Pirates' bullpen sees victory streak end at 19

Pirates' bullpen sees victory streak end at 19

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates bullpen's remarkable victory tour came to an end on Thursday night. It was anything but a quick end -- as six relievers kept the high-wire act alive through six zeros before the eventual 6-4 loss in 13 innings to the Brewers.

It was a somewhat agonizing loss, with St. Louis' 11-0 defeat at Cincinnati staring the Bucs in the face. It might thus prove to also be a costly loss. But it was definitely a rare loss. Pittsburgh remained 4 1/2 back in the division and dropped to 2 1/2 games ahead of Chicago, which was rained out, in the Wild Card standings.

Until the Bucs' bats couldn't extract Radhames Liz from his second hook, Pittsburgh relievers had won 19 straight decisions. Only the '09 -- the 1909 -- Pirates had ever done better in the Majors, with 22 consecutive relief wins.

"Wow. We'd lost track of it, honestly, at about 16 or 17," said Jared Hughes, who anted two-thirds of an inning into Thursday's pot. "Our team plays it close. When it comes to something like that, it's not just about the bullpen -- it's the hitters turning the score, the defense making great plays. It takes a whole team for a streak like that."

"Our offense couldn't come through to get them another," Andrew McCutchen said. "We've got a good bullpen. We wouldn't be where we are without that."

Buccos relievers had last lost on June 25, when Rob Scahill dropped a 13th-inning decision at Cincinnati. That was also the Pirates' most recent loss in extra innings; they had won eight consecutive games in extras.

"It did feel strange to lose in extras -- especially at home," manager Clint Hurdle said.

Thursday night's holdout in relief of A.J. Burnett was made even more impressive by the unavailability of the bullpen's two biggest pieces: Tony Watson and Mark Melancon, whose workloads in the last two games vs. Cincinnati ruled them out.

At the end of the line, Liz was put in the odd situation of having to keep down the Brewers for the third time in 10 days; those are his only three appearances since rejoining the club on Sept. 1.

Liz shook off the events of the decisive 13th-inning rally -- which began when leadoff batter Nevin Ashley struck out but reached as the pitch got away from catcher Francisco Cervelli -- as "all part of baseball, I had no problems with it."

The right-hander, however, had a tougher time with the run he allowed in the 12th -- without which Gregory Polanco's homer in the bottom half would have won, not just tied, the game.

In the 12th, Liz set up Ryan Braun's two-out go-ahead single with a pair of walks, the second of Elian Herrera with two down.

"I've got to be more aggressive there. I can't let that happen," Liz said.

"We keep attacking," Hughes said. "We'll start a fresh streak tomorrow."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.