"We've had a few games like this this year," said starter Zach Duke, certainly deserving of leaving Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night with a victory in tow. "It's kind of the difference between a championship-type team and what we're going through right now."
That was aptly put, and came just minutes after the Pirates watched Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier crush a first-pitch fastball into the right-field stands to give Los Angeles a walk-off, 5-4 win in front of what remained of a crowd of 52,562.
Twice the Pirates had the Dodgers down to their final at-bat. The first time the Dodgers tied it. The second time they went one step further.
"I thought we had it won twice," manager John Russell said. "Unfortunately, they have a great team and have a lot of comeback wins this year. It's frustrating. We fought really hard all night."
With the Dodgers having already enjoyed 11 walk-off wins this season and Ethier contributing the game-winning hit in five of those, it was fitting that he would be the guy to do it again on Tuesday. The Pirates had just broken a 10-inning scoring drought in the top half of the 13th when Ryan Doumit came through with a one-out RBI single to give Pittsburgh the 4-3 lead.
Matt Capps had been unable to close the game back in the ninth, and it was Chris Bootcheck who got the shot now four innings later.
"He's the more experienced guy," said Russell, explaining his decision to call on the right-hander. Bootcheck had 20 saves as the primary closer for Triple-A Indianapolis most of this season.
Attempting to pick up his second Major League save, Bootcheck was nailed on a comebacker after four pitches. That line drive became an infield hit for Rafael Furcal. Bootcheck retired Russell Martin and then there was no questioning Russell's move to summon a left-hander to face Ethier, who entered the night with 24 of his 29 homers coming against right-handers and with just a .193 season average against southpaws.
As it turned out, Ethier needed just one pitch to throw all that out.
"I made up my mind as I saw it out of his hand," said Ethier, who has scored the tying run for L.A. in the ninth. "[I was] just looking for a good pitch to hit."
It was an inside fastball from Phil Dumatrait, and Ethier squarely connected for the walk-off blast.
"I wanted to go in there and get ahead of him," said Dumatrait, not second-guessing the pitch selection or location. "I made my pitch. He put a good swing on it. Unfortunately, it got out of the park. It's frustrating. He beat me on that pitch."
The Dodgers celebrated as they made their next step toward postseason play. The Pirates slowly filed out of the visitor's dugout left with the challenge of salvaging anything positive from what had just transpired.
This game was pushed into extra innings only after Capps cost Duke what would have been a career-high 11th season win. After surrendering a double that stayed just inches inside the right-field foul line with one out in the ninth, Capps watched Matt Kemp's two-out RBI single morph a near 3-2 Pittsburgh win into a tie game.
"I had a hard time getting the ball down," said Capps, who has five blown saves this season. "We should have won it in the ninth. I was supposed to finish in that situation and it didn't work."
Tuesday's meltdown was just the latest in a tumultuous season for the closer. He entered the game with a 7.59 ERA in his past 11 appearances and has now blown five saves. In his past 10 outings, Capps has allowed at least one run in four.
That storyline criss-crossed another familiar one this season: Duke deserving so much better than what he has received. He simply shrugged at that fact afterward, well knowing that when his offense has come through for him, the bullpen often hasn't. This was the third blown save by the club in games that Duke started.
Handed the challenge of thwarting the league's best offensive club, Duke responded on Tuesday with one of his more dominating performances of the season. Breaking out of a personal funk, Duke limited the Dodgers to just four hits and two runs in 7 1/3 innings.
Duke had entered the night just 1-5 with a 6.81 ERA since the beginning of August, a stretch during which he watched his season ERA balloon from 3.45 to 4.02. This outing, though, was much more reminiscent of those pre-All-Star break starts. His fastball command was on from the beginning. His curveball got sharper as he pitched deeper into the night.
Needing just 39 pitches to do so, Duke retired each of the first 10 Dodgers hitters to come to the plate. He later retired nine straight in a similar stretch.
"Everything just kind of clicked at one point or another," said Duke. "I felt very good today. The command was very good with the exception of a couple pitches in the fifth inning I hit most of my spots."
Those would be his pitches to Kemp and Casey Blake, which were both laced for extra-base hits and turned into two Dodgers runs. But the lead was still 3-2 in favor of the Pirates, as a two-run homer from Steve Pearce and RBI single from Duke in the second had given Pittsburgh the early three-run advantage.
"It's tough," Duke said. "The important thing is that we learn from it, remember the mistakes and try to eliminate them the next time."
The Pirates have now lost 15 of their past 16 games away from PNC Park and have won just twice in total since Aug. 28.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less