LaRoche, Pirates empty in clutch

Eleven stranded in 5-4, 11-inning loss to Mets

NEW YORK -- It was akin to asking Adam LaRoche to pick his poison.

Which bugs him more these days, that .171 average or that RBI total of five?

His reply was quick: "Oh, it's the RBIs. Looking back, I could have, what, 25 already?"

No kidding.

Seemed like he could have had a fifth of that 25 last night alone, in the Pirates' 5-4, 11-inning loss to the New York Mets at Shea Stadium.

  • Game: Pirates vs. New York Mets, 1:10 p.m., Shea Stadium.
  • TV/Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
  • Pitching: LHP Tom Gorzelanny (1-3, 8.46) vs. LHP Oliver Perez (2-1, 3.62).
  • Key matchup: Perez vs. his emotions, as always. In the first meeting with his old team since being traded, July 26 of last year at Shea, he fanned nine in six innings, but he and his defense came unglued for five unearned runs in the Pirates' 8-4 victory.
  • Of note: Beginning today, the Pirates' next four games will have nothing but left-handed starters on both sides. Washington's first three pitchers: Odalis Perez, Matt Chico and John Lannan.

This one ended when David Wright, the Mets' go-to bat, skied a single over a drawn-in outfield with the bases loaded.

The player the Pirates had hoped would be their go-to bat?

He stepped to the box twice with bases loaded in what had been a tight contest, hit a check-swing flare to short to end the sixth and drew a walk in the eighth.

The latter brought that fifth RBI, but the go-to bat tends to deliver much more in that situation, and LaRoche is now a mind-numbing 3 for 26 with runners in scoring position, with one extra-base hit and 11 strikeouts.

"I want to be that guy, and I want it every time," LaRoche said. "Nothing else matters, other than the RBI, for someone like me."

His evening closed well, with a double off the fence in left-center in the 10th, about 5 feet shy of a home run. And that provides yet another sign -- driving the ball to the opposite field -- that he is about to enter his annual snap-out-of-it May.

Still, that hit, coming with no one aboard, was emblematic not only of LaRoche's month but also the Pirates' entire evening: They went 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position and stranded at least one man -- twice three -- in the final six innings.

In the eighth, after LaRoche's walk, Jose Bautista bounced into a forceout at home, and Ronny Paulino popped up.

"We just didn't come through," Bautista said.

"Our offense had a lot of opportunities," manager John Russell said. "We just can't seem to get the big hit. We have people who want to step up, and maybe it's mental. Maybe they're trying too hard. ... I know this: We're swinging the bats better."

That would be difficult to dispute on this night.

The Pirates had only two hits off New York ace Johan Santana, but they were solo home runs by Nate McLouth to lead off the game, his team-high seventh, and Jason Bay, his sixth. Just as significant, they followed a plan to wear down Santana and chased him with a pitch count of 114 two outs into the sixth.

They then added six hits off the bullpen and wound up drawing six walks.

"They were a lot more disciplined than in years past," Mets closer Billy Wagner said.

Still, none of that will matter until there are more runs, and that surely will not come until the Pirates' batting average with runners in scoring position rises from its current .247. And get this: Beyond Xavier Nady's 23 RBIs and McLouth's 22, next-highest is Bay at nine.

Ian Snell had his shortest and most erratic start, lasting 4 1/3 innings and being charged with four runs, including a two-run home run by Ryan Church in the fourth that tied the score at 2-2 and a two-walk, two-hit fifth that put New York ahead, 4-2.

He also walked five, which seemed to frustrate him most.

"I was out of control," Snell said. "I just don't feel like I'm in right now. I need to get back into the groove I had last year."

That could include, he added, throwing more heat.

"I need to stop trying to be someone I'm not."

The Pirates got their only hit with a runner in scoring position in the ninth to blow Wagner's save opportunity: Pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit reached on an error, and pinch-runner Brian Bixler made it to third on a wild pitch and groundout. Sanchez, defying the anti-clutch wave, lined a two-out single to bring him home and send the game to extras.

As usual, the Pirates' primary relievers did the job, putting up five zeroes before Russell turned to freshly recalled John Van Benschoten in the 11th. Closer Matt Capps still was in the bullpen, but he was to be a last resort because of a stomach illness.

Van Benschoten gave up a leadoff single to Endy Chavez, then balked him to second, a critical play.

Russell said home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt's explanation was that the pitcher started to move, stopped, then stepped off the rubber. Russell took no issue, but several in the Pirates' clubhouse referred to it as a "terrible" call.

Marlon Anderson bunted Chavez to third, Jose Reyes was intentionally walked, and Luis Castillo drew a full-count walk to load the bases for Wright. His fly to deep right, with Nady playing close to the infield, plopped just inside the chalk.

"That's a tough way for it to end," Van Benschoten said.

Two footnotes ...

McLouth's back-to-back leadoff home runs -- he also hit one Sunday -- marked the first time a Pirates hitter achieved that since a young Barry Bonds May 12-13, 1988.

And Sanchez's error in the fifth -- he dropped a double-play transfer that would have ended the inning and prevented a run -- was his fourth and the Pirates' 29th, two more than any team in Major League Baseball.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at First Published April 30, 2008 4:00 AM


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