Once again, a Pirates starter dug his team a large hole last night. Once again, the Pirates rallied. Not enough this time, though.
Colorado, behind 14-game winner Aaron Cook, left town with a 7-4 victory in front of 16,587 at PNC Park.
"When you face a pitcher like Cook, you can't afford to give up too many runs," Pirates manager John Russell said. "We let too many runs cross the plate."
Pirates starter Zach Duke, who hasn't won since June 9, allowed eight hits and six runs in five innings, continuing the left-hander's disturbing stretch of ineffective pitching.
In his past five starts, Duke has yielded 42 hits and 30 earned runs in 241/3 innings.
"He needs to be more consistent. That's the bottom line," Russell said.
"He throws quality strikes, but he's had trouble maintaining that.
"He's not hitting his spots effectively. Too many pitches are finding the middle of the plate. He'll continue to work and hopefully he'll settle in."
Last night, Duke constantly pitched from behind in the count, which made his fate inevitable.
"When I needed to execute some big pitches, I didn't execute," Duke said.
The Rockies grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a one-out double by surging Troy Tulowitzki -- 13 hits in his past 23 at-bats -- a wild pitch in the dirt and Clint Barmes' sacrifice fly.
Colorado tacked on a run in the third following a leadoff single by Willy Taveras, who then took a walking lead, stole second easily and scored on Matt Holliday's one-out single.
Duke hung in there until a four-run Colorado fifth.
With one out, Taveras dropped a bunt single to the right of the mound. Jack Wilson delayed the big inning with a spectacular play.
The shortstop ranged deep into the hole to snag Jeff Baker's ground ball, then whirled and leaped and threw to second to get Taveras.
By the time Duke got the third out, however, the Pirates trailed, 6-0.
Duke, who threw only 54 strikes among his 96 pitches, walked Holliday. Garrett Atkins' single to center scored Baker. Holliday moved to third and Atkins continued to second on the throw to the plate.
That set up the at-bat of the game for Duke.
He fell behind Chris Iannetta 2-0, then watched as the catcher drove his 90th pitch of the night -- an elevated fastball -- into the Pirates' bullpen.
"I know if I get that ball down, I get the result I want -- a ground ball," Duke said.
"That was the difference in the game."
As has been their wont, the Pirates bounced right back and trimmed the deficit to 6-4.
Nate McLouth and Luis Rivas walked in the fifth, Ryan Doumit's double into the right-field corner got them on the board. Jason Bay dropped Cook's next pitch into short right-center field for a two-run single.
Bay eased to second on a hit-and-run ground ball to the right side by Doug Mientkiewicz and scored on a two-out single by Jose Bautista, the third baseman's third hit of the game.
"It's fun to watch," Russell said of his team's bounceback ability.
"I know we don't have enough wins, but these guys find a way to get on base. They battle every night. I'm proud of what they do."
Colorado blunted the Pirates' momentum with a run against T.J. Beam in the seventh. With two outs, Atkins doubled, Iannetta walked, and Atkins scored on Tulowitzki's single.
Paul Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published July 31, 2008 4:00 AM