CHICAGO -- Minutes after one of the most lopsided losses in the Pirates' 123-year history, a 17-2 clubbing by the Chicago Cubs yesterday on an otherwise golden afternoon within the Wrigley Field ivy, beaten-down pitcher Charlie Morton paused while being interviewed at his stall, apparently grasping for the right term to describe it.
"It's embarrassing," he said in a hushed tone.
It surely was that, plus so much more ...
• Chicago had a 14-0 lead through two innings, scoring 10 runs in the second. That was the most runs the Pirates ever have given up through two innings, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The previous high was 13, on May 31, 1994, in a 15-5 loss at San Diego.
• The 17 runs were the most allowed since May 20, 2000, in a 19-4 loss to St. Louis at Three Rivers Stadium.
• Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 1:05 p.m., Wrigley Field.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (9-10, 3.40) vs. LHP Tom Gorzelanny (4-2, 6.23).
• Key matchup: Alfonso Soriano long has had his way with Duke, with a .455 average -- 15 for 33 -- two home runs and four doubles.
• Of note: The Pirates have not been much of a comeback team, winning just two of 56 games when trailing after seven innings. That was a tall task yesterday, of course.
• The 15-run margin of defeat was three runs shy of the franchise record of 18.
• Morton, the primary culprit, was charged with 10 runs in lasting one-plus inning, the most runs allowed by any Pirates starter in an inning or less in at least the past half-century.
• The Cubs' Derrek Lee had seven RBIs, one fewer than any Pirates hitter has all month. Andrew McCutchen and Delwyn Young each has eight in August.
• The Cubs' pitcher, Randy Wells had a double, single and walk, giving him a better day than anyone in the Pirates' lineup.
• In the eighth inning, with a chance for an easy 18th run, Chicago third base coach Mike Quade held his runner at the bag, the equivalent of a Little League mercy gesture.
And all this from a Chicago team that had lost five in a row and, shortly before the game, scratched two of its biggest bats, Aramis Ramirez and Milton Bradley, from the lineup because of injury.
Can it get any lower?
Has it been any lower during these 16-plus losing seasons?
The Pirates are 3-11 since making several trades of popular, productive and highly paid players at the end of July, after which general manager Neal Huntington told the remaining players, "This is the group we want to build from." Two of those victories came against the last-place Washington Nationals, the other when the Colorado Rockies used a Class AA pitcher.
Team president Frank Coonelly, who attended the game yesterday, was visibly displeased afterward.
"I am extremely disappointed in the way the team has performed of late," he said. "But we're not going to make decisions based on emotions, even though emotions are running very high right now. We believe in the plan and direction that we're moving, and we're confident that we're moving forward as an organization."
"Obviously, we are in the middle of a tough stretch that began well before the trade deadline," Huntington said from Altoona, where he is watching the Class AA affiliate.
He was referring to the Pirates' 7-17 record leading into the last of those trades July 30.
"Currently, we are playing good teams, and we are not playing good baseball. We've been a key play or two from winning several of these games, and our inexperience has worked against us. That said, losing is not something we accept, and we will continue to work to expedite the development of our young players at all levels to aid in winning games in Pittsburgh."
There can be little doubt, though, that the parent Pirates have taken a step backward since the trades: In losing the past three, they have been outscored, 35-3, and thoroughly outclassed: The offense has been next-to-nonexistent, and the pitching and fielding, strengths most of the season, have faltered, too.
The team's worst record during these 16-plus seasons was the 62-100 of the 2001 edition, the first after moving into PNC Park, but that could be challenged: The current record is 46-69, second-worst in Major League Baseball, and that projects to 65-97 by season's end. And, of course, it projects to the 17th consecutive losing season that will set the professional sports record.
Many of the successful teams that have spent in the Pirates' current range -- most recently, the Tampa Bay Rays -- had dismal records at the top level while rebuilding the minors, then improved once those prospects arrived. That clearly is management's aim, but there surely will be many more losses along the way.
There was no clubhouse meeting after this one -- one veteran player said that the effort still was there, so the time was not right -- but the result evidently bothered some of the participants.
Even typically stoic manager John Russell replied sarcastically to a Chicago radio reporter's question about whether he found it "embarrassing" to give up 14 runs that early.
"No, it's great," Russell said. "I love it."
Morton had spoken Thursday in Denver about prioritizing getting ahead in counts, but he fell behind six of his 13 batters and wound up retiring only three. Among his seven hits were a three-run home run by Kosuke Fukudome, two triples, a double, and three walks, too.
"Tough day," Russell said of Morton. "He obviously left some balls over the plate, and they took advantage. The game was over pretty quickly."
Morton, one of the three players acquired in the Nate McLouth trade, is 2-6 with a 5.51 ERA.
He was asked what went wrong
"Everything. I didn't do anything right," Morton said. "There was nothing to take from today."
Not from the offense or defense, either.
The lone extra-base hit of the Pirates' seven hits was a Jason Jaramillo double, raising their total in that category to two over these three losses.
On defense, right fielder Brandon Moss slid too early on a Sam Fuld liner and let it bounce past him for a first-inning triple. The next inning, Lastings Milledge allowed Koyie Hill's high pop toward the left-field corner plop in front of him for another triple. That prompted vocal taunting from some of the blue-clad capacity crowd of 41,619.
McCutchen, the 22-year-old rookie center fielder who has been one of the Pirates' few bright spots on and off the field, spoke about the hard lessons culled from such an experience.
"You're going to lose. And we've been losing," he said. "It's all about how you handle it. It starts with you as an individual, then as a team. You can't come to the ballpark showing up just going through the motions. You have to do something to make a difference, to make a change, to help win ballgames."