SAN FRANCISCO -- The beginning of the end of the 2009 season, showcasing a Pirates lineup rife with players each owning barely a full season of major-league service, played out across AT&T Park yesterday.
The result looked familiar.
This constantly remodeled club failed to score a run for sixth time in the Pirates' past 21 games, giving it the majors' runaway lead with 17 shutouts to date. This club endured its fifth consecutive game of scoring two runs or fewer -- all losses. This club lost a one-run game, by 1-0 in a two-out, 10th inning to the host Giants, and pushed their record in such close-call contests to a majors-worst 7-17.
And then they traded their three-time All-Star and last remaining polished hitter to the team down the hall.
On a day when its middle infield and two of its longest-tenured veterans were dealt away, Jack Wilson to Seattle and Freddy Sanchez to the San Francisco team that swept this three-game series, the Pirates' parts of the future continued to harp on the storyline of the past four months: sturdy pitching, insufficient hitting.
True, they were facing All-Star pitcher Matt Cain, whose arm injury allowed the Pirates' Zach Duke to attend the midsummer classic, as well. Yet they also lately have faced a stream of pitchers with 4-plus ERAs and varying pedigrees, mostly coming away with little offense to show for it. In that 21-game sampling where they've sustained those half-dozen shutouts, the Pirates have scored three runs or fewer in 15 of them ... which might explain that 6-15 record of late.
• Game: Pirates vs. Washington Nationals, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Ross Ohlendorf (8-8, 4.51) vs. LHP John Lannan (7-7, 3.25)..
The team that earlier beat Johan Santana, Wandy Rodriguez, Roy Oswalt and Mark Buehrle, among others, has been blanked in July alone by Ricky Nolasco, Braden Looper, Doug Davis, Max Scherzer, Rodriguez and Cain.
"It was going to come down to the first team to crack; unfortunately, we were the one," Pirates manager John Russell said of the duel between Cain, who permitted three hits before yielding to Brian Wilson in the 10th, and Duke, who allowed six hits before John Grabow threw two scoreless innings and Matt Capps got two outs before Randy Winn's walkoff hit scored Eugenio Velez from second. "You're not going to get many runs off Cain. Zach matched him up. It just came down to the end."
"I had to be" shutout perfect, said Duke, who saw the Pirates score six of their 10 runs for him in his last start but return to firing mostly blanks. "Had to be, to match up with him and give us a chance. ... It has been a tough day for us. We've lost some good guys in the clubhouse."
Russell remains undeterred, even for a team that went 17-37 after the trade deadline a year ago: "We'll be fine. It has been a hectic few days. We ran into some buzzsaws. San Francisco has one of the better pitching staffs you're going to see. Arizona threw some good arms at us. And we're awful young offensively. We're still kind of grinding it out."