Another dramatic ninth for Pirates, but no cigar

Moss' home run ties it, but Howard's in 10th lifts Phillies, 4-1


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Not this time.

Brandon Moss hammered a home run for a huge pinch-hit that tied the score in the ninth inning, just like the night before.

Soon, Andrew McCutchen stepped to the plate with a chance to win it, just like the night before.

"I wanted it," McCutchen recalled. "I wanted it bad."

Alas, he came up empty, and the Pirates had to be feeling equally hollow after falling to the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-1, on Ryan Howard's three-run home run in the 10th last night at PNC Park.

"It was right there," third baseman Andy LaRoche said. "Felt like that the whole game."


Today
  • Game: Pirates vs. Philadelphia Phillies, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
  • TV radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
  • Pitching: RHP Charlie Morton (3-6, 5.21) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (10-2, 2.59).
  • Key matchup: Happ, the Phillies' terrific rookie, mowed down the Pirates July 12 in Philadelphia, limiting them to a run on four hits over seven innings in the Phillies'
  • Of note: The Pirates are 20-7 when hitting two or more home runs in a game, 24-13 when homering at least once at PNC Park.

It surely did, and not just because the home team might still have been buzzed from that tantalizing 6-4 triumph the night before, one in which Moss' pinch-hit single tied the score and McCutchen's two-run home run brought a leaping celebration at home plate.

The Pirates had gotten plenty of good pitching in entering the ninth inning down, 1-0, last night, led by Paul Maholm's seven strong innings -- Chase Utley's solo home run in the first did all the damage -- and followed up by scoreless relief from Jesse Chavez and Joel Hanrahan.

They had gotten all kinds of chances, too, but went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and were close to a 15th shutout until, with one out in the ninth, Moss sent Ryan Madson's 2-2 changeup well into the seats beyond right-center.

"It's always better when it's the walkoff variety, but it gave us a chance to win," Moss said.

It did, but it probably was evident to all that the window would not stay open long: The Pirates had used up the better part of their effective relievers and, as manager John Russell put it, "You're not going to hold a lineup like Philadelphia's down for long."

Pinch-hitter Ramon Vazquez grounded out after Moss, but McCutchen was next, welcomed with a roaring, standing ovation from the portion of the 17,403 on hand pulling for the Pirates.

Clearly, they sought a sequel.

"Yeah, I know," he said. "That was neat."

Madson would have none of it: He blazed four fastballs -- 96, 96, 97 and 96 mph -- all tight to the body, nothing McCutchen could touch. He struck out swinging.

Steven Jackson entered in the 10th, facing the tall task of the top of the Phillies' order, and he walked Jimmy Rollins on five pitches, then gave up Shane Victorino's bloop single to put men at the corners.

Russell summoned Phil Dumatrait, and he got a shallow flyout from Chase Utley. But the next pitch killed all the suspense: Howard's 35th home run, the towering variety that has become his signature, came off a hanging slider and came down -- eventually -- high above the left edge of the Clemente Wall.

The Phillies, too, had blown chances earlier, including leaving bases loaded in the ninth against Hanrahan.

"We were just focused on the here and now," Howard said. "Jimmy got on, Shane got on, and I got a pitch I could handle. That was it."

Maholm's start was his second good one in a row and, in Russell's view, it goes back further than that.

"Paul's been throwing well for us for a while now," Russell said. "The big thing with Paul is, when he pitches, he gives you a chance to win the game."

Maholm's counterpart, Cole Hamels, edged Maholm's line by lasting eight scoreless innings and visibly bearing down each time the Pirates threatened.

That included a bases-loaded, two-out at-bat for Maholm in the fourth.

"All of a sudden, his fastball went from 91 to 96," Maholm said of Hamels. "But that's why he's one of the best lefties in the game."

The key for Maholm was getting 11 groundouts, a highly encouraging sign that his anchor pitch, the sinker, is back.

"Hopefully," he said. "The last two starts, there have been a lot of ground balls. That's what I like to see."

Moss sounded encouraged, too, with two pinch-hits in as many nights after a .171 start to his August.

"I'm feeling a lot better at the plate," he said. "All season, I've been trying to tweak a few things with my swing."

The latest tweak, advised by hitting coach Don Long, has been moving Moss' hands away from his body.

"I needed to stop cutting myself off. I feel 100 percent better."

The Pirates had won six of their previous seven.

Now 52-72, they are 10 losses shy of clinching the professional sports record with a 17th consecutive losing season.


Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . First Published August 27, 2009 4:00 AM


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