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The Pittsburgh Pirates fell short of a sweep against the Minnesota Twins at PNC Park on Sunday, suffering an 11-5 defeat in extra innings after a late surge by the Twins against Ben Heller.

The game’s outcome could have been different. In the first inning, with two runners on, a fastball from starter Jared Jones to Byron Buxton appeared to hit the bat, altering its trajectory. However, it was ruled a live ball, resulting in a passed ball on catcher Henry Davis and a run scored. Manager Derek Shelton questioned the call, but it stood as non-reviewable.

Jones recovered after a rough three-run first inning, delivering five solid frames without further damage. Had the initial call been ruled a foul, the run would have been nullified, potentially avoiding extra innings. Despite this, Davis chose not to dwell on the call, empathizing with home plate umpire Ryan Wills for making a tough judgment.

“We’re better than any one call,” Davis said. “That’s not the deciding factor in the game. We had plenty of opportunities.”

The Pirates took the lead with a three-run fifth inning, initiated by a walk from Davis. However, they couldn’t maintain it.

“The frustrating part is we can get that right,” Davis said. “Nobody expects perfection. The umpires are human and do their best every night.”

Heller’s Pirates tenure started rocky, allowing five runs in his debut on Thursday. On Sunday, he was the last available reliever due to high usage of others (David Bednar, Colin Holderman, Luis L. Ortiz, and Carmen Mlodzinski). In the 10th inning, Heller allowed seven runs (six earned) and hit three batters, enduring a tough outing.

“I feel terrible for the team, for myself,” Heller said. “I feel like I’m squandering my opportunity. I cost the team a win. So just gotta be better.”

Heller’s promotion to the Majors was partly due to an opt-out in his contract. General manager Ben Cherington noted that another team was prepared to give Heller a Major League opportunity if the Pirates didn’t.

Pirates Unable to Complete Sweep vs. Twins After Heller Implodes in 10th |  Yardbarker

Despite the rough start, Heller showed promise in 15 games with Triple-A Indianapolis and a rehab stint with Single-A Bradenton, where he had impressive whiff rates on his pitches. Shelton mentioned that Heller’s sweeper pitch needed adjustment but showed potential.

Davis, who caught Heller in Indianapolis, remained optimistic: “There’s adjustments to be made, and I think just stay the course and believe in your abilities.”

Heller acknowledged the challenges but remained determined: “You don’t play this game until you’re 32 as a right-handed relief pitcher unless you’re pretty dang good. I know what I’m capable of, and I’m determined to figure it out.”

Despite the loss, the Pirates secured two series wins in their homestand against the Twins and Dodgers, both contenders. Next, they face the Cardinals and the Reds, looking to build momentum with some divisional victories.

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