Marlins can't hold lead, drop fifth straight

Marlins can't hold lead, drop fifth straight

Marlins can't hold lead, drop fifth straight

PITTSBURGH -- All the makings were in place for the Marlins to avert the sweep on Thursday afternoon. Christian Yelich had three hits, including a two-run homer, and Jose Fernandez enjoyed a four-run lead.

Miami's two most promising rookies were rolling along, showing why they are projected to have stellar careers. Still, the end result was agonizingly familiar. As they've done all series, the Pirates showed resolve, while the Marlins were victimized by inexperience.

Russell Martin slapped an full-count, pinch-hit single down the third-base line in the 10th inning, lifting the Pirates to a 5-4 win over the Marlins at PNC Park.

Martin delivered the Pirates' ninth walk-off win of the season, with his two-out hit coming off Steven Ames with two on base. Josh Harrison, who singled to open the inning, scored the run that resulted in the Marlins losing their fifth straight.

"You're going up against a first-place team, at home," Miami manager Mike Redmond said. "As you can see, the momentum turns quick. We made them use every guy they had on that bench. They made us use almost all of our pitchers to stop them. It was a great series. We got swept, but we were in every one of those games. We battled. I guess if there was a moral victory, that would be it."

In a bottom-line business like the big leagues, the Pirates completed the sweep, and improved to 70-44, while the Marlins fell to 43-70, and 4-11 in extra innings. Miami is 15-23 in one-run games.

"That's how our team is, we got a good team, guys contribute at key moments," said Martin, 4-for-4 as a pinch-hitter. "It's someone different every day. We're prepared, ready to compete, go out and do it every day, and we have fun doing it. This is the 2013 Pirates."

Still, the series was so disheartening for the Marlins, because in all three games, they watched multiple-run leads slip away. On Tuesday night, Miami was ahead by three, only to lose, 4-3. And on Wednesday, a two-run lead turned into a 4-2 loss. On Thursday afternoon, the Pirates erased a four-run deficit, and pulled even at 4 with two runs in the seventh.

"We were walked off twice. I guess, if we're looking at the bright side, we're in these games," Redmond said. "At the same time, too, we'd like to get on the other end of some of these games. We definitely played well enough to win."

The 'pen was being asked to preserve a two-run lead over four innings, but it didn't work out.

Chad Qualls opened the seventh inning, and he filled the bases without recording an out. Qualls was lifted after Andrew McCutchen's pinch-hit single. Mike Dunn inherited the bases loaded and yielded a sacrifice fly to right to Neil Walker, who had three hits and drove in two runs.

Dunn got ahead of Pedro Alvarez with two quick strikes, but walked him on some borderline pitches to fill the bases. Ryan Webb replaced Dunn and faced Gaby Sanchez, who pinch-hit and tied it on a sacrifice fly to right.

The pitching matchup was a promising one, featuring two of the most talented rookie right-handers in the National League: Fernandez and Gerrit Cole, two first-round picks in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

It also was a rematch of a July 28 game at Marlins Park, when Fernandez struck out 13 in eight innings on his way to a win.

But Fernandez had a tougher go on Thursday, giving up two runs in five innings with five strikeouts and four walks. When his pitch count reached 101, he was through. Cole also went five innings, giving up four runs.

"It was a tough one, for sure, no doubt," Fernandez said. "I threw a lot of pitches. I had to do a lot of work out there. I'm trying to be perfect every time out there. I'm trying to. We played a good game. They came out on top, but our team had a chance to win."

Fernandez is now at 132 2/3 innings on he season, and he has 142 strikeouts. An NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate, he is on an innings limit of around 170, which he could reach just shy of Sept. 1.

Admittedly, Fernandez was a bit off on Thursday, and he isn't using a small blister on his right middle finger as an excuse. Basically, the 21-year-old has a slight tear to the side of his right middle-finger nail. He said he had it before the game, and pitched through.

To Fernandez, it's a non-issue. To him, the real challenge on Thursday was the Pirates' lineup.

"I have the same routine, I'm doing things exactly the same," Fernandez said. "This shows you, every five days, you've got to be ready and work, and you've got to keep working."

The five innings marked Fernandez's shortest start since he matched that total on June 25 in a no-decision against the Twins.

Fernandez labored with a tight strike zone by home-plate umpire Gary Cederstrom, and he walked as many as four for the first time since July 7 at St. Louis.

Still, the rookie found a way to put up zeroes, until the Pirates finally broke through with two runs in the fifth, snapping Fernandez's scoreless inning streak at 18. Fernandez matched Henderson Alvarez for the longest scoreless-inning stretch by a Marlin this year.

The Pirates scored off Fernandez on RBI singles from Walker and Pedro Alvarez. On Alvarez's hit to right field, Giancarlo Stanton came up big by throwing out Walker at the plate. Catcher Jeff Mathis was barreled over on the play, but he held onto the ball, saving a run.

In his 64th big league at-bat, Yelich connected on his first home run. The 21-year-old went opposite field for a two-run shot off Cole in the fifth inning, giving Miami a four-run advantage.

The Marlins didn't waste much time giving Fernandez an early lead. Yelich started a two-run first by drawing a four-pitch walk, and he scored on Stanton's one-out double to right field. With two outs, Placido Polanco slapped a run-scoring single to center.

"It feels good to get that monkey off your back," said Yelich, who received the home run ball. "But you can't force it. If you do, it takes you out of your game, and it can snowball on you pretty quick. But it's nice to get that first one. It would have felt a little bit better if we could have come up with a W tonight."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.