Thursday evening, the Pirates' bullpen rendered the offensive comeback irrelevant.
Four Milwaukee Brewers runs in the eighth inning allowed the Brewers to recapture the lead and win, 9-7, at PNC Park, finishing a series sweep.
The Pirates fell to 74-75 and are below .500 for the first time since May 29, when they were 24-25. The Brewers completed the sweep and have now gone 23-6 in their past 29 games during their late chase for the second wild card spot.
The sweep shoved the Pirates farther down the National League wild card standings. They are now 51/2 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals, who hold the second wild card spot.
The Pirates need to pass the Cardinals, Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers to earn the wild card spot. They must now finish the season 8-5 to finish with 82 wins, which would give them their first winning season since 1992. Over their past 13 games they are 2-11.
Chad Qualls allowed three runs on three hits in one third of an inning in the eighth and Chris Resop allowed another run. Norichika Aoki, Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez all had RBI hits in the inning.
Clint Barmes broke a 4-4 tie in the sixth inning with his eighth home run of the year.
The Pirates added on after Barmes' home run. Rod Barajas singled and pinch-hitter Jeff Clement doubled to put men on second and third. Starling Marte snuck a ground-ball single through the three Brewers defenders on the left side of the infield, playing in to defend against the run, and pinch-runner Chase d'Arnaud scored to give the Pirates a 6-4 lead.
Travis Snider's sacrifice fly scored pinch-runner Josh Harrison, who barely beat Carlos Gomez's throw from center field, to add an extra run.
Hurdle called on Jason Grilli, his usual eighth-inning man, to pitch in the seventh against Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez. Grilli hit Braun and walked Travis Ishikawa but did not allow a run.
The Brewers batted around in their three-run first inning, where Wandy Rodriguez threw 30 pitches and allowed four hits, one unintentional walk and a home run. Norichika Aoki led off with a single and stole second, then went to third when Barajas' throw bounced into center field. Rodriguez walked Weeks after getting ahead 0-2, and Aoki scored on Ryan Braun's ground-out.
Ramirez hit his 25th home run to dead center field, scoring Braun and giving the Brewers a 3-0 lead. Rodriguez allowed two more hits, including a double off the wall in center from Jonathan Lucroy, but no more runs.
Ramirez scored a controversial run in the third. He doubled and went to third on a fly ball before Lucroy's fly ball to left. Starling Marte's throw bounced to Barajas on one hop, and Barajas' left foot appeared to block Ramirez, who did not slide, from touching home plate. Barajas and manager Clint Hurdle argued with home plate umpire Chad Fairchild, but the Brewers took a 4-0 lead.
Andrew McCutchen hit his 30th home run into the center-field shrubbery in the third inning. The homer scored Marte and Travis Snider and cut the Brewers' lead to 4-3.
Hurdle gambled with the bases loaded and no outs in the fourth. Pedro Alvarez and Clint Barmes singled, and Rod Barajas, despite squaring to bunt, walked on four pitches. Hurdle pulled Rodriguez after four innings of work and 79 pitches to send Alex Presley to the plate. Presley bounced into a force-out to tie the game at 4-4, but the Pirates could not score any more runs.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 21, 2012 12:30 AM