Pirates never get past opening act in 3-1 loss

In a rarity, offense sputters in clutch and strands 10 runners

As long as REO Speedwagon has been riding the storm out, the band might never have had an opening act bomb quite like the Pirates' offense did in an exasperating 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds last night at PNC Park.

Try 10 men left on base.

Or 2 for 12 with runners left in scoring position, with one of those hits actually driving in a run.

Or that all eight hits were singles.

Or, simply, isolate on a maddening seventh inning in which the first three batters singled and no one would touch home plate.

"It's a game we probably should have won," manager John Russell said. "We had the opportunities. It was frustrating, just one of those nights where we couldn't get the big hit, which we've been able to do quite often this year."

  • Box score
  • Statistics
  • Standings
  • Today
    • Game: Pirates vs. New York Mets, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
    • TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
    • Pitching: Jason Davis (1-1, 1.38) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (10-8, 4.11).
    • Key matchup: Be careful with Carlos Delgado. After a sluggish start, he is batting .308 in his past 26 games, with nine home runs and 26 RBIs.
    • Of note: Despite the $138 million payroll, the Mets currently have six rookies on the roster. Only San Francisco and Washington, with eight each, have more in the National League.

That is primarily what made this lack of clutch so striking: The Pirates' .280 average with runners in scoring position ranks second in the National League.

The blah tone was set even before the game, when no more than 7,000 of the paid crowd of 35,439 was seated for Ian Snell's first pitch, evidently satisfied to show up for the SkyBlast show and concert scheduled to follow. In sharp contrast, the place was at full capacity all through the show.

Whether or not that -- coupled with a game-long silence -- helped Cincinnati's pitchers avoid sweating through several jams is conjecture, but this is not: All of the Pirates' clutch came in the first inning with Andy LaRoche's two-out RBI single off Johnny Cueto.

After that, two runners were stranded in each of the fourth and fifth innings, another in the sixth, as Cincinnati took a 2-1 lead off Snell on Javier Valentin's second-inning home run and sixth-inning doubles by Corey Patterson and Chris Dickerson.

Then came that seventh inning, when the Pirates appeared to clear a path to a 29th comeback victory.

"We just always win these games, it seems," reliever Sean Burnett said.

Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson, who combined to go 5 for 10 atop the order, opened with singles to chase reliever Nick Masset. Nate McLouth faced left-hander Bill Bray and put down a bunt -- on his own, as with a similar situation over the weekend in Philadelphia -- and got a single to load the bases.

But Adam LaRoche, in his first game off the disabled list, struck out reaching over a Bray slider.

"Looked a little rusty," Russell said.

Next was Andy LaRoche, sharing a field with his brother for the first time, and Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker countered with right-hander Gary Majewski. That worked out just fine for the Reds, when Majewski's trademark sinker drew a 4-6-3 double play.

"It's great when you get your sinker guy and he does that for you," Baker said.

Not so great for the younger LaRoche, who got decent wood on the ball but hit it right at second baseman Brandon Phillips, shading toward the bag.

"Never thought it would go through," Andy LaRoche said.

Snell was charged with two runs and six hits over six innings. He showed little command in walking five and logging a pitch count of 107, but Russell had positive words for his stuff.

"You take away his second and third inning, where his pitch count ran up, and he would have been a lot more efficient," Russell said. "He had a lot of life on the ball and was down in the zone much better. It was a nice game for him. I just think he'd wish he could have that two-strike pitch."

That would be the 1-2 splitter Valentin sent well over the Clemente Wall.

"It was supposed to be a lot more down," catcher Raul Chavez said.

Snell was unavailable for comment.

The brightest spot was Burnett, who pitched two perfect innings to keep the Pirates close. But T.J. Beam took over in the ninth and allowed a triple to Dickerson. Jeff Keppinger pushed Dickerson home with a suicide squeeze for an insurance run.

Closer Francisco Cordero pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 23rd save, and the last-place Reds took two of three.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com. First Published August 15, 2008 4:00 AM


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