika Aoki and Weeks' hard grounder to third -- the double-play variety -- was kicked by Alvarez for an error. Ryan Braun hit the next pitch into the next county. "If we make that play [by Alvarez], I'm not saying we win," Hurdle said. "But the four-pitch walk and the error did change the dynamics of that first inning." Michael McKenry came back with a solo homer in the second, and the Brewers had the trump card yet again in the bottom of the inning: a solo homer by Jeff Bianchi and a two-run homer by Weeks. The tennis match continued as McKenry's two-run single made it 6-4 in the third set ... rather, inning. In the bottom, Carlos Gomez's two-run shot doubled the Milwaukee lead, to 8-4. McDonald finally made his perplexed way off the mound, having needed only 2 2/3 innings to give up a career-high four home runs -- matching the total off him in the season's first 90 innings. And the Brewers only needed that span to score more runs than Pittsburgh had allowed in 118 of its first 132 games. They weren't done. Against Chris Leroux in the fourth, Gallardo homered and Aramis Ramirez singled for two runs to make it 11-4. The Bucs matched those three in the fifth. Sanchez, honoring MLB's newest tradition of homering on your birthday, started it with a two-run homer, before a single by Holt drove in his first Major League run and drove out his first Major League pitcher. Gallardo was finally chased by Holt's up-the-middle hit, having allowed 11 hits and seven runs, with four walks and four strikeouts. "I hadn't even thought about that," Holt, who also made a tremendous diving catch to end the eighth, said about his double-drive. "But it was a blast. A fun day -- if only it could've included a win." Jones' 23rd homer, in the sixth, brought an early end to the Pirates' scoring. "We did battle back, continued to push," Sanchez said. "That's what we have to keep doing, not lose that feeling and give it everything we've got."
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.