Pirates' losing streak reaches seven

Karstens gives up four runs in sixth to blow a 2-1 lead

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HOUSTON -- Maybe this week could bring to a resolution the most dramatic events remaining in this Pirates season.

The draft? They could reach an agreement with second-overall pick Jameson Taillon -- described as one "variable" away from a deal -- and second-rounder Stetson Allie by the midnight deadline tonight.

The international signing? They are still the favorite to land Luis Heredia, as early as Thursday, from Veracruz of the Mexican baseball league, yet another teenaged, right-handed pitching prospect.

The 18th consecutive losing season? That could get clinched this week, too.

And at the earliest date of any of the previous 17.

With an 8-2 loss to the Houston Astros Sunday, the Pirates fell with a thunk to 39-78.


Game: Pirates vs.Florida Marlins, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: RHP James McDonald (1-2, 5.40) vs. RHP Chris Volstad (6-8, 4.74).

Key matchup: Lastings Milledge vs. Marlins. In a lineup otherwise new to Florida, Milledge holds the Pirates' most career experience against the Marlins, whom he has fairly tortured with a .299 average and 16 RBIs in 31 games.

Of note: Marlins and Mets are the last remaining National League teams the Pirates have yet to play in 2010.

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Four more losses clinches another one in the losing-season streak that already is a record among North American professional sports.

The earliest previous calendar date among all those streak seasons, excluding the 1994 strike year, was an 82nd loss Aug. 27, 2001, which also happened to be their most recent 100-loss season. That came in Game No. 130.

With four more losses in a row -- they're at seven consecutive upon disembarking from this winless San Diego-Houston roader -- they would equal the pace of the only other 100-loss Pirates season of the past half-century, besides that first season in PNC Park in 2001: The 1985 Pirates absorbed their 82nd loss Aug. 26 that season, in Game No. 121.

These 2010 Pirates just completed Game No. 117.

It wasn't pretty, either.

"We had a 2-1 lead again," starting pitcher Jeff Karstens said afterward, his frustration palpable after the Pirates lost all three games here despite one-run leads in the sixth (Sunday), seventh (Saturday) and eighth (Friday). "And I was unable to hold it."

In losing their ninth game of nine this season in Minute Maid Park and 18 of their past 21 here, they also got swept in their third consecutive road series -- encompassing 10 road defeats in succession.

For the eighth time in those 10 in a row on the road, these parched Pirates have scored two runs or fewer.

Their entire output in this Houston series: five runs.

A bunch that stubbornly doesn't walk much, the Pirates collected more free passes than hits off Houston starter J.A. Happ, whom Pirates manager John Russell called "effectively wild": four walks to three hits. They finished with five walks total. And four hits.

"You get three hits in a game, you're not going to win many games," said Russell, likewise dripping with frustration. For the second day, he started a revamped batting order. "We have to ... we have to swing the bats better. We've shown signs that we can. You go out and get three, four, five hits a game, it's going to be tough to win. You put a lot of pressure on the pitching staff. It showed. We had some close games here early, the first two.

"We're not swinging the bat at all."

The Pirates mustered just six hits in their final 16 innings here, all singles. The No. 2 through 5 hitters changed drastically Saturday and then went 1 for 11 with 10 strikeouts. They fared a shade better Sunday: 2 for 11 with four walks and only two strikeouts. After five consecutive strikeouts at cleanup in this series, Alvarez worked three consecutive walks. He tried and failed to score on a high throw to first base in the bottom of the sixth, an aggressive if not desperate attempt to score a third run.

In the bottom of the sixth, it all came undone for the Pirates and Karstens.

Pirates pest Hunter Pence, who gave the Astros a 1-0 lead in the third, opened the sixth with a ground-rule double. In the next at-bat, Carlos Lee's follow-through clipped the head of home plate umpire Alan Porter, who left the game.

Karstens then yielded four runs.

"I saw a little blood and stuff," said Karstens (2-9). "Unfortunately, Lee caught him on the back swing. I hope Al's all right."

Did the delay bother Karstens?

"I felt like I was in a pretty good rhythm. Once that happened, I slowed down," he said.

"Alan getting hit in the head might have thrown him out of whack a little bit," added Russell. "He was throwing the ball pretty well. It's tough to give up four runs right there. It might had something to do with it, the delay."

Two fly balls scored Pence for the tying run, but then Karstens went through a sequence with a hit batsman and two singles before reliever Sean Gallagher gave up a two-run double to Pedro Feliz to open the floodgates.

The five runs were the most Karstens has allowed in his past seven games. In fact, they were the third-most he has allowed in his 17 starts this season.

He yielded five total in his previous three starts.

The Pirates return to PNC Park today for the start of a 10-game homestand with two National League East teams hovering around .500, the Florida Marlins and the New York Mets, then the St. Louis Cardinals.

Chuck Finder: cfinder@post-gazette.com .


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