Regressing Pirates reeling after sweep

Rodriguez's two home runs cap Yankees' dominance, 13-6

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Kathy Willens, Associated Press
Pirates manager Jim Tracy puts his hands to his head in disbelief as he and catcher Ryan Doumit, right, argue with home plate umpire Gerry Davis after Davis ruled Alex Rodriguez safe on Hideki Matsui's first inning two-run double yesterday at Yankee Stadium.
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

NEW YORK -- Set aside, if one can, the get-off-my-shoulder manner in which the Pirates were swatted out of Yankee Stadium. Three losses are three losses, whether by a hair or by the two home runs Alex Rodriguez hammered in the New York Yankees' 13-6 romp yesterday.

Look, instead, at the big picture.

These Pirates have fallen to 26-37, a new low at 11 games under .500 and 1 1/2 games removed from last place in the Central Division. And that record, for those with a calculator and a keen eye for the cryptic, projects over the full year to 67-95.


Same record as the previous two seasons.

Very clearly, the team has not improved. And, just as clearly to the naked eye, it has regressed in so many critical areas, from its bullpen to its baserunning to its many blunders in the field, none of which were significant problems a year ago.

Some were not a problem even a month ago.

"Someone's got to take charge," right fielder Xavier Nady said, shaking his head. "Obviously, as a group, we need to start doing the little things better. It's embarrassing when we're not doing the things that every other major-league team is capable of doing. And, after seeing something like this series, it really makes you look at yourself in the mirror and say, 'Are we really like this?' "

Are they?

"I don't think so. I think everyone still has faith. We've seen ourselves when we play well, and we can get back to that."

So, what has gone wrong?

"I think part of the cause of all these unforced errors, bad throws, baserunning mistakes, bad at-bats, whatever it is ... when we get into a tight situation, we're trying to force stuff to happen," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "You can't do that in this game. You've got to make the easy play. You can't try to hit a three-run homer or make a perfect pitch or throw home if you're not sure you're going to get an out there."

LaRoche did the latter in the ugly loss Saturday and failed to get an out.

How to solve it?

"One simple thing is that we've got to show up expecting to win," LaRoche continued. "It's got to be everybody showing up, like the Yankees show up, like the Red Sox show up, like Atlanta shows up, and saying, 'Shoot, this is a really good day because we've got a chance to win.' It's better to do that than to say, 'Oh, this is a really big game because we lost two in a row.' That's not the way you play to win. You need a calm confidence."

Left fielder Jason Bay pointed to the tension that was palpable among the Pirates all weekend, on and off the field, and said a blowout or two in their favor would be a good start. In their current 3-9 slide, their victories came by margins of two, one and one.

"We just need a laugher, so everyone can relax," he said. "Right now, we're in all these games, but I think everyone is more worried about messing up than doing the right thing."

That seemed to be the case again yesterday, on nearly all fronts.

With the starting pitching, which generally has been a strength, the Pirates got only 3 1/3 innings out of Shawn Chacon. He was charged with seven runs on eight hits and three walks.

That squandered a 6-5 lead the Pirates had taken through the top of the fourth off New York rookie Tyler Clippard on two-run hits by Jose Castillo, Chris Duffy and Jose Bautista.

"They beat the ball around, and they did it all day long," manager Jim Tracy said of the Yankees. "And we just could not stop them."

That was because the bullpen was no better.

Josh Sharpless, summoned to replace Chacon with two men aboard in the fourth, gave up the first of Rodriguez's home runs, and New York was ahead for good, 8-6.

Masumi Kuwata, making his big-league debut, gave up Rodriguez's other, a two-run shot in the sixth. And Jonah Bayliss was charged with three more the next inning.

The offense, while lively against the erratic Clippard, showed familiar flaws.

The most notable came in the fifth, when the Pirates were still trailing by 8-6, and bases were loaded with one out. Two of those runners had reached by Sean Henn walks, usually a signal for the batters behind them to show patience.

Ryan Doumit swung through all three pitches he saw, the first two out of the zone.

And Castillo chased his first pitch and bounced to second.

"We took a couple of impatient at-bats," Tracy said.

There were two more baserunning lapses, too: After Bautista's two-run single in the fourth, which caromed off the left-field fence, he hesitated between first and second and was tagged out. And, with no one out in the fifth, Freddy Sanchez neglected to tag at second on a fly ball to deep right.

Tracy, almost invariably reluctant to criticize his team since taking over as manager last year, has displayed something of a harder edge in recent days, no doubt sharpened by all the mistakes he has witnessed in that span.

Still, he expressed characteristic optimism that the season's story has not yet been told.

"We've obviously got some work to do," Tracy said. "But we've got, what, 99 games left to play? There are signs with our club that are good, and it's very apparent that there are some things that we need to work on."

Kathy Willens, Associated Press
Pirates pitcher Shawn Chacon reacts after being taken out of the game in the fourth inning.
Click photo for larger image.

Game: Pirates (LHP Zach Duke 2-6, 5.75) vs. Texas Rangers (RHP Kevin Millwood 2-5, 7.57), 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

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Kathy Willens, Associated Press
The Pirates' Chris Duffy is safe stealing second base on Jose Bautista's at-bat in the second inning.
Click photo for larger image.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at .


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