Bullpen falters as Bucs fall to Brewers
Kuwata allows grand slam, seven runs in seventh inning
PITTSBURGH -- Since Masumi Kuwata arrived in Pittsburgh at the beginning of June, he has been baffling hitters with his curveball and impressing his manager with his control and know-how on the mound.
But there was no deception from Kuwata on Monday night, and for that matter, no mercy from the Brewers.
Before this series opener against the Brewers, the Pirates made it no secret that this series could go a long way in defining the remainder of the season. The Brewers, however, turned the tables, flaunting their superiority in a seven-run outburst against Kuwata to lead Milwaukee to a 10-3 rout over Pittsburgh in front of 14,455 disappointed fans at PNC Park.
"[Manager Jim] Tracy told us [this was a] very important game tonight, and I know that," said a downcast Kuwata afterward. "But I didn't pitch well tonight, and I'm really sorry and disappointed."
It was no surprise that the Brewers proved capable of scoring seven runs in a nine-batter span -- their offense has been dangerous all season. What was surprising, however, is that Kuwata was the victim of that offensive explosion.
"That's a guy that's been very, very reliable for us since the day he got here," Tracy said.
He has been as reliable as anyone in the Pirates 'pen, for that matter. Eliminate a hiccup at Yankee Stadium in his Major League debut and Kuwata had allowed only one run in the other 8 2/3 innings he had pitched. For that matter, Kuwata had scattered a meager three hits during that span.
The downfall on this night, however, was simple: Kuwata left his pitches up. And he was at a loss for words afterward, trying to explain it.
"Tonight, I couldn't control it," the 39-year-old right-hander said.
Kuwata relieved Pirates starter John Van Benschoten at the top of the seventh with the Pirates notched in a 3-3 game. Van Benschoten hadn't been stellar by any means, but he gutted out six innings to keep the game even.
The Brewers quickly strung together three hits off Kuwata to take a manageable one-run lead. Then, with two outs, Tracy elected to intentionally walk Brewers slugger Prince Fielder, preferring to take his chances with center fielder Bill Hall.
Hall made the Pirates pay with a bloop double that fell in no-man's land out in right, sending two more runs across the plate. Kuwata then intentionally walked Geoff Jenkins to face catcher Damian Miller, who had already knocked a two-run home run of Van Benschoten back in the fourth.
Miller connected once again, this time on a Kuwata breaking ball, for his sixth career grand slam, taking away any hope of a late-inning comeback for the Pirates.
"That took us out of the game," Tracy said of Miller's homer. "That's what it boils down to."
Tracy justified his decision to walk both Fielder and Jenkins afterward by simply stating that he was playing the odds in the situation. Why pitch to Fielder, the National League home run leader with Hall standing on deck? And going after Jenkins with first base open would seem more dangerous than taking a chance with the Brewers backup catcher, who came into the game with only one home run and 10 RBIs, right?
"You'd do it 100 times over," Tracy said. "You're not going to let Prince Fielder beat you there. Then you have a base with Geoff Jenkins and you have a better matchup there with Damian Miller. You're not going to let Prince Fielder or Geoff Jenkins be the guy in that situation to beat you."
The odds may have been in the Pirates' favor, but Miller pulled out the royal flush.
Too tough a Brewers offense to handle?
"Yea," Kuwata said, but then he didn't hesitate to add: "But it's still seven innings and the score is tied and I have to keep the ball down."
For Van Benschoten, the ball had been all over the place early on. He only walked two in his six innings of work, but for the Pirates right-hander, his control left a lot to be desired. To his credit, however, Van Benschoten battled. And he battled enough to put the Pirates in a favorable position to walk out of the stadium Monday night with a win.
The second inning proved to be the biggest hurdle for Van Benschoten, who walked the first two Milwaukee hitters after being staked to an early one-run lead.
"I started to go, 'Here we go again,'" Van Benschoten said, alluding to his last start in which the right-hander issued five free passes in four innings. "Whatever it was, I just said, 'Let's throw this down the middle and let's see if we can get out of this. I'm not about to walk another guy.'"
He allowed one run in the second, but the damage ended there. That allowed the Pirates righty to remain in the game for another four innings and to exit knowing he had given his team a chance to win.
"They're in first place for a reason," Van Benschoten said of the Brewers. "They're all young, unbelievable hitters, and to come back like that after a roller-coaster ride of an outing, to finish strong really means a lot for my confidence in general."
There weren't many fireworks on the offensive end unless your uniform had "McLouth" strewn across the back of it. Three of the Pirates' five hits came off the bat of the Pittsburgh leadoff hitter, who played a key role in all three runs the Pirates scored. He scored twice and drove in one in another solid performance from the center fielder, who has proven more than capable of filling in for the injured Chris Duffy.
"I had a good night tonight, too bad it just didn't mean more," McLouth said.
The loss dropped the Pirates to a season-worst 13 games behind the first-place Brewers and evened the team's current homestand record to a modest 2-2.
And as for Kuwata, Tracy is ready to put him back out in the mound in the same type of crucial, late-inning situation again. Why? Because one bad outing can't take away something he's earned.
"He had a bad night," Tracy said. "He had a couple of pitches up in the strike zone and they got hit. It's not like he's the only guy it's ever happened to."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.