Brewers edge Pirates for eighth straight win
MILWAUKEE -- So far in this young 2014 season, the Milwaukee Brewers have sprinted out to an early lead in the NL Central with top-notch pitching and a powerful and opportunistic defense.
On Saturday, though, Milwaukee's defense came through in the clutch, turning two huge plays late as the Brewers extended their winning streak to eight games with a 3-2 victory over the Pirates at Miller Park.
With the game tied 2-2 in the eighth inning, Milwaukee right-hander Jim Henderson (1-0) found himself in a jam with runners at first and third and one out.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen popped out to catcher Jonathan Lucroy in foul territory. Lucroy tried to catch right fielder Travis Snider at second, but shortstop Jean Segura returned the throw in time to catch left fielder Starling Marte, who had tagged and tried to score on the play.
"I've never seen that one before," Lucroy said. "I've seen them where you throw a guy out at second and he stops and the guy goes from home to third and we throw him out there, but never with the pitcher covering. That never happens."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said the play was by design.
"It's a play that we have in place that we work on all spring that won us a ballgame last year," Hurdle said. "We tag at first, draw the throw to second and then send the runner from third. Once the ball's out of the hand from the catcher -- or whoever makes the play -- it could be short-right field, it could be short-left field, foul territory.
"Marte breaks on the throw; they had to make a baseball play. We tried to steal a run. The other day we talked about scoring in different ways. We tried to steal one. They executed a baseball play to keep us from doing it."
Lucroy put the Brewers ahead in the bottom of the inning, slapping a one-out single to right off right-hander Mark Melancon (0-1) that scored right fielder Ryan Braun.
Up by a run, the Brewers turned to right-hander Francisco Rodriguez, who had not allowed a runner this season and had struck out the side three times in five outings.
Rodriguez allowed a leadoff walk to third baseman Pedro Alvarez then got catcher Russell Martin to bounce to third. Ramirez easily got pinch-runner Josh Harrison at second, and first baseman Mark Reynolds made a diving grab of second baseman Scooter Gennett's off-target relay to complete the double play. It was reviewed and upheld.
"I thought I had it on there," said Reynolds, who has spent most of his career across the diamond at third base. "I just reacted and stayed on the bag."
Rodriguez picked up his fourth save of the year when Walker grounded out to second.
"Any time you get three hits in a row late in the game it's really going to work to your favor more often than not," Hurdle said. "We weren't able to string three together. They were."
The late-inning heroics overshadowed fine outings by both starters.
Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo went six innings and held the Pirates to two runs on six hits while striking out six. He was staked to an early lead thanks to center fielder Carlos Gomez, who belted his fourth career leadoff home run on a 1-1 ball from Pittsburgh right-hander Edinson Volquez.
Volquez worked into the seventh and held the Brewers to four hits with four strikeouts. He allowed two runs, only one of which was earned.
Milwaukee made it 2-0 in the second when left fielder Khris Davis reached on an error by Alvarez then scored on a wild pitch.
The Pirates tied it up in the third when first baseman Travis Ishikawa scored on a groundout and Snider drove in Mercer with a hit to right.
Snider moved to third on McCutchen's single down the left field line, but Gallardo escaped further damage by striking out Alvarez to end the inning.
NOTES: The Brewers placed RHP Brandon Kintzler on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to April 9, with a mild strain of the rotator cuff. RHP Rob Wooten will be recalled from Triple-A Nashville Sunday. ... The Pirates have scored 24 of their 43 runs this season in the seventh inning or later. ... Brewers CF Carlos Gomez was presented with his 2013 Gold Glove Award before the game. Gomez was the first Brewers player to win the award since Robin Yount in 1982.