May 30—A bullpen that has been the backbone of the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ pitching staff was bound to blow a game, and it was their most reliable reliever who gave up the tying and go-ahead runs in the ninth inning.
Richard Rodriguez had been the Pirates’ catalyst as the closer until Charlie Blackmon slapped a double to right-center to drive in Ryan McMahon and then scored on a Matt Adams single.
The 34-year-old Blackmon had three extra-base hits as the Colorado Rockies rallied for a 4-3 win Sunday afternoon before 7,917 at PNC Park to prevent a sweep of their three-game weekend series.
The Rockies (20-34) snapped a five-game losing streak by scoring one run in the eighth off Kyle Crick and two in the ninth off Rodriguez (3-1), who gave up two hits, one walk and one wild pitch and took the loss.
“It’s been a very long time since I even walked anyone or even just gone through an outing like that,” Rodriguez said, via interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “But it’s part of the game, and I’m out here competing. I’m giving everything I have. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with the ‘W’ today, but my drive and my heart and my passion is always to win and to help this team win. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out our way.”
It was a tough loss to swallow for the Pirates (20-32), who posted a pair of shutouts in Saturday’s doubleheader. That’s mostly because it spoiled a strong performance from right-hander Chase De Jong, who was selected from Triple-A Indianapolis to make a spot start.
A year ago, De Jong was pitching for the independent Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters as a last resort to revive his pro baseball career. The Pirates are his fourth team in five major league seasons. When given a second chance, De Jong did his best to make sure it was sweet by holding the Rockies to one run on three hits with two walks (one intentional) and five strikeouts in five-plus innings.
“Any time I get to take the ball on a major league mound is a privilege, and to be back here is exactly that,” De Jong said. “I didn’t take it lightly. I really enjoyed being back out there with another team, and I just consider myself very blessed to have this opportunity.”
The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the third inning, when Ka’ai Tom drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on De Jong’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Adam Frazier’s double to center.
The Rockies responded by tying it in the fourth, when Yonathan Daza led off with a single and scored on Blackmon’s triple to the right-center gap. With two outs, De Jong intentionally walked Adams to put runners on the corners. Chasen Shreve recovered from a 2-0 count to work a full count against Brendan Rodgers, getting him to chase a four-seam fastball for his third strikeout of the inning.
Rockies starter Kyle Freeland fell apart in the fourth, when he gave up back-to-back singles to Gregory Polanco and Will Craig and walked Erik Gonzalez to load the bases. Tom hit a sharp grounder to first that Adams stopped but bobbled. Freeland failed to cover first, Tom beat Adams to the bag and Polanco scored for a 2-1 lead. Frazier grounded out to Adams, but Craig beat the throw to the plate to give the Pirates a 3-1 advantage.
Where Freeland allowed three runs on five hits and four walks in four innings, De Jong cruised through the first five innings before coming out after Daza’s leadoff single in the sixth.
That’s when the bullpen showed some cracks.
Lefty Sam Howard walked the next two batters on 10 pitches to load the bases, then got both Joshua Fuentes and Adams to strike out looking. Clay Holmes came in and got Rodgers swinging on three pitches to escape the jam. Holmes left in the seventh with two outs and runners on first and second before Shreve got McMahon to pop out in foul territory.
That the Rockies stranded 12 runners had Pirates manager Derek Shelton wondering whether they could continue to manage the traffic on the bases or Colorado eventually would break through.
“You just worry about the fact that they just created that many opportunities,” Shelton said. “When that many opportunities are created, you start to think, ‘Is it going to be a walk? Is it going to be a hit by pitch? Is it going to be a bloop hit?’ “
It turned out to be a leadoff double by Blackmon in the eighth off Crick, who walked Fuentes and hit Rodgers with a pitch to load the bases. After getting Dom Nunez swinging, Crick walked pinch hitter C.J. Cron as the Rockies cut it to 3-2.
Rodriguez relieved Crick and got Raimel Tapia to fly out to right field to end the inning. Rodriguez, however, walked McMahon to start the ninth and gave up the double to Blackmon, who scored on Adams’ single. Rockies reliever Daniel Bard (3-3) retired the final three batters to earn the win, overcoming a lead the Pirates’ bullpen failed to protect.
“Our bullpen has been outstanding. I think if we thought we were going to go through the whole year and we weren’t going to have a tough outing by our bullpen, we would be kidding ourselves,” Shelton said. “We were a little bit challenged. We didn’t make the final pitch to execute things. But, as good as they’ve been all year, one game kinda got away from us.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .