Bucs flex muscle in series win over Brewers

Bucs flex muscle in series win over Brewers

Bucs flex muscle in series win over Brewers
MILWAUKEE -- James McDonald may not yet be the Pirates' official ace. But he is becoming their official stopper.

And on a day McDonald again stopped any possibility of a losing streak, Clint Barmes started the offense. That really happened, again proving that:

"You never know what will break out when they say, 'Play Ball,'" Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Sunday's breakout included McDonald's four-hit pitching for six innings, four Pirates homers, a 6-5 win over the Brewers and a series win in Miller Park.

Pretty basic stuff. The Bucs hadn't hit four homers in a game in over a year, since May 28, 2011 in Wrigley Field. The Bucs hadn't taken a series here in over two years, since April 26-28, 2010.

And Barmes hadn't had a big hit in a Bucs uniform since ... never? He had two of them Sunday -- an RBI single in the second for their first run, and a homer in the ninth for the last, eventual winning run.

McDonald's victory was the ordinary part of the day. It was his fifth, as he lowered his ERA to 2.14, and four of them have followed Pirates losses.

Although Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones and Rod Barajas had already made deposits into the homer bank, McDonald had no trouble isolating what he felt was the biggest of the Pirates' 11 hits.

"To me, it was Barmes'. That was a pretty good at-bat he put together versus a pretty good pitcher," McDonald said of Barmes' homer on a 2-and-2, 97-mph fastball from John Axford, the Milwaukee closer who had not given up a home run since last August.

This was only Barmes' second game back from a four-day benching. Not only did he enter with a .167 average, not only was he hitless in his last 12 at-bats, but his first-inning fielding error led to two unearned runs and an early 2-0 deficit.

"I gave up two runs that inning ... routine ball up the middle I did not catch," Barmes said. "So, after that just getting an RBI was huge. It was definitely nice to put us on the board. It wasn't pretty, but I'll take every one of those that I can get."

Within minutes after McDonald departed with a 5-3 lead, the Brewers got after it. Martin Maldonado's first Major League homer in the seventh, off Juan Cruz, trimmed the Bucs' lead to 5-4. That was the first home run allowed by Cruz in 22 games this season with the Pirates.

After Jason Grilli hung an adventurous zero in the eighth -- he retired pinch-hitter Ryan Braun on a fly to the right-field warning track with two on and two out -- and after Barmes reset the lead at two runs, Joel Hanrahan gave one back on a homer by Brooks Conrad before nailing his 14th save.

After Barmes' flared an RBI single down the right-field line halved the early deficit to 2-1, three silent innings ensued, then McDonald himself jump-started matters. He led off the fifth with a single, then had to wait through two outs before McCutchen's ninth homer turned around the score. When Jones immediately followed with his seventh homer, McDonald had a 4-2 lead, and the cue to dominate.

He continued to set down the Brewers -- 14 straight -- until Nyjer Morgan wrapped up his reunion weekend with the Pirates with his second homer of the series in the sixth. By that time, Barajas had given him a 5-2 cushion with his solo shot off Kameron Loe. When Morgan's homer led to more trouble on Corey Hart's bunt single and a walk of Green, McDonald was up to the challenge, fanning both Rickie Weeks and Cody Ransom to strand the potential tying runs.

Hurdle called McDonald's escape-ability "noticeable throughout this season. He's been able to maintain his rhythm and his tempo and remain aggressive."

But doing so carried him to the 100-pitch mark, and out of the game, leaving it in the hands of a bullpen which had already worked 7 2/3 innings in the first two games of the set.

The outcome was certainly more pleasing than the outset. The Pirates misfired on a first-inning crack at Michael Fiers. In the bottom of the inning, the Brewers converted an error into their unearned runs.

When Barmes let Morgan's one-out grounder clank off the heel of his glove for an error, Milwaukee had its opening. Morgan stole second, then scored on a two-out double by Taylor Green, who then scored on Weeks' single.

Hurdle didn't want a civic holiday declared just because the Pirates had won two games out of three in Wisconsin.

"We know the history here, and it's nice to do it. I get that," Hurdle said. "But to make more of it than that ... I'm not jumping around in the streets."

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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.