The Pittsburgh Pirates have spent all season relying on a remarkable resiliency that enables them to brush off adversity and get back to the cumbersome task of returning the franchise to the playoffs and respectability.
The final steps may be the hardest of all.
San Diego’s Logan Forsythe and Rene Rivera delivered consecutive RBI singles in the ninth inning off Pirates closer Mark Melancon and the Padres rallied for a 3-2 victory on Wednesday night.
“Just got to tip your hat, they put the ball in play and found some holes,” Melancon said after blowing his third save. “They did a good job. Sometimes it happens that way.”
Pittsburgh’s magic number to clinch its first playoff berth in 21 years dropped to five when Atlanta beat Washington, but the club’s pursuit of St. Louis for the NL Central title took a major blow when Melancon faltered. The Pirates are two games behind the Cardinals with 10 to play and have dropped three straight against the NL West also-rans, none more painful than this one.
Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run homer off Tyson Ross with one out in the seventh to give the Pirates their first lead of the series and set the stage for an emotional victory. Pittsburgh came in 74-2 when leading after eight innings.
Not this time.
Forsythe’s single to right scored pinch-runner Andrew Cashner to tie the game and Rivera’s blooper brought home Chris Denorfia as the Padres improved to 31-10 at PNC Park since it opened in 2001. Dale Thayer (3-5) picked up the win in relief. Huston Street pitched a perfect ninth for his 33rd save.
“It was something special,” Rivera said. “We battled all game and we came through.”
Melancon (2-2) had been lights out since taking for Jason Grilli after the All-Star went down with a strained right forearm in July. He had converted 16 of 18 opportunities on the season, one of the main reasons the Pirates are in the midst of an actual pennant race for the first time in two decades.
Melancon spent most of the night watching Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton duel with Ross but found himself warming up after McCutchen broke the Pirates out of a lengthy slump with a towering two-run shot to right-center with one out in the seventh.
Ross had retired 15 straight before Neil Walker reached on a strikeout and wild pitch. He then fell behind McCutchen 3-0 and the Pittsburgh star pounced on a fastball over the heart of the plate for his 20th homer of the season.
McCutchen zipped around the bases and tipped his cap following a curtain call in what appeared to be the signature moment of an MVP-worthy year.
“I got a pitch out of that at-bat to hit and I didn’t miss it,” McCutchen said.