As part of a playful chalkboard message inside the Pirates' clubhouse yesterday, third baseman Doug Mientkiewicz scrawled his version of the team's work schedule: "Rain possible. Meeting probable. Don't like it? Play better."
Suffice it to say, after a lethargic, lapse-filled 7-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers later in the evening, there could be enough meetings at PNC Park this afternoon to qualify the franchise for bureaucracy status.
"I don't know what it was," manager John Russell said. "We just couldn't get anything going at all."
That included the bats falling silent against a rookie with a five-and-change ERA.
It extended to Paul Maholm tiptoeing through trouble all through yet another non-starter of a start.
Above all, though, it was defined by second baseman Freddy Sanchez losing track of the outs on what might have been an inning-ending double play.
Maholm dug a hole to open the second inning, allowing two singles and a walk, but he fanned mound counterpart Manny Parra for one out.
- Game: Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (2-2, 5.05) vs. RHP Ben Sheets (4-1, 3.25).
- Key matchup: Xavier Nady is 7 for 13 with two home runs vs. Sheets, who is 6-8 lifetime vs. the Pirates.
- Of note: Milwaukee's Ryan Braun last night fell short of becoming the first to hit nine home runs in nine games since the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez did it last September. Overall, Braun's 13 home runs are tied for third in the National League.
Next, Jason Kendall bounced to Jose Bautista for what likely would have been a 5-4-3 double play. Sanchez took the relay, stepped on second base for the forceout and ... simply kept going toward the duguout, thinking that was the third out.
Corey Hart, the runner on third, sprinted home to put Milwaukee ahead, 1-0.
The 11,761 on hand booed Sanchez, a reaction as rare as the play itself, and that turned to mock cheers when the next batter hit into a forceout at second that Sanchez correctly realized was the real third out.
"It can't happen," Sanchez said. "It should never happen, but especially in that situation. It just can't happen. Obviously, this is a team sport, but I feel like that one play ... you never know what could have happened if we'd turned a double play there instead of playing from behind."
All this might have been foreshadowed just before Kendall's bouncer, when Sanchez failed to give the standard sign to shortstop Brian Bixler and the outfield reminding of the out count.
"It's funny because that's my job," Sanchez said. "Well, it's not funny."
Russell had no more analytical an explanation than anyone else.
"He thought there were three outs," Russell said. "I don't know if we would have turned it, but it would have been nice to find out."
Sanchez apologized to Maholm, who emphatically absolved him of blame.
"That happens," Maholm said. "Freddy's not the one who gave up the two-run homer. He wasn't the one who failed to get a bunt down. What he did is a non-issue."
To be sure, Sanchez's miscue hardly was the Pirates' lone shortcoming.
Maholm exited after 6 1/3 innings with a 4-0 deficit, charged with nine hits, including Mike Cameron's two-run shot into the left-field bleachers in the seventh, as well as two walks and two hit batsmen.
That continued a miserable stretch -- season-long, almost -- of the starters not giving the team much of a chance, Zach Duke aside.
"Everything was working," Maholm said. "I felt comfortable, like I threw a lot of good pitches. But there were a few pitches that didn't work, and they hit those."
Cameron's home run came on Maholm's 111th pitch, leaving open the question as to why Russell would leave him there after he hit Corey Hart with two outs.
"We left him out there to try to see if he could keep going," Russell said. "It didn't work out."
Sean Burnett and Marino Salas each gave up runs in equally untidy relief.
In the field, the Pirates made two wayward throws and had another relay get past Bautista.
At the plate, all that was mustered in Manny Parra's 5 2/3 innings were four hits, and there would be no runs against anyone until Jason Bay's hollow two-run home run -- his 10th -- off struggling Eric Gagne, who had to leave with a tight shoulder.
The situational hitting, in particular, was abysmal.
As Maholm noted, he bunted into a double play in the third inning after Bixler opened with a single. And, when Sanchez led off the sixth with a double off Parra -- the score still just 2-0 in Milwaukee's favor -- Bautista inexplicably tried to swing out of his shoes while striking out rather than attempting to advance the runner. Nate McLouth struck out, too, and reliever Seth McClung got Bay to pop out.
"Freddy got the leadoff double, and we couldn't do anything with it," Russell said. "That might have been our only real chance."
By the seventh, there were no more than 2,000 in the seats, stone silent, making for a fitting backdrop.
The Pirates are three games below .500, at 21-24.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published May 21, 2008 4:00 AM