Gene Collier: Pirates offense's impact nearly down to zero

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With the National League Central Division race blinking away madly on the right-field scoreboard and playing out across three time zones Wednesday night, the Pirates had all but forgotten they could actually impact it from the comfort of their own home.

Of course, impacting it probably would require impacting the baseball, very likely with a baseball bat, and that did not appear to be within their powers.

"Oh no, this is baseball," said Neil Walker when I asked if this offensive dead zone is surprising in light of management's success at adding bats. "Look what happened in Texas [with the slumping/contending Rangers]; the same thing happened with them. Sometimes this stuff happens. We'll be just fine. We just need a little bit of a spark, that's all."

I can believe that, but, for the moment, I believe that had Antonio Brown been here, he likely would have been in hitting coach Jay Bell's ear.

So I've got no patience today for any complaints, coherent or otherwise, about Mark Melancon, the Pirates closer who found himself solved for four singles in the ninth inning so that these Padres could continue their hypnotic haunting of the North Shore.

Since PNC Park opened in 2001, the San Diego Padres have a winning percentage of .476; at PNC Park, their winning percentage is .757 (31-10), which includes 14 wins in the past 15 meetings.

But Melancon is absolved. He had saved seven consecutive games. He had been scored on only seven times in his previous 60 games.

Here's the only legitimate complaint, and it's called three hits.

Three Pirates hits, coming as they did two nights after one Pirates hit, sandwiched around two fluky Pirates runs Tuesday. That's what the gory story is behind the first time the Pirates have dropped a four-game series this season.

By the time Walker struck out on a wild pitch in the seventh, the "offense" had Slumber Companied through 23 scoreless innings in the previous 24, so when Walker fled safely to first base after strike three bounded away from San Diego catch Rene Rivera, the crowd of 27,640 rumbled to life.

Either that or because the attendance had been announced and they realized they were well above the A.J. Burnett minimum.

Walker was only the second Pirates batter to appear at first base all night against Padres starter Tyson Ross, who hadn't gotten out of the first inning in his previous start. The other was Andrew McCutchen, whom Ross had accidentally plunked with an 0-2 pitch in the first.

That brought McCutchen to the plate with one out and the tying run on first, the very kind of September moment in which MVP hardware is forged, and just like the 3-0 pitch Ross brought to him right down the boulevard, McCutchen didn't miss it.

The two-run homer to right-center field, McCutchen's 20th if only the sixth with anyone on base put the Pirates ahead, 2-1, in the seventh. There was a curtain call amid chants of "M-V-P, M-V-P" but not even that provided the spark to which Walker had alluded.

Justin Morneau sliced his second hit of the game to right, but pinch-runner Felix Pie was called out trying to swipe second, and the Pirates spun straight back into a game-ending 0 for 7, the last out caught on the track in right off the bat of Walker.

"Just didn't fly, that one," Walker said. "Ball hasn't really been carrying this whole homestand. That's a moot point."

But there remain salient points on the same general topic, that being stubborn offensive ineptitude. Ross didn't get the win Wednesday night, but if he had, his big-league record this morning would be 10-26. Eric Stults, who started for San Diego Tuesday night, got his first win in 10 starts. Andrew Cashner flirted with a perfect game Monday night.

This is why, when someone asked Hurdle before the game Wednesday night if his offense was in a good spot, the manager blurted the only possible response.

"Are you serious? We've scored two runs in 18 innings."

So now it's 4 in 27.

Pedro Alvarez hasn't had a hit since Friday. He was 0 for 3 Wednesday night while adding strikeouts 178 and 179. But no one seems real concerned.

"I've been on some teams, with Texas, where there were some good offensive teams, and I've seen it in Colorado with the [Blake Street] Bombers -- not so much at home but you'd see it on the road; it's just one of the challenges that comes with the game."

This might be the challenge that ultimately brings these 2013 Pirates down. It's one thing to continually waste pitching like they got from Charlie Morton Wednesday night, but soon enough, and perhaps in some postseason sunlight, all that this season could be wasted for want of some hits strung together when it matters most.

pirates - genecollier

Gene Collier:


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