PITTSBURGH — Given a choice, Josh Harrison is always going to choose to be aggressive. Always.
So when the pickoff throw whizzed by Harrison as he stood on first base in the eighth inning with the Pittsburgh Pirates trailing by a run on Friday night, Harrison took off. When he rounded second, he caught third-base coach Rick Sofield’s eye. They both had the same idea: get to third as quickly as possible. So Harrison kept right on going.
One problem. The ball got there first courtesy of a perfect strike from first baseman Hernan Perez to Jonathan Villar. And just like that, the threat was over. Soon after so was the game as the Pirates began a pivotal 10-game homestand with a 1-0 loss.
“In a split second, in the thick of things it looked like I was going to be safe, next thing I wasn’t,” Harrison said. “Nothing you can really do. If I stop at second and the ball doesn’t kick back to him, I could have been at third.”
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle defended the decision, pointing to the number of times Harrison’s hustle has paid off for the Pirates throughout his career.
“They made a major league throw,” Hurdle said.
One that helped send the Pirates to a fourth straight loss. Pittsburgh remained 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the second wild card spot in the National league when it mustered just seven hits off seven Milwaukee pitchers and failed to get a runner safely to third. Harrison’s mad scramble is as close as the Pirates came to getting within 90 feet of home.
“Knowing I was the tying run, especially in the eighth inning definitely stung a little bit,” Harrison said.
Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 4 but Pittsburgh left eight men on base and went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.
Pitching in a meaningful September for the first time as a professional, Pirates rookie Jameson Taillon put together a solid bounce-back performance after the Brewers touched him for five runs last Saturday. Taillon surrendered three hits and one run over six innings, striking out four without issuing a walk and needing only 76 pitches to get 18 outs.
His only hiccup came when he hit Martin Maldonado leading off the sixth. Maldonado moved to second on a groundout and scored when Scooter Gennett’s drive to deep center was just out of McCutchen’s reach. The 24-year-old Taillon, just two years removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, said he felt “fresher” than he has in some time and understands the team is carefully monitoring his workload.
“If I can help contribute in any way, that’s great,” the rookie said. “I’m aware of the standings. I’m aware of where we’re at. I’m aware what’s at stake.”
Making his return after spending nearly a month on the DL to rest his right elbow, Milwaukee’s Junior Guerra knew he was on a pitch count. When the count ran out earlier than he anticipated, the Brewers’ expanded bullpen more than picked up the slack.
Six Milwaukee relievers shut down the Pirates over the final 5 2/3 innings. Blaine Boyer (2-3) pitched a scoreless fifth to pick up the win. Tyler Thornburg worked the ninth for his seventh save.
“A nine-inning shutout using seven pitchers, which is probably only in September baseball,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. “But they did great. They all pitched tough innings.”
Guerra reached his 70-pitch limit with runners on first and second and one out in the third. Jacob Barnes, who was also activated from the DL on Friday after dealing with his own right elbow issues, got Jordy Mercer to fly out and struck out Taillon.
Guerra was hardly crisp while allowing five hits and two walks but said he felt healthy.
Pirates: P Gerrit Cole did some flat ground work on Friday as he continues his rehab from inflammation in his right elbow. Cole, on the DL since Aug. 25, is hopeful to return this season.
Ivan Nova will try to keep his Pittsburgh renaissance going when he makes his sixth start with the Pirates since being acquired at the trade deadline from the Yankees. Nova is 4-0 with a 2.87 ERA since the coming to Pittsburgh, including a 3-1 win over Milwaukee in his last start. Milwaukee’s Jimmy Nelson is still searching for the form he had in April and May. The right-hander is 2-10 with a 5.87 ERA in his last 16 starts dating to June 3.