MILWAUKEE -- For the second straight series, the Pirates were denied a needed sweep. This time, an injury dealt their faint postseason hopes an additional blow.
Scooter Gennett and Chris Carter homered for the Brewers, Chase Anderson pitched effectively into the sixth and Milwaukee played spoiler, denying Pittsburgh a three-game sweep with a 3-1 win Thursday at Miller Park. Besides the loss, the Pirates saw outfielder Starling Marte's return to the lineup from a back ailment last all of two full innings before his early exit.
The Pirates remained in fourth place in the National League Wild Card standings with 10 games remaining but fell 4 1/2 games behind the Mets and Giants. Three teams -- the Mets, Giants and Cardinals -- entered the night tied atop those standings with identical records. St. Louis had the night off, while New York and San Francisco won.
"Minimal opportunities tonight," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We hit some balls hard, much like they did last night. Anderson has been on a good little run. We've been able to win a couple of games, but he's been pitching probably as good as he has in his career."
Pirates starter Ryan Vogelsong faced a 2-0 deficit before recording an out after Gennett's opposite-field home run in the first inning, and Anderson made the lead hold. He retired 11 batters in a row from the second inning to the fifth, when catcher Francisco Cervelli cut the Pirates' deficit to 2-1 with a solo home run, his first of the season.
Vogelsong entered the night having allowed 20 earned runs over 17 2/3 innings in his last four starts, but after a mechanical adjustment between starts, he pitched better on Thursday night. The right-hander struck out seven, although he only lasted four innings as the Pirates tried to jumpstart the offense with a pinch-hitter.
"I felt pretty confident that I had nailed something down after [the last start in] Cincinnati, and that was it," Vogelsong said. "And you could see the difference in the way the ball comes out of my hand and the pitches are. I thought I threw a pretty good curveball [to Gennett]. He just stayed behind it and hit it the other way."
With their 69th victory, the Brewers surpassed their total from last season.
"That term, 'rebuilding,' obviously there's a process in place. But these guys in this clubhouse, we're here to win ballgames," said Anderson, who has a 2.30 ERA over his last 11 starts. "I feel like this year has been a really good year for us as a group to grow and build chemistry. Going on, I feel like the plan is in place, and we're progressing pretty well."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Sweet relief: Anderson and the Brewers faced a decisive moment in the sixth, when Andrew McCutchen doubled over center fielder Hernan Perez's head to bring the potential go-ahead run to the plate. Brewers manager Craig Counsell called to the bullpen for versatile reliever Carlos Torres, who struck out cleanup hitter Gregory Polanco to preserve the lead. Torres remained in the game to pitch a scoreless seventh in his team-high 68th appearance -- a notable achievement considering he was released by the Braves in Spring Training and didn't sign with the Brewers until two days before the start of the regular season.
"He's pitched in big spots, leverage spots, and all over the game, and you feel comfortable with him getting four outs," Counsell said. "Multiple-inning appearances as a reliever is huge. This is a guy that showed up on Opening Day and is going to throw 80 quality innings for us."
Marte brief return: After missing 16 consecutive starts with back spasms, Marte's return to the lineup did not last long. In the third inning, Marte injured himself while taking a swing and left the game with back tightness. Matt Joyce entered the game for Pittsburgh.
"If you saw the game, you saw the swings in the middle of the at-bat," Hurdle said. "Those swings just aren't going to play." More >
Carter's career year: Carter's solo homer in the seventh off Trevor Williams extended Milwaukee's lead to 3-1. The opposite-field shot, which left the bat at 106 mph and traveled a 398 feet according to Statcast™, gave Carter 37 home runs and 88 RBIs, matching career highs set in 2014 with Houston.
"He's been in there every day and he's done what he's good at, which is hit home runs," Counsell said. "Adding power is something that this lineup really needed, and he's delivered."
Cervelli snaps out: Cervelli went nearly a calendar year between homers, last going yard on Sept. 30, 2015. With two outs in the fifth, he notched the only blemish on Anderson's outing by lining a solo homer to right. Cervelli nearly added another homer to right in the eighth, but the ball fell just short as Domingo Santana made the catch at the warning track.
"He continues to work, he continues to finish strong and he didn't want to finish with a zero up there on his home run total," Hurdle said. "To hit it the other way like that then drive another one, yeah, it was really good to see."
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On the way to recording his 12th save, Brewers closer Tyler Thornburg retired a pair of tough right-handed hitters in McCutchen and reigning NL Player of the Week Sean Rodriguez. Thornburg has held righties hitless over their last 38 at-bats, the longest such streak in the Majors at the moment. The last right-handed batter to get a hit off Thornburg was Arizona's Rickie Weeks Jr. on July 28.
OUTFIELDER ROULETTE Ryan Braun returned to action for the Brewers after a two-day paternity leave, but Hernan Perez made his first career start in center field because Keon Broxton is out for the season with a broken right wrist and Kirk Nieuwenhuis was still sidelined by what has been diagnosed as a sports hernia. Nieuwenhuis, who aggravated the injury making a sliding catch at Wrigley Field last weekend, had a cortisone shot on Wednesday and hopes to play again this season.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Pittsburgh's gauntlet schedule to close the season begins with a 7:05 p.m. ET first pitch against the Nationals at home. Ivan Nova will get the start for the Pirates.
Brewers: The final series of the season at Miller Park pits the Brewers against the Reds beginning Friday, when Zach Davies works for Milwaukee. The Brewers are 14-13 when Davies starts.