Ron Cook: Weekend takes ugly turn for Pirates



The Pirates lost two of three home games to the hated rival Milwaukee Brewers, lost precious ground in the National League Central Division standings, lost their ace pitcher Gerrit Cole to the disabled list for at least a couple of starts because of shoulder fatigue and might lose emotional leader Russell Martin for a few games because of a nasty run-in Sunday with home plate umpire Ed Hickox.

Other than that, it was a swell weekend at PNC Park.

"It's a tough game," Hurdle said of baseball in general and the 1-0 loss Sunday in particular. "A lot went on today that you kind of shake your head. But you've got to get rid of it and you've got to move on. That's the challenge, getting ready for the next game."

The good thing about baseball is there almost always is a game the next day. The Chicago Cubs will be at PNC Park tonight. Imagine if baseball were football and the Pirates had to stew about the weekend for seven days. The loss Sunday was especially brutal, from the first inning when they thought Neil Walker scored on a sacrifice fly by Gaby Sanchez only to see him called out by Hickox, to the ninth inning when Brewers shortstop Jean Segura made a fabulous play on a ball hit hard up the middle by pinch-hitter Travis Snider to save the game.

The bottom line is the Pirates trail the Brewers by eight games in the division after losing the final two games of the series. So much for their 10 wins in 15 games coming into the weekend.

"It's always frustrating when you lose," Martin said.

That's especially true when the losses are against the Brewers, who have owned the Pirates this season, winning 10 of 13 against them. The two clubs don't like each other. You might remember Martin was suspended for one game for his role in a brawl between the teams here April 20.

Martin was in the middle of the action again Sunday when he batted in the eighth inning with Andrew McCutchen on third base and two outs. Hickox called him out on a 3-2 pitch, prompting Martin to throw down his bat and get immediately ejected and then fire down his helmet. He almost certainly will be suspended if the league determines the helmet struck Hickox.

"It missed him," Martin said. "I'm not going to throw my helmet anymore because you never know where it's going to go. As soon as I threw it down, I thought, 'Oh, no! I shouldn't have done that.' But it missed him. ...

"[The pitch] was in and low in my opinion. The way the catcher received the ball was an indication to me that it was a ball. That was the game right there for me. It was a situation where I could have had an impact. I just felt like it wasn't the right call.

"I'm an emotional player. I play hard and I play to win. Sometimes, I let my emotions get the best of me. That was another example of that."

Hurdle also was thrown out by Hickox when he came out to defend Martin.

None of the Pirates thought much of Hickox's work all day, going back to that call on Walker in the first when Walker was ruled out after a throw to the plate by right fielder Ryan Braun. Hurdle asked the umpires to review the play for obstruction by catcher Jonathan Lucroy under baseball's new rules this season. After a review of 2:46, the umpires upheld the out call.

Forget about the possible obstruction, Martin said. "I thought [Walker] was clearly safe all the way."

The Pirates had only themselves to blame for failing to score in the seventh when pinch-hitter Jose Tabata struck out with the bases loaded and one out before Josh Harrison popped out to end the inning. Segura robbed them in the ninth when, with runners at first and second, he dived to his left to grab the shot hit by Snider and turned it into the second out at second base. Harrison, who went 0 for 5, popped out to center field to end the game with Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez getting a four-out, 27-pitch save.

Pirates starter Jeff Locke deserved better. He was promoted from Class AAA Indianapolis to take Cole's roster spot and held the Brewers to one run on three hits in seven innings. "That's the young man we saw pitch in the first half of the season last year," Hurdle said.

The Brewers' run in the seventh was set up when Lucroy hit a bloop down the left-field line. A fan reached over the railing and grabbed the ball, prompting the umpires to make a decision about where to put Lucroy. The Pirates thought left fielder Starling Marte was in position to keep Lucroy at first base, but the umpires gave Lucroy second. That became important when Lucroy advanced to third on a fly ball and scored on a roller up the first-base line.

"Not many [calls] worked to our advantage," Hurdle said.

The Cubs are next for four games. It's possible, even likely, that hot-shot prospect Gregory Polanco will make his big league debut this series. Here's hoping it happens. After this bummer of a weekend, the Pirates need a lift. They could use a little good news.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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