Pirates lose 81st with bullpen blowup

Maholm's quality start wasted as San Francisco rallies, 7-6

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Pirates inched closer to some seriously dubious history with their 7-6 loss to the San Francisco Giants last night at AT&T Park.

And they did so in seriously dubious fashion.

Paul Maholm pitched six quality innings and passed along a three-run lead to the bullpen, but Denny Bautista and John Grabow promptly turned that into a two-run deficit, thanks ultimately to Scott McClain's tiebreaking two-run blast off Grabow.

"Nobody likes losing one like that," Grabow said. "It's a lousy feeling."

Lousier still in the context of that dubious history ...

A loss in the series finale this afternoon would be the Pirates' 82nd, one that would clinch a 16th consecutive losing season to tie the professional sports record -- including the NFL, NHL and NBA -- set by the 1933-48 Philadelphia Phillies.

  • Game: Pirates vs. San Francisco Giants, 4:05 p.m., AT&T Park.
  • Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
  • Pitching: RHP Jeff Karstens (2-4, 3.62) vs. LHP Jonathan Sanchez (8-10, 4.50).
  • Key matchup: Karstens could use some good karma. Since those two opening victories, he is 0-4, and the Pirates have been outscored, 28-4, in those four games.
  • Of note: Freddy Sanchez, fresh off 65 consecutive errorless games, ranks second among National League second basemen with a .988 fielding percentage. The Cincinnati Reds' Brandon Phillips is first at .990. Each has seven errors.

That is well known by now, of course, but here is another bitter slice: Because Maholm's record remained at 8-8 thanks to the bullpen, he still must get two more victories this month to become the only member of the pitching staff to reach double-digits in that category.

The only team in the franchise's 122 years to play a full season without a 10-game winner was its unquestioned worst, the 1890 Pittsburg Alleghenys, who got a staff-best 4-6 record out of Billy Gumbert. Rick Rhoden's staff-best record in 1981 was 9-4, but that was part of a strike-shortened season.

Thing is, Maholm, the current edition's staff leader in every regard, has been plenty good enough to have rendered this point moot a while ago: In nine of his starts, including last night, he limited the opponent to two or fewer runs while ending up with a no-decision.

How would 17-8 sound?

"You know, if you pitch well and put up the numbers, the wins usually will be there," Maholm said after this one. "Unfortunately, the wins haven't been there. But the most important thing to focus on is keeping the team in the game. The frustrating part, to be honest, is the won-lost record for the team."

Although Maholm was not as crisp as usual in giving up seven hits and needing 97 pitches to get through those six innings, the only damage was done with Rich Aurilia's leadoff home run in the fourth.

Manager John Russell, monitoring Maholm's inning count as he reached a career high with 185 1/3 and approaches the key 200, pulled him after the sixth not only because of the count but also because of the clear laboring.

"You could see it wasn't an easy outing for him," Russell said. "But there should be credit there: He battled."

So did the offense, which built a 4-1 lead upon Maholm's exit on Freddy Sanchez's two-out RBI single in the fifth, Nate McLouth's follow-up two-run double and, in the seventh, another Sanchez RBI single.

But Bautista, scored upon in five of his past eight appearances, relieved Maholm for the seventh and gave it all back: He gave up a one-out walk, then Randy Winn's double and pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval's two-run single. Sandoval took second when right fielder Brandon Moss overthrew his cutoff man, then third on a groundout and sprinted home on Bautista's wild pitch, a 95-mph fastball that sailed to the backstop and made it 4-4.

"He got his pitches up," Russell said. "And we made some mistakes there, too."

Russell turned to Grabow to face McClain, an instant folk hero in these parts for hitting his first major league home run at age 36 last week, and McClain added to the legend by stroking Grabow's first-pitch fastball into the left-field bleachers to put the Giants ahead, 6-4. The crowd of 38,094 roared as the journeyman circled the bases.

"A fastball right down the middle," Grabow said. "That's what you do with those."

Opponents are batting just .217 against Grabow, but nine of the 54 hits he has allowed have been home runs.

"I have no explanation for that."

The Pirates pulled back within one on pinch-hitter Doug Mientkiewicz's RBI single in the eighth, but Nate Schierholtz's home run in the bottom half off Jesse Chavez neutralized that.

Sanchez finished with his 10th career four-hit game by leading off the ninth with a single off flamethrowing closer Brian Wilson. McLouth singled him to third, and Ryan Doumit got him home with a sacrifice fly. But that was it.

The Pirates are 3-2 on this road trip, the other loss coming with a blown five-run lead Thursday in Cincinnati.

Jeff Karstens will try today to avoid the long-inevitable No. 82.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . First Published September 7, 2008 4:15 AM


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