MILWAUKEE -- Jonathan Lucroy singled for the tie-breaking run in the eighth inning Saturday, as ace setup reliever Mark Melancon and the rest of the Pirates again fell victims to the scalding Brewers, 3-2.
With a Miller Park sellout crowd of 42,828 already frenzied by a sharp defensive play that thwarted the Bucs' potential go-ahead rally in the top of the inning, Ryan Braun singled with one out in the bottom half. Aramis Ramirez followed with another single, as did Lucroy to bring home Braun and snap a 2-2 tie.
Milwaukee's rally spoiled another strong start by the Pirates' Edinson Volquez, who held his ground into the seventh against Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo.
The Pirates took a basepath gamble in the eighth that badly backfired. With Starling Marte on third and Travis Snider on first, Andrew McCutchen popped out to catcher Jonathan Lucroy, to a spot perhaps 15 feet behind the plate.
After the catch, Snider took off for second -- with the obvious intent of getting into a rundown long enough for Marte to scamper home. But shortstop Juan Segura paid Snider no mind, instead firing to pitcher Jim Henderson covering the plate, and Marte slid into his tag.
"They executed the play, and kept us from taking the lead," Snider said. "You have to hand it to them."
"It is a play we have in place. We work on it all spring," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We tag up at first, draw the throw to second, and send the runner from third once the ball is out of the catcher's hand."
It is known as "Rudy" in the Pirates' playbook, and it won a game for them last season "against Houston," as Hurdle recalled.
Being in a 2-2 standoff, and with two of the league's best bullpens about to go at it in the wake of a stiff duel between Volquez and Gallardo, Hurdle thought it was a good time to play his surprise card.
"We tried to steal a run, and they made a baseball play to prevent that," the manager said. "It had been a crazy game. We gifted them a run. It seemed like a good opportunity to catch them off guard."
That, they did.
"I've never seen that one before," Lucroy admitted. "I've seen them where you throw a guy out at second and he stops and the guy goes from home to third and we throw him out there, but never with the pitcher covering. That never happens."
It did this time. In reality, Henderson blew up the play by alertly covering the plate.
"My focus there was just to get my glove out in front of the plate. I really didn't know where I was positioned on the plate, because it happened so quickly," he said. "I'm glad I covered home in the first place. Some pitchers -- that ball was only 10 feet from the plate -- may just hang out by the mound."
Tony Watson turned in a marvelous rescue effort to keep the game tied in the seventh after a leadoff fielding error by McCutchen in center field, a walk and the ensuing sacrifice bunt led to Volquez's exit with the lead run on third and one out.
Pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks did tee off on Watson's first pitch -- but lined it, hard, at Marte in left field. Khris Davis held at third, respecting Marte's arm. Carlos Gomez ended the threat with a routine grounder to short.
In the third, the Pirates gave Gallardo, who did not allow a run in his first two starts, an ERA. Travis Ishikawa led it off with a double and stopped at third on Jordy Mercer's bloop single to center. Ishikawa held at third as Mercer moved to second on Volquez's sacrifice bunt -- and they took turns scoring on Marte's grounder to deep short and Snider's single.
Those runs neutralized Gomez's first-inning leadoff homer, and a second-inning run scored on a Volquez wild pitch.
That second Milwaukee run was set up by an intriguing MLB trend. As the use of defensive shifts increases, so does their exploitation. The Bucs went into the shift against left-handed hitting Scooter Gennett, leaving only the third baseman, Alvarez, midway between third and second. Gennett poked a ball down the left field line. Davis, on first via Alvarez's fielding error, motored to third, in position to score when Volquez bounced a pitch through Martin.
The Pirates were confounded twice in that sequence.
By Gennett's shift-buster … "Sometimes, it's because of the location of the pitch, I haven't checked it out yet," Hurdle said.
And by that wild pitch … "Did you see where it bounced? It hit the corner of the plate,' Hurdle said. "Like I said, one of those weird games."
If not for the Alvarez error that enabled that run, the only damage against Volquez would have been that third-pitch homer by Gomez. He outshone even his impressive starting debut of last Sunday, when he held St. Louis to a run and four hits in 5 2/3 innings.
This time, Volquez went 6 1/3, again allowing one earned run and four hits while walking two and fanning four.
"We kept putting him in peril and he kept the damage to a minimum," Hurdle said. "A real good outing. Another one. He really battled the hot right-handed power in that lineup."
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.