The play on which the Pirates' Brandon Moss sprained his left ankle might have tidily summarized the 4-0 loss to the New York Mets yesterday at PNC Park: He barely hit the ball, and it hurt to watch once he did.
"Wow, did we stink today," first baseman Adam LaRoche said, not exempting himself after striking out three times against New York ace Johan Santana, who breezed through a three-hit shutout.
No one could argue LaRoche's frank assessment, but more on that in a bit ...
- Game: Pirates vs. New York Mets, 12:35 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (8-7, 3.69) vs. RHP John Maine (10-7, 3.97).
- Key matchup: New York's two big left-handed bats, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran, are a combined 1 for 12 vs. Maholm. Could be one reason Maholm is 3-1 with a 2.16 ERA in his career against Mets.
- Of note: The Pirates' starters have not had a 1-2-3 first inning since Aug. 6. In the past 10 games, opponents have 12 first-inning runs. For the season, the Pirates have been outscored in the first, 105-59.
Moss' injury, which does not appear serious enough for the disabled list, came in the seventh inning when he chopped a softy to shortstop. As he planted his back foot in the box to begin running to first base, either his toe or a cleat got stuck in the dirt and caused his ankle to roll. He spun and crumpled, as the sellout crowd of 36,483 gasped and manager John Russell and athletic trainer Brad Henderson sprinted out of the home dugout.
Bad thoughts all around.
"The initial pain ... it hurt pretty bad," Moss recalled. "I just kind of sat there for a minute, and it didn't go away, and I was like, 'Oh, no.' It really did scare me, the way the pain was running all the way up my leg. I hadn't rolled my ankle since high school, and that didn't feel like this."
He placed no weight on the left foot as Russell and Henderson helped him to the dugout and, by the time he reached the trainers' room, the pain subsided.
"It calmed down pretty quickly," Moss said. "Now, I'm pretty positive about it."
He was using crutches to walk afterward, but that was precautionary. More tests will be performed today, including an MRI.
Moss, the left fielder acquired in the Jason Bay trade, went hitless in three at-bats to drop his average to .192 since joining the Pirates.
"When it rains, it pours," Moss said. "First, I can't buy a hit. Now, this."
He could stand in a long line on that count yesterday, as the brilliant Santana faced four batters above the minimum in registering his fourth career shutout, eighth complete game: He struck out seven, walked none, threw 85 of 113 pitches for strikes, and limited the damage to two singles by Jack Wilson, one by Andy LaRoche.
"He's one of the best pitchers in baseball," Russell said. "That's what he's capable of doing."
"His arm action is the same on every pitch, and that's what makes it so tough," Adam LaRoche said. "You can't read anything he's doing."
Santana sounded most satisfied with executing first-pitch strikes to 26 of his 31 batters.
"I was very aggressive throwing the first pitch," he said. "That allowed me to go out for the ninth."
Upon closer review, though, the Pirates' general performance, as per LaRoche's assessment, played a large role, too. That included two errors by brother Andy, a misplay by second baseman Freddy Sanchez and all-around lifeless approaches at the plate, especially late.
Flash back to April 29, when the pre-trade Pirates forced Santana into 114 pitches over just 5 2/3 innings to chase him, exactly as planned, then went hard after the New York bullpen. It ended with a 5-4 loss in 11 innings, but it was one of their most poised showings all season.
In this one, Santana threw one fewer pitch to go the distance.
It is no fluke anymore: The version of the Pirates that surprisingly ranked among the National League's top two or three offenses all summer has been its worst since sending Bay and Xavier Nady away for prospects, ranking last with 45 runs in August, 14th with a .236 batting average, 14th with 10 home runs. That includes a total of six runs during this four-game losing streak.
The lack of offense rendered moot a second consecutive so-so start for Jeff Karstens. His six-inning line included four runs on nine hits, two of those home runs by Brian Schneider and Carlos Delgado.
"I made some bad pitches, and they hit them hard," Karstens said. "I expect better, and I'll get back at it tomorrow."
The Mets will go for the four-game sweep this afternoon.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com. First Published August 18, 2008 4:00 AM