In the third inning Tuesday night, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen hit a ball roughly 400 feet to right-center field. It ricocheted off the wall at AT&T Park to Giants right fielder Hunter Pence, who barehanded it neatly and fired a throw back to the infield.
With Gregory Polanco forced to watch the ball before breaking from first, McCutchen settled for a single. He later said it was "probably the longest (single) of my career." He was then asked to describe what it’s like to hit at AT&T Park.
"Brutal," he said. "Cause that ball I hit to right-center was supposed to go out.
"‘Triples Alley,’" he continued with a mock scoff. "Did get a triple, though (in the fourth inning). Appreciate that. Did appreciate that, though, yeah."
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Around San Francisco, what happened to McCutchen is endearingly referred to as "being AT&T’d." But the former MVP found plenty of other holes around the park on Tuesday. McCutchen had four hits, finishing a homer shy of the cycle, scored two runs and drove in two more in the Pirates’ 7-4 win over the Giants.
McCutchen’s long third-inning single gave the Pirates their first run off of Chris Heston, who went on to allow four runs in the inning. McCutchen then knocked Heston out of the game in the fourth when he lined a triple into the gap in right-center. Two innings later, he shot a double down the right-field line that scored Polanco for the Pirates’ final run.
"He’s seeing it well," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of McCutchen. "Good hitters, they get in that zone, they say, where they’re seeing the ball well. You’ve got to make your pitches. He got some mistakes and he took advantage of it."
McCutchen certainly appears to be in a zone. After going 1-for-4 on May 6, McCutchen was batting .188. In 25 games since then, he has gone 36-for-89 (.405) to raise his season average to .292. It’s likely no coincidence that the Pirates’ record during that span is 16-9, including 10 wins in their last 12 games.
That average could be higher if not for McCutchen being robbed twice in the first game of this series Monday night -- both Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence left their feet to rob McCutchen of extra-base hits with the bases loaded. McCutchen settled for two sacrifice flies.
"I won’t say (Tuesday) makes up for it," McCutchen said. "It’s just getting the job done, putting the barrel on the ball, getting a sac fly, doing my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do. They did their job, too, and that’s making some catches and getting the outs."
Tuesday, McCutchen hit his line drives where the Giants’ outfielders couldn’t track them down. That is, until he came up in the eighth, needing a homer for the cycle, and flied out to Pence in right. McCutchen said he didn’t go up thinking about the cycle.
"Staying humble," he said, "because a month ago I was hoping for just a broken-bat single."
Now that seems like a bargain for opposing pitchers. After Tuesday’s game, McCutchen was asked to describe how he has felt at the plate the past few weeks. He answered with one word:
* McCutchen’s night helped the Pirates overcome an early 2-0 Giants lead for the second straight game. The Giants have actually jumped out to 2-0 leads in each of their past three games -- and have still lost four in a row.
Tuesday night, Heston fell victim to the big inning in the third, as the Pirates scored four times with six men reaching base. Bochy said it "just looked like he lost his command a little bit," and that Heston might have been better served by taking a step back and trying to regroup before the inning spiraled out of control.
"That’s an area he’s going to get better at with experience is staying out of that big inning and trying to limit the damage," Bochy said. "It’s happened a couple times to him, he had good stuff and got out to a good start, then he had a hard time stopping that inning. Sometimes you’ve got to slow things down."
After McCutchen’s single, Heston struck out Neil Walker but then walked Starling Marte to load the bases. He appeared to lose his footing on a wild pitch to Pedro Alvarez, which resulted in a run scoring from third, and Alvarez doubled to give the Pirates a 4-2 lead. In all, Heston needed 34 pitches to complete the inning, and didn’t make it out of the fourth.
"He threw a lot of pitches and it caught up with him there," Bochy said.
* The Giants tied the game in the bottom of the third on Brandon Crawford’s two-run homer to left-center off A.J. Burnett. It was Crawford’s eighth home run of the season and his 35th and 36th RBIs. Both totals lead N.L. shortstops (two others, Jhonny Peralta and Wilmer Flores, also have eight homers). Last season, Crawford hit his eighth homer on July 18 and drove in his 36th run on June 22.
From there, though, the Giants’ offense went quiet. They put runners on second and third with two outs in the fourth, and loaded the bases with two out in the eighth, but couldn’t score either time. They went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position Tuesday and are 4-for-31 in those situations in their past four games.
"When we needed a hit, not too long ago we got it," Bochy said. "But we’re seeing some good pitching and they’re making pitches. You’re not always going to get them. It seems like they go in streaks."
So, too, have the Giants: The eight-game losing streak in April, their 21-9 record in May, and now a four-game losing streak that includes the first time they’ve blown leads of two or more runs in three straight games since Aug. 22-24, 2009.
For an example of the key hit that eluded the Giants, Bochy pointed to the Pirates’ fourth inning. After McCutchen’s two-out triple chased Heston, the Giants brought in Yusmeiro Petit, who allowed a single to Neil Walker that made it a 5-4 game.
"Those two-out hits are hard to get, and they got a big one there off of Petit," Bochy said. "That’s what wins ballgames for you is getting those timely hits, especially with two out. And we couldn’t get it tonight."
* The Giants do have a couple individual streaks still going. Joe Panik has a hit in his last 16 games at AT&T Park. And Brandon Belt has reached safely in 18 games, the longest active streak in the National League.
They’ll try to salvage a game in this series in the finale Wednesday. It’s Tim Hudson (3-4, 4.62) against Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano (2-4, 3.47). First pitch at 12:45 p.m.