The signs were definitely there to suggest that the Dodgers were on the cusp of breaking out against McCutchen all night. Yes, the Pirates' offense had twice rallied to tie the score. Yes, McCutchen had minimized the damage through four innings. But with McCutchen struggling to find his fastball command from the start and without his go-to changeup working, it was just a matter of time before the Dodgers would capitalize.
The Pirates' eventual 6-2 loss would attest to just that.
Pitching in front of 42,045 fans at Dodger Stadium, McCutchen found himself in unfamiliar surroundings. His Major League debut had come in front of less than 2,000 fans in Cincinnati. The announced crowd at his second start, which came at PNC Park, was less than 15,000.
McCutchen noted several times after the loss that he had hoped to perform much better in such an environment, which, in the end, may have rattled him just enough.
"In front of this crowd and in this atmosphere, I really would have liked to have come out with my good stuff," McCutchen said. "It just wasn't one of those nights. Maybe I tried too hard and got out of my right mechanics. It wasn't good tonight."
It was a struggle from the start. Heading into the bottom of the fifth, McCutchen had already fallen behind in the count against two-thirds of the hitters he had faced. He needed a swift tag from catcher Ryan Doumit in the first to keep Matt Kemp from scoring what would have been the second run of the inning only four hitters into the game.
He needed a timely double play with the bases loaded in the fourth to limit Los Angeles to only one run in the inning. And back in the second, it was some nifty glove work by Andy LaRoche that prevented the Dodgers from padding their lead after getting two runners in scoring position with one out.
And against a team that entered the series with the league's best batting average, it was surely inevitable that eventually the Dodgers were bound to break through.
"His command is one of the things that is really his strength and it's one of the things that costs him early in games," said Pirates manager John Russell, noting how taxing some of those early innings were for McCutchen. "He had a lot of deeper counts early in the game, and when you do that, it's going to end up catching up to you."
The go-ahead hit came in the fifth, when right fielder Andre Ethier took McCutchen deep for a two-run homer that broke a 2-2 tie. McCutchen had fallen behind in the count against him, too, as he also had against Kemp, who singled before Ethier's at-bat.
"Professional hitters like that, and on top of all that you're letting them get ahead in the count, it's just not a good combination," McCutchen said. "Just way too many balls."
McCutchen got through the fifth, with four runs scored against him in all, but it would be a laborious effort. He needed 84 pitches to get that deep and left still looking for his first professional win.
"Just inconsistent," Russell said. "Just young. It's his first go in the Major Leagues -- emotions, facing very good hitters."
In what was oddly the first of seven season games between these two teams, the Pirates' offense wasn't bereft of its opportunities early, either. Only it never found a way to make them count.
A one-out opportunity with the bases loaded in the first went untapped when Lastings Milledge popped out and Brandon Moss struck out to end the inning. The Pirates then didn't score in the third after the first two hitters reached to start the inning. In all, Pittsburgh went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position during Dodgers starter Jon Garland's six-inning start.
"That's something we all need to get better on," said Andrew McCutchen, who made some dazzling defensive plays on Monday that were overshadowed by the night's result. "We need to get those runs -- those easy runs. We just need to do the little things."
The Pirates did get on the scoreboard in the fourth with Ramon Vazquez's two-out double. Doumit then followed LaRoche's single and Garrett Jones' ground-rule double with an RBI groundout in the fifth that tied the score.
With his double, Jones has hit safely in 28 of 32 road games played with the Pirates. And LaRoche's multihit game ensured the he has hit safely in six of his past seven games. But little would it matter on the scoreboard.
After tying the score and watching the Dodgers almost immediately reclaim the lead for a third and final time, Pittsburgh's offense never made another murmur. Los Angeles, which also boasts the Majors' lowest ERA, retired 14 straight Pittsburgh hitters to end the game.
"After that road trip, where we were 4-2, winning this game was very important," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, whose club is four games ahead of the Rockies in the National League West. "You didn't want to get a letdown after the weekend we had."
For the Pirates, Monday's loss was the team's 15th in the past 17 games. The club's season road record sits at 19-53 with nine road games remaining.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less