Say this for the Pirates: They are playing some seriously wretched baseball these days, the very pits of which was the 14-9 loss to the Chicago Cubs last night at PNC Park, but they hardly sound as if they are taking it passively.
To say the least.
Listen to reliever Craig Hansen, asked how he walked three in a row in the eighth inning to blow a lead ...
"I couldn't throw a [expletive] strike," he said at his stall, eyes flaring. "When you can't throw a [expletive] strike, you can't get anyone out."
Listen to shortstop Jack Wilson, fresh off baserunning and bunting gaffes, asked to describe the team's frustration with a season-high six-game losing streak ...
- Box score
- Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 12:35 p.m., PNC Park.
- Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (4-12, 5.29) vs. RHP Jason Marquis (8-7, 4.76).
- Key matchup: Might be the first pitch. Chicago's leadoff man, Alfonso Soriano, is 12 for 21 vs. Duke, with two home runs and two doubles.
- Of note: The Pirates have won nine games all season when scoring three or fewer runs.
"It's as frustrating as the rest of the season," he replied flatly. "It's frustrating for all of us. We're all trying to get after it, to do our best and stay with the big boys with all these first-place teams, and we're just falling short."
Above all, listen to starter Ian Snell, who was visibly irritated with everything from his own work -- four innings, five runs allowed, all after his teammates spotted him a 3-0 lead in the first -- to the effect of the recent trades to criticism of the team's level of passion to the offense's inability to push across more runs ...
First on his own showing, which included five hits and four walks: "They're not the best team in baseball for no reason. They adjust to you. I was throwing some good pitches, but they weren't swinging. But there's no excuse for giving away a three-run lead."
On the offense, which matched its previous three games' output: "We came back, but we just made some boneheaded mistakes that cost us this game. We should have scored more in a few innings."
On that criticism: "We're trying in here. We are. We got rid of some good players, and it hurt us. But you know, we turned the page. We're trying our best. We're young. It's going to happen. So people need to get over it."
If all this sounds like a team in dire need of either an afternoon on a couch or a victory of any kind, manager John Russell did not appear ruffled much.
"One thing you can say about this team is that it's battled all year long, and it did again tonight," Russell said. "It grinds on you, when come back, especially against a team like Chicago, take the lead, lose the lead, take the lead, lose the lead. ... But it's a pretty close-knit bunch out there. They'll come back and battle tomorrow."
That might take some doing.
This one started well enough for the Pirates, with those three first-inning runs off Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano, but Snell gave back five by the fourth and was got the hook because of a pitch count at 95. It was quite the regression, in all facets, from his season-best showing last week in St. Louis.
"He just couldn't put the ball where he wanted," Russell said.
From there, it turned into volleyball, with the Pirates rallying to tie at 6-6 in the fifth, the Cubs going back ahead by one in the sixth, the Pirates back ahead in the bottom half on Doug Mientkiewicz's two-run triple that made it 8-7.
John Grabow escaped a wobbly seventh inning but gave up Mike Fontenot's leadoff single in the eighth, and Russell turned to Hansen.
Why Hansen, when he had been scored upon in half of his eight outings since his arrival in the Jason Bay trade?
"You do like to give opportunities to young guys to see what they can do, but it's mostly how it fell together," Russell said. "It's unfortunate the way it did."
Alfonso Soriano singled to put two aboard, and Hansen simply stopped throwing strikes: A five-pitch walk to Ryan Theriot loaded the bases, a seven-pitch walk to Derrek Lee tied the score, and a four-pitch walk to Aramis Ramirez handed Chicago a 9-8 lead.
The breakdown: 18 pitches, 12 balls and, in maybe the most alarming figure, just eight fastballs for someone with a power arm.
Any particular pitch giving Hansen trouble?
"Every [expletive] pitch," he answered.
Hansen's arrival came with a tag that he lacked control, too, but he has done little to dispel that with 12 walks in 10 innings, along with a 6.20 ERA.
It is possible that he could be demoted to Class AAA Indianapolis today: There was word early this morning that reliever Jesse Chavez will be promoted. That would require moves on the 25-man roster, as well as clearing a space on the 40-man. The latter could be achieved by injured starter Phil Dumatrait being moved from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day.
Sean Burnett relieved Hansen -- after some loud booing by the 17,929 on hand -- and gave up three hits, including Geovany Soto's three-run double that brought a career-high seven RBIs. The Cubs would end up with seven runs that inning and a 14-8 lead.
There were, as Snell indicated, chances along the way for the Pirates to have scored more ...
Wilson was forced out at third on a ground ball to shortstop in the fifth, a glaring mistake magnified later when Nyjer Morgan singled without an RBI. In the sixth, Wilson attempted to bunt for a single with runners at the corners and one out but popped up. Those runners stayed put.
Morgan, who had three hits and a walk out of the leadoff spot, opened the seventh with a bunt single but was caught stealing when he again overslid second. That problem has plagued him throughout his professional career.
In the fifth, Brandon Moss was thrown out at third while trying for the extra base on a Mientkiewicz single.
In this losing streak, which matches the one from April 15-21, the Pirates have given up 57 runs and four times have allowed the opponent to score in double-digits.
Seven more losses, and they will clinch a 16th consecutive losing season to match the professional sports record.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published August 27, 2008 4:00 AM