Pirates' bullpen falters late vs. Dodgers
LA scores tying, go-ahead runs on walks in eighth inning
PITTSBURGH -- And to think that the bullpen's dominance had been such an uplifting story just 24 hours earlier.
One night after lauding the collective work of five relievers who limited the Dodgers to one run, manager John Russell was left to watch four relievers labor through an excruciating eighth inning on Saturday that cost the club a potential win through the most frustrating means possible.
Four walks, including two with the bases full, in the span of six hitters ultimately did the Pirates in and left the stirring 35,605 on hand at PNC Park calling for the postgame concert to get under way early. What would finish an 8-4 loss was not only the club's 24th in the past 28 games, but it nullified the spirited late-inning rally that the Pirates had mustered just a half-inning before the bullpen rapidly imploded.
It also left the Pirates knowing that the Dodgers sealed their ticket into the playoffs with that victory. Until Saturday night, no team had clinched a postseason berth on the Pirates' home field in the nine-year existence of PNC Park.
And to make matters worse, the Dodgers could very well be celebrating a National League West title here before the series ends. Any combination of two Dodgers wins and Rockies losses in the next two days would ensure just that.
Though the Pirates have had little fun as of late, Saturday's eighth was as frustrating an inning as the club has had in quite a while, if for nothing more than the fact that they essentially handed the Dodgers the lead back.
Minutes after taking their first lead of the night, the Pirates called on the bullpen to hold it. With right-hander Jesse Chavez unavailable after working two innings on Friday and Joel Hanrahan still out with an elbow injury, Denny Bautista got the call.
The trouble began when Bautista walked Manny Ramirez to lead off the inning. He also gave up a one-out single. Phil Dumatrait was called on next to face left-handed-hitting pinch-hitter James Loney. Dumatrait handed him a seven-pitch free pass.
"He's not executing pitches," Russell said of Dumatrait, who has now allowed 10 earned runs in as many innings since coming back from the disabled list. "He hasn't done what we saw him do a little bit last year."
Next up was reliever Steven Jackson, who forced in the game-tying run on a walk to Andre Ethier after third baseman Andy LaRoche was unable to hold on to a tough foul popup at the dugout railing. Jackson then walked Orlando Hudson for the go-ahead run.
"I don't know," said Jackson, who hadn't allowed an earned run in his past 10 outings. "I just didn't get the job done. I tried to get the strikeout there with both guys. I felt like I made some great pitches, and they did a good job of laying off them. I tip my hat to those guys for doing that. Just a tough night."
Pinch-hitter Jim Thome sealed the Dodgers' win with a two-run single off Jackson. By the time Jackson was removed immediately after, Pittsburgh relievers had thrown 39 pitches in the inning and only 18 for strikes.
"You can't win Major League games doing that," a visibly displeased Russell said afterward.
Virgil Vasquez ended the inning with no more damage done, but those four runs on two hits and four walks were more than enough for the Dodgers to take their fourth win in five games against Pittsburgh this year.
All this came after the Pirates had scored three times in the bottom of the seventh to take a 4-3 lead. So often searching for a clutch hit in recent days, Pittsburgh got two in the frame. Luis Cruz came through with a two-out, two-strike RBI single to halve a two-run deficit. After a walk followed to load the bases, Andrew McCutchen stayed alive through a seven-pitch at-bat before delivering a two-run single.
With that hit, McCutchen has six hits and 20 RBIs in 10 at-bats with the bases loaded.
"He continues to show that ability to be that on-the-moment, the big-moment-type player," Russell said. "It should have been a great ending to a very good night. Unfortunately, it wasn't."
The Pirates' first run came on LaRoche's homer in the fourth.
The bullpen's blown save cost starter Paul Maholm the opportunity to win 10 games this season, as he needed a win in each of his last two outings to do so.
Early on, Maholm benefited from a slew of sensational defensive plays made behind him, including a diving catch by McCutchen and an outfield assist from Lastings Milledge in the first that ultimately saved a run. Without those -- and a nicely turned double play by LaRoche in the second -- Maholm would have seen a steeper deficit early.
"Those were all huge," Maholm said. "For me, that gives me confidence to go after hitters and continue to mix speeds and not let them get in a groove."
As it was, he still gave up three runs in the first four innings as he battled early without his breaking ball to rely on.
"They came out aggressive and swinging and I missed with a few pitches," Maholm said. "You just make sure you keep it close and give yourself a chance to win."
That he did, as he labored minimally after the fourth and pitched seven innings for just the second time in his last five starts. In all, Maholm allowed seven hits and walked three.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.