The bullpen on Thursday rendered an offensive comeback irrelevant.
Four Milwaukee runs in the eighth inning allowed the Brewers to recapture the lead and win, 9-7, at PNC Park, finishing a sweep of a three-game series.
The Pirates fell to 74-75 and are below .500 for the first time since May 29, when they were 24-25. The Brewers are 23-6 in their past 29 games as they mount a late chase for the second wild-card spot.
The sweep shoved the Pirates farther down the National League wild-card standings. They are 5 1/2 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, who hold the second wild-card spot.
"It's been a rough stretch," said shortstop Clint Barmes, who went 3 for 4 with a home run. "We just haven't been playing solid baseball all around."
The Pirates are tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks and need to pass the Cardinals, Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers to earn the wild-card spot. They must now close the season 8-5 to finish with 82 wins, which would give them their first winning season since 1992. Over their past 13 games, however, they are 2-11.
Manager Clint 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. Grilli has pitched in the seventh three times this season.
"He's the best guy out there to do that," Hurdle said.
Hurdle turned to Chad Qualls, who had a 5.07 total ERA this season and had allowed seven earned runs and 10 hits in 11 innings with the Pirates, to start the eighth. Qualls allowed three runs on three hits in a third of an inning.
"I actually felt that the job Qualls has done while he's been here against right-handed hitters is what it is," Hurdle said. "Qualls is a guy that has pitched more eighth-inning contests than anybody in that bullpen."
Qualls had allowed a .182 batting average against right-handed batters since he joined the Pirates. The Brewers had two such batters due up. But Norichika Aoki, Weeks and Ramirez had RBI hits, turning a 7-4 Pirates lead into an 8-7 deficit. Chris Leroux allowed another run in the ninth.
Barmes broke a 4-4 tie in the sixth with his eighth home run this season. Rod Barajas followed with a single and pinch-hitter Jeff Clement doubled to put runners 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 to add an extra run.
The Brewers batted around in a three-run first while Wandy Rodriguez threw 30 pitches and allowed four hits, including a homer.
Andrew McCutchen hit his 30th homer into the center-field shrubbery in the third, scoring Marte and Snider to cut the lead to 4-3.
Hurdle gambled with the bases loaded and no outs in the fourth. Pedro Alvarez and Barmes singled, and Barajas, despite squaring to bunt, walked on four pitches. Hurdle then pulled Rodriguez after four innings and 79 pitches and sent Alex Presley to the plate. Presley bounced into a forceout that tied the score, 4-4, but the Pirates could not add any more runs in the inning.
"We had scored one run in 24 innings until Andrew hit the three-run homer," Hurdle said. "I thought it was a good time to roll the dice and try to build another big inning."
First Published September 21, 2012 4:00 AM