LaRoche, Pirates come up short, 9-8

Offense unable to make up for Maholm's early struggles

WASHINGTON -- Adam LaRoche once had a friend tell him that his goal for each game should be to create at least one run, whether scoring one or driving it home. And it was advice he embraced.

So, with a casual glance at the box score of the Pirates' 9-8 loss to Washington yesterday at Nationals Park, one might think he had a reasonably satisfying day: 2 for 5, plus an RBI.

"Not this time," LaRoche said afterward. "Not with all the guys I left out there. Not even close."

  • Game: Pirates vs. Washington Nationals, 1:35 p.m., Nationals Park.
  • TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
  • Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (2-1, 4.93) vs. RHP Tim Redding (3-2, 3.55).
  • Key matchup: Washington can expect plenty of heat, as Snell vowed Tuesday in New York to "get back to being myself" after striking out only three in his past two starts.
  • Of note: The Pirates' outfielders have the highest combined on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) in Major League Baseball, at .915. The St. Louis Cardinals are second, at .913.

It would be absolute folly to singularly blame the offense for this one when the output included 14 hits and another hugely uplifting day for Jose Bautista, who had a home run -- his third in less than 24 hours -- a double, single and three RBIs.

It would be far fairer, instead, to point to the pitching: Paul Maholm carried over no facet of that complete-game gem last weekend in giving up seven runs over five-plus innings, and Franquelis Osoria did little more than pour gasoline in relief.

And yet, as manager John Russell put it, "Our offense hung in there, but we could have had more early, and we could have a couple late."

Russell did not single out LaRoche, but that was not necessary ...

The Pirates loaded the bases in the first inning, with a chance to punch out Washington's 0-5 Matt Chico early. LaRoche, often patient to a fault, swung at the first offering -- despite Jason Bay's five-pitch walk and Xavier Nady getting beaned just before him -- and grounded out.

End of inning.

The Pirates had two more aboard in the third, with Washington up, 5-1. LaRoche struck out.

End of inning.

In the eighth, after the Pirates had clawed back to a 5-5 tie, had given up four more runs, then clawed back again to pull within 9-8, the tying run was at second. LaRoche grounded out.

End of inning.

His total men left on base was six, which was more than enough to overshadow his RBI bouncer off the mound in the fifth and a single in the seventh that loaded the bases.

That big hit, the one that could have defined the game, the one the Pirates continue to seek by keeping LaRoche at or near the heart of the order, continues to elude him. And the numbers go deeper than that .179 average: He has six RBIs, including just three in 32 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

"I have no idea why," LaRoche said. "I'm not changing my approach. I'm not nervous. I'm not panicking."

He paused.

"You can't go up there afraid, and I'm not. But I also feel like, in the back of my mind, every pitch is going to paint the corner. I react to that, and ... it's no fun. I'm not going up there 100 percent confident."

He had twice as many RBIs at this stage last year and wound up with 88.

Maholm's damage, by now a staple when he loses, was done early: Cristian Guzman's two-run home run in the first and three more runs in a messy second -- four hits and two walks -- spotted Washington a 5-1 lead.

Eight of Maholm's 20 runs this season have come in the first inning, and opponents are batting .448 before he records the third out.

"I was falling behind in those first couple innings, and that cost me," he said. "I've got to find a way to be consistent."

Just as typically, Maholm recovered to put up three zeroes and, after the Pirates tied at 5-5, Russell sent him back out for the sixth. But an infield single and walk ended his day, and Osoria was tagged with three more hits, including a fly ball Nady lost in the sun, that restored the Nationals' four-run lead at 9-5.

The Pirates kept coming: A Bautista sacrifice fly in the seventh and Nady's two-out, two-run double in the eighth made it 9-8, Nady getting stranded at second by LaRoche.

In the ninth, Ronny Paulino drew a one-out walk, and pinch-runner Nyjer Morgan stole second. Ryan Doumit flied out. Nate McLouth rolled what looked to be a tying single up the middle, except that Guzman was directly behind the bag and got the final out.

Quality advance scouting?

"Guess so," McLouth said.

Bay reached base four times in five plate appearances for a second consecutive day, and Nady did likewise with three more RBIs to extend his National League-leading total to 30.

It was not enough.

"It's a tough game," Bautista said. "We did a lot but, unfortunately, it didn't go our way. That's happened a few times this season, where we keep bouncing back and come up a little short. But we'll keep doing it and, hopefully, when our pitching staff settles, we'll be all right."

Guzman had a banner day for Washington, with six RBIs on the home run, a double and two singles.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at . First Published May 4, 2008 4:00 AM


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