Pirates' 2nd-half free fall continues

Snell caught off-guard before loss to Phillies

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PHILADELPHIA -- The black cloud over the Pirates stopped dumping rain long enough yesterday for them to play and lose, yet again.

This 5-1, inoffensive loss to a revived Philadelphia Phillies team put a dreary postscript on the Pirates' 1-5 road trip. It provided them with their 13th loss in 15 games since an All-Star break they entered with promise, with nine victories in 13 games . It left them searching as much for words as hits.

"Kind of get away from it," first baseman Adam LaRoche said of what they do next, starting with an off day today. "Hopefully, come back with a different game plan."

"The show goes on," left fielder Jason Bay continued.

Ian Snell wasn't so sure early yesterday afternoon. Last the Pirates' starting pitcher heard, the morning-long rains were expected to delay this game's start to roughly 3 p.m., about an hour and a half later than scheduled. As it turned out, it was only a 12-minute delay for the 40,030 patrons inside Citizens Bank Park.

Snell got the news with a breakfast sandwich in his mouth and a surprised look on his face.

"When they told us, I think I had 20 minutes to get ready," Snell recounted later. "It just didn't feel right. But I did enough to limit them to three runs. I still think I did a good job. I battled."

Snell (7-9), returning close to his Dover, Del., hometown and playing in front of family and friends that included his high school baseball coach and principal, labored with his delivery early. His upper torso was moving faster than his lower body. That might explain the wild pitch that scored Tadahito Iguchi in the first inning, the two Phillies he stranded on base in the second inning and the single run he allowed in a bases-loaded jam of a third inning. He recorded six outs in succession by strikeouts, mostly sprinkled around six Philadelphia hits and three walks he permitted.

By the time Jimmy Rollins scored his second run of the game and the Phillies' third, once Ryan Howard's sacrifice fly followed Rollins' triple into the right-field corner, Snell had thrown 102 pitches and well enough to keep the Pirates at a 3-1 deficit.

"Thank God I kept the ball in the park this time," said Snell, who gave up eight homers in his previous five starts and lasted just four innings while allowing six earned runs in New York on Tuesday.

He entered the day 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA against the Phillies and exited after a sixth that Nate McLouth opened with a homer.

Yet the Pirates' timely hitting seems to have sustained a broken sun dial. Or maybe it was just that black cloud.

Their bats mustered nothing else off Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick (5-1), who started the day with a 4.44 ERA. Freddy Sanchez singled in the first inning, but got picked off first by catcher Carlos Ruiz. A mild second-inning uprising, with a single by Jose Castillo and Kendrick plunking Ronny Paulino, ended on a Cesar Izturis groundout. A Xavier Nady double-play grounder erased LaRoche after a walk to open the fourth inning. One out after McLouth's homer, a LaRoche single went for naught once Bay popped out to second base and Nady struck out looking.

In the seventh and eighth, the Pirates managed to put a runner on third base-- Castillo after a double and Sanchez after an error getting him to second against reliever Ryan Madson. Each time, with Izturis, pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit and Bay at the plate, they failed to bring him home. The Pirates went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position.

"Not enough offense," Pirates Jim Tracy said. "We didn't get a lot of opportunities, obviously."

In the bottom of the eighth, with two outs, Chacon hit Pat Burrell with a pitch, intentionally walked Gregg Dobbs and walked Ruiz to load the bases. Up came newfound Pirates killer Chris Coste, a 34-year-old catcher who has played four times as many Independent Northern League games with Fargo, N.D., as with the big-league Phillies.

Coste, who started this series batting .222 at home, equaled his previous season total of six RBIs in two games against these slumping Pirates. He had a homer, his second of the season, and four RBIs Saturday night in a romp over the club for whom he was employed in the 1999 spring training.

Then, pinch-hitting in the bottom of the eighth, he smoked a single to score two insurance runs.

That provided the Phillies with a sweep by a collective 23-7 margin.

The Pirates returned home, where they tomorrow start a six-game homestand against St. Louis and Cincinnati, having been outscored in this 2-13 slump, 87-49.

"Hopefully," Snell said, "the team will come around like [where] it was in the first half."

Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.


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