PITTSBURGH — Andrew McCutchen has been back to PNC Park three times since the Pirates traded him away. He enjoys the atmosphere, the opportunity to catch up with old friends around the ballpark and, most of all, to sleep in his own bed. But McCutchen had never put together a big game here as a visitor.
That changed on Thursday.
McCutchen tallied three hits to help the Brewers sweep the Pirates for the second time in the span of 10 days, lofting a leadoff home run before delivering a go-ahead, two-run single in the ninth inning for a 3-2 win in the series finale against his old team.
With victories in all six games against the Pirates so far this season, the Brewers have won 19 of the last 22 matchups dating to last June. And, at 13-7, they are off to their best 20-game start in eight years.
“This is probably the first time I’ve actually done well against the Pirates,” McCutchen said. “Not just here, but against them in general.”
Brewers starter Freddy Peralta struck out seven and walked none over six scoreless innings in by far his finest start of the season, working with a lead from the game’s very first pitch thanks to McCutchen’s 19th career leadoff home run. He connected with a fastball from longtime Brewer-killer José Quintana and pulled it to the short porch in left field.
It was a sign of the day to come, and perhaps of the season to this point. McCutchen got all of that pitch, he said, and he’s done that enough times in this ballpark to know where the baseball should have landed. This one barely cleared the fence.
“You just knew it was going to be one of those days,” McCutchen said. “Frankly, it’s one of those seasons right now, because that’s just the way that the ball has been. You have to tickle some hits here and there.”
There are numerous factors contributing to the frustration expressed by McCutchen and other Brewers hitters. It’s early in the regular season after a short spring. It’s cold in places like Pittsburgh, where the Brewers welcomed Thursday’s sun when the temperature at first pitch was 43 degrees. And the baseballs, hitters say, have not been flying like they used to.
“At the end of the day, you just have to scratch away and score some runs,” McCutchen said.
The Pirates pushed across two runs in the seventh against Brad Boxberger after Peralta departed, having “emptied the tank,” Counsell said, to escape a two-on, two-out jam in the sixth. The Pirates scored with a sequence that went single, ground-rule double, infield single (initially ruled an error on Brewers shortstop Willy Adames) and a sacrifice fly.
It remained a 2-1 Pirates lead until the ninth, when the Brewers’ winning rally started with Yelich dropping a bunt for a pinch-hit single.
“It was just one of those things where, when I got up there, knowing the situation, trying to get something started — it felt like if I executed it correctly, it was there,” Yelich said. “It wasn’t even really a good bunt, but it got the job done and kind of got things started.”
Kolten Wong, pinch-hitting Omar Narváez and McCutchen followed with successive singles to pry the lead away from Pittsburgh. McCutchen’s was a line drive over leaping second baseman Josh VanMeter into right-center field. In his 18th game against the Pirates, it marked the first time McCutchen (3-for-4 with three RBIs) tallied more than two hits or drove in more than two runs.
His home run got the Brewers started, but it took a series of singles to win.
“Guys like myself, I have to do the job I need to do. Get on base — don’t try to backspin a ball and hit a homer every time,” McCutchen said. “We have to play small ball. Sometimes we have to do that.”