Lack of clutch hits sink Pirates

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There are several ways to break down baseball games statistically to try to determine why teams win or lose.

The Pirates' 7-0 drubbing against Milwaukee Sunday at PNC Park was quite easy to figure, though, as the Brewers cashed in on several two-out RBI opportunities and the Pirates squandered theirs.

"Usually at the end of the day, when you take a look at the stat sheet, whoever has the most two-out hits and RBIs, there is a good chance that is the winning team," said Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, who was 0 for 5. "Milwaukee took advantage of that today. They scored on a couple of two-out hits and we weren't able to get ours, but like we have been saying, we have to wash it off and come back tomorrow as we have a big series."

Walker was referring to the Pirates' three-game series against St. Louis, which begins tonight at PNC Park.

This series has a much different feel than the one in St. Louis a week ago as the two teams have flipped positions in the past seven days.

The Pirates (68-59), who led the Cardinals (70-57) by two games for the National League's second wild-card spot last Monday, have lost five of six since that dramatic 19-inning win in St. Louis, while the Cardinals have won five of six.

In most of the Pirates' losses in that span, there have been common themes -- an inability to get clutch hits and an inability to make big pitches to get out of jams with two outs. Both failures were key in the loss Sunday against the Brewers.

It started in the first inning when the Pirates got back-to-back walks by Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones to set up a two-on and two-out situation for Jeff Clement, who struck out to end the threat.

The Pirates stranded five runners through three innings and finished with 12 men left on base.

But Pirates starter Erik Bedard kept his team in the game early on. He was cruising through 32/3 innings, allowing no hits. But he ran into trouble with two outs in the top of the fourth.

After he gave up back-to-back singles to Corey Hart and Jon Lucroy, the Brewers didn't waste the opportunity. Carlos Gomez hit a first-pitch curveball over the fence for a three-run homer.

The next inning the Brewers scored on an RBI single by Rickie Weeks, and broke the game open when Aramis Ramirez hit a two-out, two-run homer to center field for a 6-0 Milwaukee lead.

That was it for Bedard, who pitched 42/3 innings and gave up six hits, six earned runs, walked two and struck out three.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said that two-out hits are often huge momentum shifters, ones that allowed the Brewers to win two games in the three-game series.

"At the end of the series, we weren't able to capitalize in two-out situations and they did," Hurdle said. "The games we lost to them, they put, I think four runs on the board on Friday night with two outs and added five more today with two outs. I mean, two outs and nobody on [in the top of the fourth] and the inning gets away from us.

"The changeup [from Bedard] ends up hung out over the plate and Ramirez hits the homer and that was the blow that pretty much put us out of the game. But before that the breaking ball to Gomez was just a ball that broke into the path of the bat so it was just two soft pitches that were up and not located very well."

Bedard (7-14) said he isn't quite sure why the fourth and fifth inning turned into such a disaster.

"I made some good pitches early and then they started hitting the ball around and that led to them scoring runs," Bedard said. "That's just the way it goes. But you just have to keep working, try to get them out. We have to keep battling. You don't want to give up two-out hits, but it happens."

After the Brewers increased their lead to 7-0 in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Norichika Aoki, the Pirates had a few chances to score, but, as was the theme for most of this series, they failed to capitalize.

In the sixth, for instance, the Pirates had two on and two outs for Josh Harrison, who flew out to end the threat.

And, perhaps in a fitting way to end the series, Andrew McCutchen struck out with two men on and two outs in the ninth.

"It is always frustrating when you don't capitalize on opportunities, but that's baseball sometimes," Walker said. "It really only takes one big swing of the bat for things to change and get back on track." pirates

Paul Zeise: or Twitter: @paulzeise First Published August 27, 2012 4:00 AM


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