But another hiccup by one of the team's few veterans kept the Pirates from heading into the second half of the season with a glimmer of momentum.
Corey Hart hit a two-run home run in the ninth off closer Octavio Dotel, sending the Pirates to a gut-wrenching 6-5 loss at Miller Park. Dotel's second blown save in as many chances made for three consecutive one-run losses and six straight setbacks overall.
After Pittsburgh responded to the Brewers' tying the game in the eighth with a run of their own in the ninth, Dotel blew his second save in the series. Pittsburgh fell to 11-38 on the road this year, worst in baseball.
"We came up with a big run in the ninth, and the guys did everything they need to do," Pirates manager John Russell said. "We made a few mistakes late in the game from guys who usually don't do that. ... I can't really explain what's going on."
Hart, who was named a replacement starter for the National League All-Star team earlier in the day, took a 1-0 offering from Dotel out to left, his 21st home run of the year, after Jim Edmonds led off the frame with a double. Two nights earlier, Dotel allowed Milwaukee to tie the game in the ninth, and the Brewers went on to win in the 10th.
Joel Hanrahan allowed a late run in both games. Carlos Gomez poked his 0-2 outside pitch to right field for a game-tying blow in the eighth Sunday. Undeterred, the Pirates put runners at the corners with nobody out in the ninth off John Axford (5-1), and Andrew McCutchen's second sacrifice fly of the game gave his team a 5-4 lead.
"With the way things have been going for us, obviously it happened at a bad time for us," Hanrahan said of the bullpen's atypical struggles. "You don't want to break down when you're about to go into the break. We'll take these couple days and come back strong."
Pedro Alvarez broke a 3-3 tie with a booming home run to center in the sixth inning off Brewers starter Randy Wolf, and Brad Lincoln delivered six solid innings and was in line for the victory. Both players appeared in the 2009 Futures Game and serve as part of a young nucleus that still has Pittsburgh seeing good things ahead.
"I don't think we should view it as the young guys are doing this or doing that," Alvarez said. "We lost by one run, we fought and we battled and we just have to stay positive."
Alvarez struck out in each of his first two at-bats against Wolf before delivering the go-ahead strike.
"You never know when you can get a big hit," he said. "It's a matter of not giving up, and I just kept with it. I was fortunate enough to put a good swing on the ball."
Lastings Milledge homered in his second consecutive game, part of an eight-batter second inning that netted a 3-0 lead. Lincoln squibbed an RBI single in the rally.
"We've been in better situations, we've been staying in the game," Milledge said. "Our starting pitchers have been keeping us in the game, and we've been able to get some leads early. We've dropped these last three, but in these last three games, we've been playing real well and just couldn't get over the hill."
Milwaukee's response included solo homers from Ryan Braun and George Kottaras in the fourth to tie the score at 3, but Lincoln kept the Pirates afloat. He threw just 60 pitches in the first five innings, faced the minimum in the fifth and worked around two quick walks in the sixth. He left with a runner on in the seventh and allowed three runs on seven hits.
"I still didn't really have the command," Lincoln said. "I was able to get some big outs in a big situation there in the sixth inning, but it's just unfortunate for us the way our luck's been going so far.
"It' s been a tough journey so far for us to be losing ballgames like thi. We've been on the winning edge so much, and we're just letting it slip away. We're out there playing hard and giving it all we've got. We're just coming up short, and it hasn't been going our way."
Jose Tabata drew multiple walks for the first time in his big league career, earning free passes in each of his first three at-bats. Like McCutchen, Lincoln, Alvarez and Milledge, Tabata is one of the team's eight Futures Game alumni.
"When we get that taste of winning in there, these guys will really turn the corner," Russell said.
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.