Kuwata's long nightmare haunts Pirates, 10-3

Brewers' Miller hits grand slam as part of seven-run seventh

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Masumi Kuwata played two decades of professional baseball in Japan and traveled 7,000 miles before he finally pitched in North America.

But here is guessing that neither experience could have felt as long as his agonizing seven-run seventh inning that transformed a tight game into a 10-3 loss for the Pirates against the Milwaukee Brewers last night at PNC Park.

His face was long afterward, too.

"Jim Tracy told us it was a very important game tonight, and I knew that," Kuwata said in a hushed tone. "But I didn't pitch well."

He paused.

"Yeah. ... I'm really sorry. Very disappointed."

His teammates were, too, no doubt.

Whatever faint hopes the Pirates have at establishing themselves as a pretender -- much less a participant -- in the Central Division race would appear to hinge almost entirely on succeeding in this series and the next one against the second-place Chicago Cubs.

But Milwaukee catcher Damian Miller's monster night -- two home runs, four hits and seven RBIs -- combined with Kuwata's first implosion in this hemisphere to move the Brewers 13 games ahead of the Pirates.

Is hope still there?

Well, never mind that the Pirates would have to go 47-33 the rest of the way just to finish above .500. Consider that, to follow the Brewers' current pace, they would have to go 52-28.

Anyway ...

Hopes for this outcome were reasonably high by the time Kuwata took the ball for the seventh with a 3-3 tie, the result of some productive leadoff work by Nate McLouth and a decent rebound start for John Van Benschoten. And, with Kuwata owning an immaculate .114 opponents' batting average through his first nine appearances with the Pirates, hope seemed reasonable on that front, too.

But Tony Graffanino singled and was bunted to second.

Corey Hart doubled him home, and Milwaukee claimed the lead for good, 4-3.

J.J. Hardy singled, and it was 5-3.

Ryan Braun struck out, and Prince Fielder was intentionally walked.

Bill Hall's popup fell into no-man's land behind first base for a double and another run.

Another intentional walk was ordered, this to Geoff Jenkins, this to load the bases.

Why walk Jenkins when Miller, who already had a home run and three RBIs, was on deck?

"You'd do it 100 times over," Tracy explained. "You're not going to let Jenkins beat you as the left-handed batter when you have a better matchup. Damian Miller came into this game with one home run and 10 RBIs."

All of his totals grew markedly moments later, as Miller crushed Kuwata's 1-1 curveball -- all 68 mph of it -- into the left-field bleachers for a grand slam that completed his golden night.

Remarkably, all three of Miller's home runs and 11 of his 17 RBIs have come in his past two games.

"I can't explain it," Miller said. "When I hit a home run, it's an accident."

Maybe not.

Milwaukee's players spent extra time studying video of Kuwata before the game, and their stressing point was to watch out for that curveball that had been making other teams look mostly silly.

Miller's approach, as a result, was to wait for it.

"I was sitting soft," as he put it.

From Kuwata's perspective, his command clearly was not what it had been, judging by his throwing a first-pitch ball to five of the eight batters he did not intentionally walk.

That included the curveball.

"I couldn't control it," Kuwata said. "I couldn't keep the ball down."

In all, he was charged with seven runs on five hits -- doubling his season total in that category -- in two-thirds of an inning.

Tracy dismissed the outing as an aberration, just as he dismissed a reporter's question about whether he might continue using Kuwata in critical situations.

"They got to Masumi," Tracy said. "He's been very reliable since he got here, and he left a couple pitches up. He had a bad night."

The two bright spots, to varying degrees, were McLouth and Van Benschoten.

McLouth went 3 for 5 out of the leadoff spot and was largely responsible for all three of the Pirates' runs. He doubled in the first and scored after two groundouts. He doubled to deep center in the third to drive in Van Benschoten from first base. And his one-out single in the fifth culminated, thanks to some fine baserunning, in another run on Freddy Sanchez's sacrifice fly.

That included a slick one-handed slide to beat a strong throw from Hall in center field.

"I saw the throwing coming and Miller's glove up, so I knew I had to get down," McLouth said.

McLouth's overall overage is .247, but it is .318 in 44 at-bats as a starter.

Van Benschoten slipped through a 31-pitch second inning -- one that conjured images of his four-inning exit in Miami last week -- by allowing only one run on Miller's two-out single. He also gave up Miller's two-run home run in the fourth, but he managed to hang around until the sixth this time.

His ball continued to show good movement, but too much at times.

"I started to go, 'Here we go again,' in that second inning," Van Benschoten said. "But I just made up my mind to throw whatever I had right down the middle, and it kept me in there."

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette photos
Pirates reliever Masumi Kuwata reacts after giving up the third of seven runs he allowed in the seventh inning against the Brewers last night.
Click photo for larger image.

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Game: Pirates (LHP Shane Youman, season debut) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (LHP Chris Capuano 5-5, 4.35), 4:05 p.m., PNC Park.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Key matchup: Think the southpaw Youman might have an edge on Prince Fielder? Think again. Fielder is batting .290 with six of his 27 home runs vs. lefties, .281 vs. righties.

Of note: The Brewers lost Capuano's last six starts before he was placed on the disabled list June 14 because of a strained left groin. Tonight will mark his return.

The Brewers' Bill Hall can't come up with the catch on a double hit by Nate McLouth last night at PNC Park.
Click photo for larger image.Shortstop Jack Wilson can't come up with a ball hit by the Brewers' Bill Hall last night at PNC Park.
Click photo for larger image.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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