Zach Duke was faulting himself for the Pirates' 10-0 pinprick of a loss to the New York Yankees last night at PNC Park.
So was Jack Wilson.
So were others.
But the fact is that this one probably had far less to do with the home side than how the vaunted visitors responded to being embarrassed Tuesday night in that 12-5 romp.
As New York manager Joe Girardi tidily summarized: "Well, we were a lot better tonight."
They sure were: The Yankees got 6 2/3 pulsating innings and seven strikeouts from 22-year-old flamethrower Joba Chamberlain, then seamless relief. They also got 16 hits, including towering home runs from Robinson Cano and Bobby Abreu and a superstar-level output from Derek Jeter, 3 for 3 with two doubles, a walk and an RBI.
It was $209 million worth of fury in motion.
Duke and Wilson might have raised a valid point.
Rewind to New York's first inning, which Jeter sparked with a one-out double. Abreu singled to deep short, Wilson doing well just to get to the ball. Alex Rodriguez walked to load the bases.
- Game: Pirates vs. New York Yankees, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (5-5, 4.41) vs. RHP Mike Mussina (10-5, 3.93).
- Key matchup: Hitters will need to be aggressive vs. Mussina, one of the American League's four pitchers with double-digit wins, as he has walked no more than two batters in any of his 16 starts.
- Of note: The Pirates' .288 average and .465 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position and two outs each ranks No. 1 in Major League Baseball by a wide margin. They have scored 38 percent of their total runs in this situation.
Jason Giambi bounced to first baseman Adam LaRoche, who fired to Wilson, whose relay to Duke covering first ... just missed Duke's backhand attempt to catch it and caromed off the dugout railing. What could have been two outs to end the inning turned into two runs.
Wilson was charged with the error, though it appeared Duke had a chance to backhand the throw across his body and against his momentum.
"That's on me," Wilson said. "You throw to the bag on that play, not to the pitcher. It's something we do in spring training."
"I should have caught it," Duke said. "And if I do, it could be a whole different game."
Another pivotal play involving Wilson brought New York another run in the third.
Jeter bounced a ball up the middle, and Wilson roamed into shallow center to glove it. Aware of the fast runner, he elected to twirl as part of his throw to first to sustain his movement in that direction rather than set himself.
The throw was low, and LaRoche failed to corral it with that familiar -- and usually successful --backhand sweep. The ball went into the visitors' dugout, and Jeter took second.
Again, it was a play that could have been better executed on either end, but it was the shortstop charged with the error.
Wilson took the heat for this one, too.
"I let Jeter get on, and I can't do that," he said. "That's a play I make."
Two outs later, despite a dramatic infield shift to the right side, Giambi's broken-bat floater landed in the one region of right field no player patrolled, and it was 3-0.
"That's baseball," Duke said.
"There were a couple of tough plays early in the game where, if we make them," manager John Russell said before hesitating. "Well, you never know. Their pitcher was throwing really well."
Which probably mattered more than any of the above.
Chamberlain's fastball ranged from 93-98 mph, his breaking stuff was no less effective, and he allowed six hits, one for extra bases.
He was threatened twice, the first occasion in the second inning with two aboard and two out as Wilson singled to right. Abreu has a terrific arm, but third base coach Tony Beasley sent Ryan Doumit, anyway. He was out by 45 feet and allowed himself to be tagged by catching counterpart Jorge Posada.
"Just being aggressive with the pitcher on deck," Russell said of Beasley's wave.
In the fifth, the Pirates had two aboard with one out. Russell had no plan to pull Duke that early -- just 79 pitches -- but he sent Luis Rivas to pinch-hit.
In that case, Russell might well have sent up Jason Michaels, his pinch-hitter with the most power, and tried for the home run. Rivas was 2 for 20 in non-starting situations. But anyone wondering about that scenario had it doused in the sixth when, with a runner at second and the Pirates down by 8-0, Michaels went down swinging on three pitches.
Again, it came down to what the Yankees did more than what the Pirates did not do, especially Chamberlain.
"The kid knows how to use all his pitches when he gets a lead," Abreu said. "He knows how to handle it."
Duke would be charged with four runs, three earned, in his five innings. He allowed seven hits and two walks and, more striking, failed to strike out anyone. In fact, he recorded just one swing and miss, that coming on the first pitch of a walk to his mound opponent.
How was the stuff?
"I thought he threw OK," Russell said.
"Stuff-wise, I was fine," Duke said. "I just needed to execute better."
As always, the middle relief failed miserably. Newcomer T.J. Beam, continuing the trend for callups from Class AAA Indianapolis, was hammered for four runs in the sixth, including the Cano and Abreu home runs.
In the eighth, when Franquelis Osoria entered -- and many in the crowd immediately began a mass exodus, coincidence or otherwise -- the Yankees added another run on three more hits. It was the sixth consecutive appearance in which Osoria has been scored upon, and his ERA now is 6.02.
All of that served to wipe away any semblance of delight from the delirious 12-5 romp Tuesday, silencing most of the crowd of 38,952, with the exception of the slightly larger portion of New Yorkers on hand for the second game.
The lone highlights: Doumit went 2 for 4 with a double to extend his nine-game tear to .500 -- 15 for 30 -- but his home run streak at PNC Park ended at four games. And Wilson reached base all four times up, with three singles and a hit batsman.
Paul Maholm and Mike Mussina will pitch the rubber match tonight.
"It would be great," Russell said of the chance to take the series. "With the support we've been getting from the fans, it would be nice. It's not going to be easy. That's another good pitcher. But our guys have battled back all year. They'll be just as up for this game as they have been for all of them."
Bay exited early for a second consecutive game because of tightness in the groin, this time replaced by Michaels in the bottom of the sixth.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published June 26, 2008 4:00 AM