The Pittsburgh Pirates once seemed certain to end their string of 19 consecutive losing seasons.
They were 16 games over .500 on Aug. 8 with a 63-47 record and thinking about not only their first winning season since 1992 but their first postseason appearance since then as well.
Now the Pirates are sinking fast and their freefall continued Wednesday night as Marco Estrada pitched seven scoreless innings and rookie shortstop Jean Segura had a double and triple as the surging Milwaukee Brewers stayed in contention for a postseason berth with a 3-1 victory.
Pittsburgh has lost 14 of 18 and 20 of 27 to drop to 74-74, the first time they have been at .500 since they were 26-26 on June 2. The Pirates, who began the day 3 1-2 games behind St. Louis, have had 19 consecutive losing seasons, a major North American professional sports record.
"We haven't played well and it's been for a while," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "So, you know, we had earned the position we were in before; we've earned this position as well. The season's 162 games for a reason."
The Pirates need to go 7-7 over their final 14 games to avoid a losing season.
Estrada (4-6) allowed three hits and retired the last 10 batters he faced in improving to 4-1 with a 1.23 ERA in his last six starts. He struck out four and walked one.
While the Pirates are fading, the Brewers are surging.
"We're just having a lot of fun," Estrada said. "That's the great thing about our team. We have a real fun group and I think that's helped us this season. Even when it looked like we were out of it, we never gave up. We just kept playing."
John Axford worked around Andrew McCutchen's leadoff home run in the ninth inning, his 29th, for his 30th save in 38 opportunities. The Pirates had not scored in 23 innings.
Milwaukee has won four straight games, seven of eight and 22 of 28. They entered the day 2 1-2 games behind St. Louis in the race for the second NL wild card.
Milwaukee's Norichika Aoki led off the game by hitting rookie Kyle McPherson's second pitch into the stands in right for his ninth home run. Aoki, Segura and Rickie Weeks each had two of the Brewers' 11 hits.
"I was just trying to work ahead of guys and be aggressive in the count," McPherson said. "Early in the game I was trying to establish a fastball, and (Aoki) is a hitter as well and a pretty good one, so he put a good swing on it and that was that."
McPherson (0-1) took the loss in his first major league start, giving up two runs and seven hits in 4 1-3 innings. The Brewers scored their other run off McPherson in the fifth inning. Segura hit a leadoff double, advanced on a balk and scored on Estrada's single.
McPherson had made seven relief appearances, posting a 1.54 ERA, and was moved into the rotation in place of James McDonald, who was 2-5 with a 6.66 ERA in his last 10 games.
"I thought he was very resilient, I thought he showed some mound presence and some poise," Hurdle said of McPherson. "I thought he battled very well."
Segura tripled to lead off the seventh against Jeff Karstens and scored when second baseman Brock Holt was charged with an error for mishandling Estrada's grounder. That put Milwaukee ahead 3-0.
Karstens was making his first appearance since leaving his Aug. 31 start at Milwaukee in the first inning because of left hip soreness. Karstens worked three innings and gave up one run and two hits.
McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez had two hits apiece for Pittsburgh.
The Brewers have won six straight games against Pittsburgh.
"Sometimes you just have your mojo against another team and that seems to be the case with us against the Pirates," Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said.
NOTES: Pittsburgh 2B Neil Walker sat out for the second time in three days because of lower back soreness, an injury that caused him to miss 15 straight games from Aug. 29-Sept. 14, though he did walk as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. Hurdle said Walker's availability will be determined on a daily basis for the remainder of the season. ... Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin is on the trip along with the rest of the Brewers' baseball operations staff as they are holding player evaluation meetings with Roenicke and the coaching staff. ... Rookie RHP Mike Fiers (9-7, 3.23) is scheduled to pitch for Milwaukee against LHP Wandy Rodriguez (11-13, 3.65) on Thursday in the finale of the three-game series. Rodriguez is 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA in his last six games, including one relief appearance.