NEW YORK -- "It's just a matter of nothing going right for us."
Those were the words of first baseman Adam LaRoche after the Pirates' eighth consecutive loss, 8-4 to the New York Mets yesterday at Citi Field, and he spoke from solid experience: His latest 0-for-4 contribution extended his current drought to a solitary single in 28 at-bats.
"I stink right now," he said.
He surely has plenty of company.
"We've got a lot of guys not hitting right now," LaRoche continued. "We've got guys pitching great, then having one or two bad innings. And it's all contagious, both ways. At the beginning of the year, it was all working in our favor. And now ..."
• Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (3-3, 2.79) vs. RHP Todd Wellemeyer (3-2, 4.75)
And now, the Pirates have lost 12 of 13, their worst stretch under manager John Russell and the team's worst since a 13-game losing streak under Jim Tracy June 15-28, 2006.
That 11-7 start?
No more than a distant memory. Or, worse, a mirage.
The Pirates are 12-19, deeply reacquainted with the Central Division cellar, and they will need one whale of a turnaround to rekindle any straight-faced talk of contention, or even avoiding that record-setting 17th consecutive losing season. They were outscored in this three-game sweep, 25-8, as well as outplayed in nearly every facet, including some Little League defensive lapses that crept into their no-so-long-ago sound play.
It was a shortcoming in the intangibles, apparently, that prompted a players-only meeting Saturday morning, as multiple sources confirmed yesterday. LaRoche, center fielder Nate McLouth and utilityman Eric Hinske were among the veterans known to have spoken up.
LaRoche was asked if he was satisfied with the team's approach and attitude through this streak.
"No, I'm not," he replied without hesitation. "I think there have been a few games where we've mentally laid down early in the game. And that's unacceptable. We talked about it. And I saw some of that change today. I did. But we need to continue to push. It's easy to look at just these last two weeks, but we can have this all forgotten two weeks from now."
Russell expressed no issue with his team's attitude. Just the results.
"It's hard," Russell said of the streak. "We started out well. There was a lot of energy. The players are still fighting, still have energy, but each day you lose ... it's not fun, obviously. But it's a strong group. As a staff and players, we'll just keep pushing."
There was an early push in this one: Ian Snell had a quality start -- three runs over six innings, five strikeouts, one walk -- and the offense spotted him a 2-0 lead on McLouth's sacrifice fly in the first, Robinzon Diaz's two-out single in the third.
But the Pirates also stranded eight in the first five innings, 11 for the day, and went 2 for 15 with runners in scoring position. And that would sting.
New York scored all three of its runs off Snell in the fourth: After Carlos Delgado's double, David Wright's single -- a roller that should have been stopped by shortstop Brian Bixler -- scored one. Omir Santos' two-run single brought the Mets a 3-2 lead.
"If Bixler can backhand that, we get out of it because we get Delgado breaking to third," Russell said.
Snell also complained that Delgado tipped his pitches during Wright's at-bat.
"They found out our signs," Snell said. "That's part of baseball, but we could have picked up on that earlier."
In general, Snell's stuff looked far crisper than his previous outing -- five runs in as many innings to the Milwaukee Brewers -- in part because that game followed one in which his pitch count was 131.
"I felt strong again," Snell said. "But they've got a good team, and they never let up. They hit some good pitches. Unfortunately, we didn't take advantage of our opportunities."
Snell had a single and, coupled with Paul Maholm's home run Saturday, that meant the Pirates got more hits (two) and RBIs (one) from their pitchers in this series than from the cleanup man LaRoche.
Sean Burnett was charged with an unearned run in the seventh, courtesy of another Bixler misplay that was scored an error.
And John Grabow's career-worst struggle with command continued in the eighth, when he gave up four runs on three hits, a walk and hit batsman. He has been scored upon in six consecutive appearances, his ERA swelling to 6.14.
That rendered McLouth's two-run home run in the ninth moot.
Russell and Grabow were adamant Grabow has no arm issue, just mechanical ones.
"He's in a funk," Russell said. "He's been one of our most consistent guys, but he's just misfiring."
"The ball's coming out of my hand really well. It's just not going where I want it to go," Grabow said. "I'm just going through a period like nothing I've gone through before. It's got to be my mechanics."
The Pirates' losing streak is now the longest in Major League Baseball this season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals each had streaks of seven.