Three blasts vs. bullpen sink Pirates, 9-7

Helton's wins it for Rockies in ninth, but earlier blown chances costly, too



DENVER -- The balls fairly screamed off the Colorado Rockies' bats, as the Pirates' bullpen was beaten by one, two, three home runs -- culminating with Todd Helton's two-run walkoff shot in the bottom of the ninth inning -- for a 9-7 loss last night at Coors Field that was as loud as it was lousy.

And yet, for all that sound and fury, a couple of fairly silent sequences earlier might have been most damaging.

"It's something D.Y. and I were talking about during the game," third baseman Andy LaRoche said, referring to outfielder Delwyn Young. "A team like us, we have to do all the little things right to win. Our pitchers have picked us up all year, and this never should have come down to that ending."

Rewind to the eighth ...

The Pirates, fresh off Andrew McCutchen's bases-clearing triple in the seventh that brought a 6-4 lead, got back-to-back doubles from LaRoche and Brandon Moss for an insurance run in the eighth. And, when Jason Jaramillo walked, there still were no outs and the killer blow -- usually a necessity at this altitude -- seemed at hand.


Today

Game: Pirates vs. Colorado Rockies, 3:10 p.m., Coors Field

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7)

Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (4-3, 4.23) vs. LHP Jorge De La Rosa (2-7, 5.81).

Key matchup: De La Rosa has what Colorado manager Jim Tracy calls "great stuff," but he has achieved seven innings just twice in 13 starts, notably a dominating seven-inning, one-run showing May 15 at PNC Park.

Of note: Maholm had a 0.87 ERA in his first three starts, but has a 5.26 mark in his past 11. He is 2-3 in that span.


But Jack Wilson, looking to bunt the runners over, sent the ball right back to pitcher Joel Peralta for a force out at third.

Jaramillo, who had no cause to be leading too far, was picked off second.

Pinch-hitter Eric Hinske struck out.

Uh-oh.

John Grabow, the bullpen's best over the past month, opened the bottom half with a walk but struck out the next two batters. Carlos Gonzalez singled, and Chris Iannetta took advantage of a glaring mistake -- 0-2 fastball, grooved up and over the plate -- and lifted it beyond center field for a 7-7 tie.

"A bad pitch, obviously," Grabow said.

The Pirates' offense had another chance in the ninth: Nyjer Morgan, capping a resurgent 4-for-5 day, singled with one out, stole second and took third on an errant throw. On the same play, though, Freddy Sanchez struck out. Adam LaRoche was intentionally walked, and Andy LaRoche bounced into a forceout.

Double uh-oh.

"I had a chance right there, with Nyjer on, to get something done and didn't," Sanchez said.

Colorado, befitting a team that now has won 15 of 16, did get it done in the bottom half.

Jesse Chavez relieved and, after one out, gave up Seth Smith's single. He fell behind Helton, 2-1, and went for the hard stuff, 95 mph, but left it up and over. Helton launched it high and deep into the trees beyond center, and the 32,137 celebrated almost as much as the Rockies by the plate.

"If that pitch was down, I'd have been fine," Chavez said.

Sean Burnett allowed the other home run, to Ian Stewart, also to center, also off a grooved fastball.

"It's a tough loss," Pirates manager John Russell said. "We've had a few of those this season, but we've bounced back every time."

Perhaps what was most painful about this one is that it is exactly the kind of game that a losing team finds a way to lose, even with promising performances from McCutchen and starter Charlie Morton, who showed good stuff in limiting Colorado to two runs over five innings.

The talent can continue to enter the roster, but ...

"There's a hump that we need to get over," Sanchez said. "We have some pretty good young players coming, and now, we've got to find a way to win those ballgames. Hopefully, it will be soon."

The Pirates had more individual bright spots in this one than usual, from Morgan's breakout to Brandon Moss' three hits and two RBI doubles, but it was McCutchen and Morton who stood out.

McCutchen stepped to the plate in the seventh with his team down by two, the bases loaded, nobody out, and Colorado manager Jim Tracy just having handed the ball to Matt Daley, whose three-quarters delivery figured to give McCutchen a fresh look.

McCutchen did take one look, a curve for a called strike, then smashed a slider into the gap in left-center.

Kind of like what winning teams do.

"It's always good to come up in that situation and come through for your team," McCutchen said.

He has done plenty of that: His average through 16 games of Major League Baseball is .329 with 13 RBIs out of the leadoff spot and, most eyepopping, four triples already.

"It was great to see Andrew do that," Russell said. "He's done nothing but exceed what we thought he'd be capable of this quickly."

McCutchen also made a superb catch in the fifth to rob Helton of an RBI, back to the fence, full speed, over the shoulder, glove fully extended.

Morton allowed five hits and two walks while falling behind 13 of 21 batters, but there was nothing amiss with his velocity or natural movement: Of his four strikeouts, two came on sinkers to Helton and Troy Tulowitzki, one on a 94-mph fastball that froze Brad Hawpe on the outside corner, the other on a curve that dipped under Clint Barmes' bat.

Morton's outing was kept short, Russell explained, because the tight left hamstring had kept him from pitching since June 10.

"My arm felt good," Morton said. "Anytime you haven't been out there for a while, finding the feel is hardest."

The Pirates, now 20-1 when scoring seven or more runs, have lost three in a row.


Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Catch more on the Pirates and join the discussion at the PBC Blog . First Published June 21, 2009 4:00 AM


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