CINCINNATI -- Now it's on to the final four.
Four more losses, and this once-proud franchise will cinch an American professional-sports record with a 17th consecutive losing season.
To avoid it, they would need a 28-3 finish in little more than one month's time. And they have not won more than 25 games in any two months combined this year.
Last night, they boiled a game down to a Class AAA International League affair, each side using a minimum of seven 2009 members from their top minor-league clubs -- including both starting pitchers -- and these Pirates/Indianapolis Indians still lost by a 11-5 rout to the host Reds/Louisville Bats. It marked the Pirates' sixth consecutive defeat, their third-longest skid this season after two eight-game slumps.
To think, just one week ago, almost all these same Pirates/Indians were winning seven of nine games at PNC Park, including a stirring series over the world-champion Philadelphia Phillies.
"You know, we were playing such good ball at home," said Garrett Jones, who hit his 17th home run since his June 30 recall, leading all major league rookies, and the 9,999th homer in club history.
"It seems like we can't get going like we were. I still feel like we're playing good ball. We're kind of in that rut again where we're not getting that big hit, we're not clicking as a team."
"It definitely is frustrating," added fellow rookie Andrew McCutchen, who walked in four of five plate appearances, twice leading off innings in such a manner, but only scored once. "It definitely is frustrating. Especially when you can compete with the other team. We know we have what we need to compete and to wins games. Things haven't really been going our way, especially on the road."
The Pirates are 18-49 on the road this season, worst in the majors.
Worse still, the Pirates have lost 10 consecutive road games, 15 of their past 16, 20 of 22 and 23 of 26.
In this veritable International League West matchup played before 10,304 at Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati received six of its nine runs from the bats of rookies from Louisville, and two more from a slightly more veteran teammate there, while the Pirates got four RBIs from members of this year's Indianapolis team. Former Louisville Bats and current Reds rookies Craig Tatum (a career-high four RBIs) and Paul Janish (two) were joined by relative veteran Kevin Barker (two). Of the Pirates rookies and 2009 Indians, Jones had that two-run homer -- only his fifth of 17 with at least a man on base -- while McCutchen and starting pitcher Charlie Morton added one RBI apiece. Advantage, Louisville and Cincinnati.
And youth worked against the Pirates again last night, starting with Morton (3-7) yielding four runs in the first when he could not finish off familiar Reds/Louisville hitters such as Tatum (a two-run single), Janish (a walk) and Barker (a one-run single).
"It kind of snowballed," said Morton. "It was hard to find a rhythm. But I don't feel like the rest of the game was that bad."
Behind Jones' homer in the third and two more runs in the fourth on Morton's first big league RBI plus a bases-loaded walk to McCutchen, the Pirates drew within a single run, at 5-4.
In that same fourth, right after McCutchen walked, a prime example of the not-ready-for-prime-time Pirates surfaced. Delwyn Young hit into a momentum-squelching, inning-ending double play. The Reds scored the game's next half-dozen runs.
"We had it a chance to make it at least a tie ballgame, bases loaded with less than two outs, but we ground into a double play," McCutchen said. "That's kind of the way things have been going.
"We really need to be able to execute and be able to get the small things done. Bases loaded and less than two outs, we need to be getting runs in -- at least one run. That's been the biggest thing for us."
Things little and big keep working against them as do the losses. That gets old, even for a young team.
• Game: Pirates (Duke 10-12) vs. Reds (Bailey 4-4), 12:35 p.m.
• Where: Great American Ball Park.
• Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
Tom Uhlman/Associated Press photos
The Reds' Paul Janish, left, and Brandon Phillips congratulate each other after beating the Pirates, 11-5, last night in Cincinnati.
The Reds' Wladimir Balentien heads for home plate after hitting a two-run home run off Pirates pitcher Virgil Vasquez, back right, in the seventh inning.