Manager John Russell was praising his Pirates yesterday afternoon, as he has all season, for regularly showing they are "determined to win, competing right up to the 27th out." And there was plenty of cause for the sentiment.
But this time, it seemed, they were determined to lose.
Right up to the 27th out.
Paul Maholm was given two big cushions but gave up four home runs, including three in a manic seventh inning. And, most jarring, Matt Capps was tagged with his first blown save when Washington's Lastings Milledge launched a two-out, two-run home run in the ninth inning of the Pirates' 7-6 loss to the Nationals last night.
It was, without a doubt, every bit as dispiriting as that fire-and-brimstone victory against Arizona the previous day was uplifting.
"It's sad," Maholm said in a silent, mostly empty clubhouse. "We were cruising, and we should have won that game. I put that on me. It stinks to lose a game like that. It stinks."
Capps, who had been 15 for 15 in save opportunities, was no different.
"I let down a lot of people in here, all of the other 24 guys in a uniform," he said. "Everybody's pulling for us, with the way things have been going and ... it stinks."
And there were so many reasons it could have ended differently ...
- Game: Pirates vs. Washington Nationals, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (2-6, 5.65) vs. LHP John Lannan (4-6, 3.47).
- Key matchup: Lannan has had eight quality starts, but his worst outing came May 2 against the Pirates, when they pounded him for six runs in three innings and went on to an 11-4 rout in D.C.
- Of note: The Pirates, with the blown save and loss last night, now are 21-1 when leading after six innings.
To start, catcher Ryan Doumit, one day after publicly declaring "we weren't going to be pushed around in our own house" in beating the Diamondbacks, backed those words with nothing less than the finest performance of his career: He homered twice above the Clemente Wall off Washington starter Tim Redding, doubled two other times and had three RBIs.
To boot, he had a putout at the plate in the fourth inning on Freddy Sanchez's strong relay from the outfield.
"He was great," Russell said.
Doumit, visibly displeased with the outcome, declined to give interviews afterward.
On another front, the limping, last-place Nationals, losers of eight of nine, were missing four everyday players, including the entire heart of their order. In being swept in four games by the San Francisco Giants over the weekend, they mustered six total runs.
It might be difficult to recall the last time a Major League Baseball team arrived in Pittsburgh such a decided underdog.
But Maholm, despite six efficient innings in which he needed just 63 pitches to hold Washington to one run, collapsed in the seventh: Dmitri Young crushed the first pitch into the left-field bleachers and, after an out, Jesus Flores and Ronnie Belliard -- his second -- followed suit.
Boom, boom, boom, and it was 4-4.
Rare is the starter who is allowed to give up three home runs that late in a close game, but Russell defended his decision to stick by Maholm.All for naughtRyan Doumit's big -- but wasted -- night at the plate:ABRH2B3BHRRBIsTB434202312
"He was throwing great, and he was at less than 70 pitches. What are you going to do?" Russell said. "He was in complete command of the game. It's his game there."
Maholm got a second out, then gave up a single and double before Russell replaced him -- the pitch count now at a still-low 88 -- with John Grabow, who got the third out.
"It was by far the worst inning I've ever had," Maholm said. "I can't explain it, and I don't want to try."
The worst was to come.
Grabow gave up a one-out single to Young and, when pinch-runner Willie Harris was trying to steal second, Doumit's errant throw struck Grabow squarely in the hip.
"It happens," Grabow said.
He remained in the game for two more batters, but Franquelis Osoria was summoned to face the right-handed Belliard, and his single put Washington ahead, 5-4.
But the Pirates rallied, as they often do, to score twice in the eighth: Jason Bay walked, Doumit doubled him to third, and Xavier Nady's single tied the score. One out later, pinch-hitter Doug Mientkiewicz's sacrifice fly pushed home Doumit for the 6-5 lead that would be turned over to Capps.Perfect, or closeFewest blown saves in the majors for pitchers with a minimum of 15 save opportunities:Pitcher, team
It was Capps' third save try in as many days, but he showed no fatigue in quickly getting a popup and comebacker. But Elijah Dukes drilled a first-pitch fastball off the fence in center for a double, and Milledge stepped to the box.
Before he did, Washington manager Manny Acta had a word of advice: Do like Dukes, and swing early because of Capps' impeccable command.
Milledge took it a step further.
"One swing. One swing only," he said. "I was going for it."
A home run?
He got it, sending Capps' up-and-over fastball into the seats beyond the North Side Notch.
"If I had to redo it, it would be the same pitch, but it would've gone to Doumit's mitt," Capps said. The mitt was low. "If that had happened, there would be music blaring in here, and we're having a good time."
As it was, the Pirates again failed to produce a three-game winning streak, something they have managed just twice all season and not since early May. They also failed to pull within a game of the elusive .500 mark.
"This isn't going to stop us and send us in the wrong direction," Maholm said. "We'll get right back at it tomorrow."
Doumit's home runs were his sixth and seventh, and they marked the third time in his career he has had two in a game. It also was his third career four-hit game.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published June 11, 2008 4:00 AM