MILWAUKEE -- With one booming swing of Ryan Braun's bat, it became official: The Pirates did not make progress in 2008.
Not in the standings, anyway.
Braun's 10th-inning grand slam off Jesse Chavez vaulted the desperate Milwaukee Brewers to a 5-1 victory last night at Miller Park, an outcome that enthralled the 40,102 on hand but left the visitors ... well, exactly where they were a year ago ...
The Pirates' loss was their 94th, with only a three-game set in San Diego remaining, and that matches the loss total from the 68-94 record last year. The record was 67-95 each of the previous two years, so it cannot be ruled out that this record could wind up the worst since the 2001 team lost 100.
The deflating finish aside, this one could be pinned almost entirely on dismal infield play.
With the score 1-1, Rickie Weeks, Chavez's first batter in the Milwaukee 12th, singled just to the right of second baseman Freddy Sanchez. It was a ball Sanchez usually gloves without issue, but he slid awkwardly in moving toward it.
- Box score
- Game: Pirates vs. San Diego Padres, 10:05 p.m., Petco Park.
- TV, radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (6-12, 5.54) vs. RHP Josh Geer (2-1, 2.86).
- Key matchup: Snell has a good chance to finish strong, facing the team that has scored the fewest runs -- 630 -- in Major League Baseball. Top two averages on the team belong to former Pirates Brian Giles (.307) and Jody Gerut (.296).
- Of note: Never mind San Diego's place in the standings. The Pirates lost three of four to the Padres earlier this season in Pittsburgh and have lost their past seven at Petco Park.
He had another misplay earlier, shortstop Brian Bixler and first baseman Adam LaRoche also committed errors, and Bixler had another misplay that resulted in Milwaukee's only run through nine innings.
"We should have made some plays and didn't," manager John Russell said. "Freddy's always been able to make plays like that."
Back to the 12th ...
Jason Kendall bunted Weeks to second, and Ray Durham was intentionally walked. Mike Cameron struck out on blazing 96-mph heat, but Craig Counsell's five-pitch walk loaded the bases.
That brought up Braun and his total of 35 home runs, but just one in September to go with five RBIs.
Chavez fell behind with two balls, then zipped two more fastballs in for strikes.
"Everything had good depth to it, good life," Chavez would say of his stuff.
Why, then, would he throw a slider next?
It hung over the plate, and Braun crushed it into the seats high above left field for his first career grand slam.
"I thought it was the right pitch," Chavez said. "I had confidence in it. I just didn't execute it. It didn't have the downward angle it usually does. Just slid right over the plate. Right onto his sweet spot."
The Pirates were swept in the three-game set, and this was the second time Chavez played a critical role in defeat while closer Matt Capps remained in the bullpen. Capps has not pitched since Saturday.
Russell's reasoning for sticking with Chavez was clear: He liked the stuff.
"I thought he was throwing great, including to Braun," Russell said. "He tried a slider and, unfortunately, it didn't do what it was supposed to do."
After all the leaping, roaring and now-customary un-tucking of shirts, Milwaukee remained tied with New York in the National League wild-card race, the Mets also winning at Shea Stadium. The Brewers' final regular-season opponent is the Chicago Cubs, at Miller Park.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world," Braun said of his first walkoff. "It's unbelievable. It doesn't get any better than that."
Zach Duke was sharp in his final start, with one run -- which probably should have been unearned -- and seven hits over seven innings. He struck out two, walked none and had a terrific ratio of 76 strikes among his 107 pitches.
The Brewers' only run off him came in the third on Bill Hall's two-out RBI double, but only after Bixler muffed Cameron's roller up the middle.
"That's best I've ever seen Zach Duke throw," Milwaukee manager Dale Sveum said. "He kept the ball down with sink and velocity."
Duke's no-decision left him 5-14 with a 4.82 ERA over 31 starts, representing a modest improvement over 3-8 and 5.53 in 19 starts in 2007. Perhaps most encouraging, given that elbow pain cost him a third of last season, he not only stayed healthy but also finished strong with a 2.67 ERA in the final five starts.
"That means a lot to me," Duke said. "I took a lot of pride in the offseason I had and, to be able to stay fresh and have my stuff at this point, that's definitely satisfying."
"One of the things we've talked about with Zach is his inconsistency," Russell said. "The big inning would hurt him. Things would get out of whack. He'd try to get a little too perfect, avoid contact a little too much. I think it was a good learning year for him. The positive is that he made all his starts, took care of his arm."
Steve Pearce tied for the Pirates in the fourth, tomahawking Yovani Gallardo's elevated fastball beyond left field for his third home run, second of the series.
Outfielder Nyjer Morgan was forced to exit after the game's first play because of a mildly strained left hamstring, from sprinting to first base safely on an error. If the hamstring does not respond to tests today in San Diego, he will be shut down, Russell said.
Milwaukee took 14 of 15 from the Pirates this season, including the final 12. That marked the Pirates' worst record against any opponent since going 1-17 against the Mets in 1986.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published September 26, 2008 4:00 AM