Baseball is steeped in numbers, and they surely were stacked against the Pirates yesterday.
So this 4-1 loss to the stumbling Cincinnati Reds and starting pitcher Homer Bailey -- he of the 7.53 ERA and zero victories in his previous four starts -- should've been expected.
After all, the Pirates almost habitually lose: On any given Sunday, on any day without Andy LaRoche and on the day after scoring double-digit runs. You converge those three facets in one day, and the odds are woeful.
They haven't won in two months' worth of Sundays. To be precise, they lost nine consecutive Sunday games and were rained out one. Discount their most recent Sunday triumphs, June 14 and May 24, because those came against Junior Circuit foes the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox, and the Pirates haven't beaten a National League team on Sunday since May 17, at PNC Park, against the then-beleaguered Colorado Rockies, by 11-4 on one of those rare offensive-firepower days. That's an 0-for-10 NL skid.
They haven't won without LaRoche in the lineup in some form since April 13, an 0-for-7 skid that dates to ... the season's first fortnight. True, a guy needs a day off every now and then, and the club is only 49-63 when he starts at third base. But maybe you don't tinker with statistical chance, not when you went 4-0 this past week alone with him batting cleanup.
Yesterday, the afternoon following a 12-2 romp on a 1979 championship celebration and a KC & the Sunshine Band special Saturday night, the Pirates' single-run output gave them the sum total of six runs in five games the day after they scored a combined 54. Overall this season, they have compiled a 4-7 record in games preceded by a double-digit affair, and in a half-dozen of those losses they've scored just one run or none.
No wonder those modest numbers polished off Saturday night, the five-game winning streak that marked the second-longest yet under manager John Russell and the ascension out of the NL Central cellar into fifth place, all came to a screeching halt yesterday.
Going by the numbers, Bailey -- with a 9.19 ERA after the All-Star break and one victory in his previous nine starts -- didn't have to throw darts to beat them. He didn't exactly throw darts, either.
"Uh, he was throwing hard," Russell said of Bailey, who tied a career low -- one he hasn't matched since 2007 -- by allowing but a single run. "A little effectively wild at times."
"I hit him pretty well," said center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who had a lead-off single and then two walks off a starter whom he faced often in Class AAA. "I can't really speak for the team. [But] I knew what he had."
McCutchen and Delwyn Young each singled to open the first inning. The Pirates then loaded the bases with two outs on a Ryan Doumit walk, whereupon Brandon Moss struck out -- for his fifth consecutive time and seventh in eight plate appearances. He grounded out the other at-bat.
In the second, again with two outs, the Pirates got Bailey to walk starter Kevin Hart and McCutchen, but Young popped up to end the threat. McCutchen scratched out the team's lone run on a walk, a steal and a Young single to open the fifth. Those were the final Pirates to reach base until Ramon Vazquez singled with two outs in the ninth.
"We had some opportunities early, but it seemed to all come with two out, and we couldn't get that big, two-out hit," Russel said afterward. "We're still developing as a team and we're going to have some days where we've got to come up with those big, two-out hits, and we just didn't do it."
Of Hart, who has two losses, one no-decision and one victory in four Pirates starts while allowing a total of 15 runs, Russell added: "If we score runs, it doesn't look like it was that bad. He wasn't as sharp. The big thing is, he keeps us in games. We just need to find a way to score runs for him."
Hart, acquired in the John Grabow-Tom Gorzelanny deal July 30, was far harder on himself.
"Didn't really throw my game," said Hart, 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA with the Cubs but 1-2 with a 6.05 ERA with the Pirates. "I don't think you're going to win a lot of games at this level throwing the ball the way I did. I don't know how much sleep I'm going to get.
"I know I haven't been very good since I've been here. You'd like to improve and learn from stuff. It's time to get rolling."
He wasn't speaking of statistics, but rather the rawest sports digit of all: victories.
Chuck Finder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published August 24, 2009 4:00 AM