Let's just go ahead and categorize the Pirates' 7-6, 10-inning loss to the Brewers Friday at PNC Park into four distinct chapters.
Then, the bullpen melted down.
Then, the Pirates closed a five-run ninth-inning deficit like so: Starling Marte drives in one with a sacrifice fly to right. Josh Bell cranks his 27th home run into the right-field seats, bringing three more. Jung Ho Kang provides the garnish with a solo blast into the bleachers on the very next pitch.
The Pirates had life. And momentum. And Felipe Vazquez taking the mound.
But the Brewers brought some resiliency with them from Milwaukee. Orlando Arcia singled first, then Manny Pina did the same. With runners on the corners, Lorenzo Cain added a third single and the game-winning run. Vazquez struck out the next two — Christian Yelich and Ben Gamel — to escape from there, but the damage was done.
It was a unique and difficult situation for Vazquez — highly doubtful he expected to be called upon given the circumstances. But it's also the type of thing Vazquez typically cherishes: A big moment and a chance to flex. As expected, he made no excuses after the game.
"You just have to be ready," Vazquez was saying postgame at his locker. "That's just baseball. You don't know what's going to happen, so you just have to be ready. It was all the same. All the same pitches that I throw in the bullpen. It just wasn't supposed to happen, not today."
And yet, a situation like that lends some empathy to Vazquez's situation. You wouldn't blame him for being a little thrown off by the theatrics of it all. I asked him how he stays focused and avoids becoming emotional through a comeback to that degree:
"I wish I could take them back, but that's baseball," Vazquez would add. " ... Next time I have to make better pitches, I guess."
The kicker of it all is this: It shouldn't have mattered. None of this. Had Dovydas Neverauskas never entered the equation in the eighth, trailing 2-1, the conversation right now is wildly different. And I'm not even talking about the fact that Clint Hurdle elected to use Neverauskas there. That was a questionable call to be certain, but Hurdle addressed it in full after the game.
"[Kyle Crick] was available tonight," Hurdle began. "A similar situation we used Neverauskas in the other day, we were one run down, [and] he pitched a leverage inning. Through the last three days, I may have had a chance to use him in two games. Tied or ahead, I probably prefer to use Vazquez and Crick. I chose Neverauskas and it didn't work out."
That all makes sense, Mr. Hurdle, but what I'm talking about here is the fact that Neverauskas has a stall inside that locker room at all. In my Five Thoughts from Thursday's loss to the Cubs, I focused primarily upon the pitching depth and how adding even just one more capable arm, someone better than Neverauskas or Clay Holmes or Michael Feliz could change things for this Pirates squad.
Neverauskas hammered that point home with authority when he allowed four hits and four earned runs off matching two-run home runs in a brutal eighth inning. It was so, so predictable, and a point I can prove in the most literal sense:
— Hunter Alek Homistek (@HunterAHomistek) July 6, 2019
This team wants to fight. They want to win. And the powers that be seem intent on making that mission as difficult as possible.
"They continue to play, and they're going to continue to play," Hurdle said. "It's the way they're built. It's what they've really grown accustomed to doing throughout the season."
They have grown accustomed to it — because they've had no choice.
And that's a shame.
• Brault's injury in the fifth may not be cause for concern, although that remains to be seen. Speaking after the game Brault offered the following:
"It [the shoulder] was a little bit bothersome from the beginning," Brault was saying. "I just had a hard time getting it loose today, and then I came out for that fifth inning [and] it just wouldn't loosen up ... I want to put my team in a good situation to win, and that fifth inning, facing Arcia, I just couldn't [continue]."
Brault noted that from here, he's unsure if he'll receive an MRI or any further testing. He will have the All-Star break to rest, to see how the shoulder heals and to make those determinations. He said it was not a recurring or lingering injury and was unique to tonight's start.
On the bright side with Brault, he allowed one earned run through four-plus innings on three hits. He struck out four and appeared on his way to another quality outing.
I asked Hurdle what he was seeing from Brault tonight.
"It's funny, it's almost like he's a boxer, he's sparring out there," Hurdle said of Brault. "He takes a few punches and gets in a corner, pitches his way out. He kept them off the plate again ... He just finds a way to put the innings away. And obviously for a time there, he's probably working without his best stuff. He got to the point where couldn't compete any longer."
Brault also hit a single in the second, his sixth consecutive game with a hit. I had to ask him, knowing he takes pride in that area of his game, just what it is about hitting that gets him fired up:
• The bullpen wasn't all bad. Richard Rodriguez, Feliz and Chris Stratton put up clean innings — one apiece — allowing just one hit combined (Rodriguez). On the flip side, Francisco Liriano joins Neverauskas and Vazquez in the doghouse tonight, allowing two hits and a home run in his inning of work.
• Brault left the game, as detailed above.
• Reynolds was hit by a pitch and briefly had his finger examined on the first-base line. After the game, Reynolds downplayed it and said he expects nothing to come of it.
• Gregory Polanco, right fielder, is on the 10-day IL with a left posterior shoulder strain. He’ll begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday. That’s expected to last at least a week.
• Francisco Cervelli, catcher, is on the seven-day concussion IL.
• Jameson Taillon, right-hander, is on the 60-day IL with a right elbow flexor-tendon strain.
• Keone Kela, right-hander, is on the 60-day IL with right shoulder inflammation. He threw a bullpen session Wednesday, throwing 29 pitches in all, and experienced no setbacks or concerns. He is set for a sim game Saturday.
• Rookie Davis, right-hander, is on the 10-day IL with a right middle-finger blister and is now rehabbing a strained right forearm at the Pirates' training facility in Bradenton, Fla.
• Erik Gonzalez, shortstop, is on the 60-day IL with a left clavicle fracture, and is on a rehab assignment with Class AAA Indianapolis. He is 1 for 16 with the club.
• Lonnie Chisenhall, outfielder, is on the 60-day IL with, as Dejan Kovacevic put it, "the most hellacious left calf strain in human history, playing Pokemon or something at his home in the Carolinas."
The Pirates return Saturday at 4:05 for Game 2 against the Brewers. John Perrotto will be there with all the coverage.
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
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