Melancon falters, Pirates fall to Padres 3-2

The Pittsburgh Pirates have spent all season relying on a

remarkable resiliency that enables them to brush off adversity and

get back to the cumbersome task of returning the franchise to the

playoffs and respectability.

The final steps may be the hardest of all.

San Diego’s Logan Forsythe and Rene Rivera delivered consecutive

RBI singles in the ninth inning off Pirates closer Mark Melancon

and the Padres rallied for a 3-2 victory on Wednesday night.

”Just got to tip your hat, they put the ball in play and found

some holes,” Melancon said after blowing his third save. ”They

did a good job. Sometimes it happens that way.”

Pittsburgh’s magic number to clinch its first playoff berth in

21 years dropped to five when Atlanta beat Washington, but the

Pirates dropped two games behind St. Louis, which beat Colorado

4-3, for first place in the NL Central. The Pirates have dropped

three straight against the NL West also-rans, none more painful

than this one.

Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run homer off Tyson Ross with one out

in the seventh to give the Pirates their first lead of the series

and set the stage for an emotional victory. Pittsburgh came in 74-2

when leading after eight innings.

Not this time.

Forsythe’s single to right scored pinch-runner Andrew Cashner to

tie the game and Rivera’s blooper brought home Chris Denorfia as

the Padres improved to 31-10 at PNC Park since it opened in 2001.

Dale Thayer (3-5) picked up the win in relief. Huston Street

pitched a perfect ninth for his 33rd save.

”It was something special,” Rivera said. ”We battled all game

and we came through.”

Melancon (2-2) had been lights out since taking for Jason Grilli

after the All-Star went down with a strained right forearm in July.

He had converted 16 of 18 opportunities on the season, one of the

main reasons the Pirates are in the midst of an actual pennant race

for the first time in two decades.

Melancon spent most of the night watching Pittsburgh starter

Charlie Morton duel with Ross but found himself warming up after

McCutchen broke the Pirates out of a lengthy slump with a towering

two-run shot to right-center with one out in the seventh.

Ross had retired 15 straight before Neil Walker reached on a

strikeout and wild pitch. He then fell behind McCutchen 3-0 and the

Pittsburgh star pounced on a fastball over the heart of the plate

for his 20th homer of the season.

McCutchen zipped around the bases and tipped his cap following a

curtain call in what appeared to be the signature moment of an

MVP-worthy year.

”I got a pitch out of that at-bat to hit and I didn’t miss

it,” McCutchen said. ”That’s what I’m supposed to do. That’s my

job.”

Morton breezed through the eight before giving way to Melancon.

Even though Morton had thrown just 99 pitches while recording 24

outs, he doesn’t doubt going to Melancon was the way to go.

”I’d like to think I could but Mark’s been dominant,” Morton

said. ”So I think that was the right decision. I wouldn’t ever

question that.”

Morton tied a career-high with nine strikeouts while allowing

one run on two hits. Mixing his sinker with an improved curveball

in his comeback from Tommy John surgery last year, Morton only

allowed a handful of balls out of the infield.

The problem for Morton is that Ross was even better. The Pirates

lit up the right-hander for five runs in 6 1-3 innings in San Diego

a month ago but came in having scored just two runs in the first

two games of the series.

Justin Morneau singled leading off the second before being

erased on a double play. Ross spent the next 90 minutes toying with

the Pirates. Pittsburgh only managed to get three balls to the

outfield through six innings until Ross tired in the seventh.

Still, even McCutchen allowed his home run did nothing more than

put a small dent in his team’s offensive woes. Pittsburgh has

scored just 16 runs seven games into an 11-game homestand that

could determine where – and perhaps even if – they play in

October.

”I know we can do a lot better of a job than what we’re doing

right now,” McCutchen said. ”We only have so many more games

left. It’s time to get going. We don’t have time to be making it as

close as it’s been these past few days. We have the offense to do

those things, to score runs.”

NOTES: Pittsburgh sat C Russell Martin on Wednesday and will do

so again on Thursday. Manager Clint Hurdle said he wants Martin to

be well rested when the Pirates open a pivotal three-game series

with Cincinnati on Friday. … The series wraps up Thursday. Gerrit

Cole (8-7, 3.33 ERA) starts for the Pirates against Ian Kennedy

(6-9, 4.85).

Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP