"Hey, man, I don't know what's going on for me," said Rodriguez. "To lose on only one [bad] pitch. ... I hung a breaking pitch [to Nieves] and he hits it for a home run. I feel bad."
Making Rodriguez feel even worse, Nieves was the No. 8 hitter in the Arizona lineup, but still did damage with two outs and Saunders on deck.
"I think about that. That's why that home run for me is very bad, with the pitcher next," Rodriguez said. "I tried to throw a good breaking ball, but I missed my spot and he hit the ball very well."
Saunders (6-8) grew tough after allowing three runs and surrendering a 2-0 lead in the second inning. He allowed seven hits and two earned runs in seven innings, and struck out three without a walk.
Saunders' two biggest pitches came in the seventh, when he followed a two-out Starling Marte triple by running the count on Josh Harrison to 3-1. Waiting on deck as the potential tying run was Andrew McCutchen, left-handers' Public Enemy No. 1. But Saunders got Harrison to foul off one pitch, then retired him on a popup.
Harrison was the last man Saunders had to face.
"He threw me a fastball right down the middle," Harrison said of the 3-1 pitch. "Full count? Again, fastball.
"And I'm looking for it -- he's certainly not going to pitch around me to get to that guy," Harrison added, motioning over his shoulder to McCutchen a few lockers away. "I just missed them. it happens."
"That was huge," Saunders said. "I just told myself that this is probably my last hitter, 3-2 count, this is everything I got, so he was either going to strike out or hit a home run. I just tried to get through it."
With a lead entering the sixth, the Bucs had to be hoping for more than a mere split of the four-game set with the D-backs. Yet, they maintained a breakneck series pace that bolsters their postseason aspirations. They have won 15 and split two of their last 21 series.
Rodriguez took his seventh loss in his last eight decisions, including his Houston efforts prior to his trade on July 24. And the man whose place he took in the Pirates' rotation, Kevin Correia, won for the seventh straight decision in a spot start Wednesday night.
The D-backs shrunk PNC Park, and showed no preference in the process. Kubel's first homer went to right, Nieves' go-ahead homer went to left and Kubel's icing blow went a little left of center.
"Bookend two-run homers -- story of the game for [Rodriguez]," Hurdle said. "The pitch to Kubel is down and in, one of his hot zones. And then a hanging breaking ball [to Nieves]."
Pirates fans' first in-person impression of Rodriguez was not good. Aaron Hill, the second batter of the game, doubled, and Kubel followed with his 24th homer to dig a quick 2-0 hole.
The Bucs climbed out of that in the second, when three consecutive singles, the last by Michael McKenry, made it 2-1. Jordy Mercer's sacrifice fly tied it, then, taking advantage of a two-out error by Saunders on Rodriguez's grounder that extended the inning, Marte slapped a single to right for the go-ahead unearned run.
"I tried to hold the score right there because I know, my teammates, they can win the game with that," Rodriguez said "I feel bad; I tried to do the best I can to have the team win."
The D-backs displayed their own resilience four innings later, when Chris Johnson singled with one away and, with two outs, Nieves pulled his homer for a 4-3 lead.
Rodriguez did his best work with men on base. The lefty had to do most of his pitching out of the stretch, against 12 of the 27 batters he faced in six innings. He allowed seven hits and four runs, walking and striking out two apiece.
"What I liked," Hurdle said, "were the 15 outs in between; you saw a confident guy on the mound who went right after people."