MILWAUKEE -- In this era of launch angle, balls flying out of ballparks at a record pace and strikeouts outnumbering hits, there is still room for smallball.
Not a lot of room for it, mind you, but room for it.
The Pirates showed that Friday night when they stole a 3-2 victory from the Brewers in the opener of a three-game series at Miller Park, winning a third in a row and for the seventh time in their past eight games.
They used fielder’s choice grounders to score single runs in the eighth and ninth innings to win in a place that has been their house of horrors seemingly forever. Three weeks ago, the Brewers swept a three-game series from the Pirates here, outscoring them 20-9.
“We’re been preaching it for a long time and tonight was the perfect indication of how good things can happen when you just put the ball in play,” Clint Hurdle said. “Two runs coming on two ground-ball outs, coming up with big situational RBIs in both cases. Our guys take pride in that, and I’m proud of the effort.”
Few highlights can be culled from the eighth and ninth innings unless fielder’s choices and games from the dead ball era are your thing. However, it was still enough for the Pirates to eke out a win after spending two straight games bludgeoning the American League West-leading Astros in Houston by scores of 14-2 and 10-0.
Kevin Newman, who earlier extended his hitting streak to 18 games, hit a ball to the right side of the mound. Jeffress fielded the ball and threw to second base to try and start an inning-ending double play. However, the throw was off target and shortstop Tyler Saladino was only able to get his foot on the bag for the force at second.
Diaz came home with what proved to be the winning run, sending the Brewers (43-40) to their 10th loss in their last 14 games. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell felt Jeffress had a better chance of throwing Diaz out at the plate than starting a 1-6-3 double play.
"I think we should go home on that one," Counsell said. "There may have been a double play on a good turn and throw, but the safer play is the runner at third."
The Pirates, though, weren’t apologizing about taking advantage of an opponent’s bad judgement.
“We know that we have that fight and we know not to count ourselves out,” Newman said. “You preach just going up there and competing. We’ve got guys who are doing their best to put balls in play because good things can happen, and tonight is a good example.”
The Pirates were not only able to overcome the late-inning deficit but the early departure of Chris Archer, who left after four innings with left hip discomfort. Richard Rodriguez, Francisco Liriano, Kyle Crick and Felipe Vazquez combined for five scoreless innings of relief. Vazquez (2-0) worked the last two, retiring all six batters, for the win.
Vazquez got four of his outs on strikeouts.
“We just kind of drew it up in the dirt,” Hurdle said of his handling of the bullpen. “We knew all of them, but Rodriguez, were rested and we were in a position where we could possible go to Vazquez for two innings. I’m proud of the job they did. They were asked to cover a lot of innings against a very good team.”
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