By Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –
PITTSBURGH — There’s no way to know how Shaun Marcum would have fared in his return to the Milwaukee Brewers’ starting rotation without a miscue that led to a four-run outburst in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Marcum was unable to shut the door after centerfielder Carlos Gomez’s mistake, and the Brewers couldn’t solve Pittsburgh starter Jeff Karstens, resulting in the Pirates taking a 4-0 victory Saturday night at PNC Park.
In seeing their four-game winning streak end, the Brewers absorbed their 67th loss, one more than the entire 2011 season.
“We should definitely make that play (by Gomez), but Shaun was throwing so well that I think he should get out of it with little damage,” said manager Ron Roenicke. “I was really happy with the way he threw the ball. The first four innings were outstanding. And really that (fifth) inning, too, until we dropped the ball.”
Marcum, pitching for the first time in more than two months after recovering from an elbow injury, and Karstens were locked in a scoreless pitching duel when the wheels suddenly came off for the Brewers in the fifth inning. And it began with Gomez, normally an outstanding defender, muffing Neil Walker’s fly to shallow right-center.
“He doesn’t do that very often,” Roenicke said of Gomez.
With one down, Michael McKenry boomed a double to left-center, scoring Walker all the way from first. Marcum then struck out Clint Barmes for what should have been the third out.
Marcum got ahead in the count, 0-2, to Karstens, a .080 hitter who nevertheless punched a cutter up the middle for an RBI single. Jose Tabata crushed another cutter from Marcum to left-center for a double, scoring Karstens. When Travis Snider hit a run-scoring single to center, the Pirates had a 4-0 lead.
Jeff Bianchi, making his first start at short since being recalled from Class AAA Nashville, let Andrew McCutchen’s grounder get through for an error, leaving runners on the corners. McCutchen then did the Brewers a favor by trying to steal second and getting thrown out by Martin Maldonado to finally end the inning.
The error by Gomez not only led to four unearned runs, it also extended Marcum’s inning by 16 pitches. With his pitch count up to 88 at that point, he was removed for a pinch-hitter in the next inning.
“I felt pretty good,” said Marcum. “I got a little tired there in the fifth inning, but other than that I felt pretty good. I felt like I was locating (pitches) from the get-go.
“The fifth inning, I made a couple mistakes, especially the pitch to Karstens. But, other than that, I got close to 90 pitches and felt I located the majority of them. I just got a little fatigued there in the fifth.”
Of Gomez’s error, Marcum said, “Errors are part of the game. I’ll never get upset at a teammate for busting his butt. He was going all-out, trying to get that ball. I’ve just got to do a better job, when things like that happen, going out there and picking my teammates up and making better pitches.”
Meanwhile, the Brewers could not put anything together against Karstens. His defense helped in the early going, including Snider robbing Ryan Braun of an extra-base hit in the first on a drive to deep right-center before Karstens settled in and starting mowing through the middle innings.
Aramis Ramirez led off the fifth inning with his 42nd double but Karstens struck out Corey Hart and Maldonado before Gomez grounded out to short.
Batting for Marcum with one down in the top of the sixth, Travis Ishikawa singled to right and Norichika Aoki followed with another hit. That rally went nowhere when Rickie Weeks, slumping yet again, struck out and Braun popped out.
Bianchi collected his first big-league hit with a single to open the eighth and Nyjer Morgan, who entered the game in the seventh in a double-switch, punched an infield hit to short. That was all for Karstens, who complained of groin tightness and was removed.
Lefty Tony Watson took over and induced Aoki to bounce into a force at second, then was replaced by right-hander Jason Grilli. He struck out Weeks and got Braun to ground into a force at second, and that threat was done.
“We didn’t do much against (Karstens),” said Roenicke. “He mixes his pitches up well, keeps the ball down. He’s got good movement on the fastball. Right-handers had trouble with the sinker running in on them. He pitched a good game.”
With a four-run lead and a four-game losing streak, the Pirates didn’t mess around, summoning closer Joel Hanrahan.
He allowed a leadoff single by Ramirez, his third hit of the game, then with two down walked pinch-hitter Jonathan Lucroy and surrendered a hit to Bianchi to load the bases before striking out Morgan to end the game.