Pirates' 3-21 run franchise's worst since 1890

Duke's five-run fifth inning leads to 10-4 loss to Cincinnati


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Perhaps the one good thing about the Pirates' many miseries in recent years is that they have resurrected the classic names of Crazy Schmit, Phenomenal Smith and Peek-A-Boo Veach.

Those were just a few of the farmers and mill workers who comprised the 1890 Pittsburg Alleghenies, the infamous worst team in franchise history and the one invariably cited anytime a futility record is challenged.

Well, here is another, maybe the ugliest yet...

Zach Duke was tagged for five runs in the fifth inning of what proved to be a 10-4 trouncing by the Cincinnati Reds last night at PNC Park, the Pirates' fourth loss in a row and the 21st in the past 24 games.


Today

Game: Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.

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

Pitching: RHP Kevin Hart (4-7, 4.71) vs. RHP Homer Bailey (5-5, 5.15).

Key matchup: Bailey finally is living up to the elite-prospect tag, 3-1 over his past six starts with a 1.83 ERA.

Of note: Andy LaRoche's 131 starts at third base are fourth-most in the National League, the most for the Pirates at that position since Aramis Ramirez's 155 in 2001.

Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog.

That 3-21 stretch now is the second-worst in such a span over the franchise's 123-year history, with the 1890 team's... um, phenomenal 3-35 finish to that 23-113 season still standing alone.

Oh, and a third consecutive last-place finish was clinched, too.

This is, officially, indisputably, the worst baseball seen in Pittsburgh in more than a century.

Can anyone really imagine a significant turnaround in 2010?

"The reality is, come next spring, almost every one of these players is going to be better," general manager Neal Huntington said last night. "We have very few guys on the down side of their prime. They're going to learn from this experience, we're going to work hard to help them, and having the teaching of a full spring training, that's going to make a difference."

He reiterated that he will look to the outside, too.

"If we can add a piece or two or three, we will. But to just spend money to get somebody who's worn a baseball uniform a long time, that's not a good decision for us. If it's the right guy, the right fit, we'll add."

And if not?

"We have no intention of being a 100-loss team next year. We're going to prepare. We're going to work. These guys are going to be better. Ryan Doumit's going to be healthy. So are Paul Maholm and Lastings Milledge. We'll have Andrew McCutchen for the full year. And Garrett Jones. This 3-21 clip, as bad as it is, it doesn't make us feel as if we have to turn over 21 of 25 players. We do need to add pieces, but it's not as bleak as it seems."

The Pirates might not be a 100-loss team next year, but they remain very much on course for it this year: They are 56-93 and must go 7-6 the rest of the way to avoid it.

Manager John Russell was asked if all this is wearing thin.

"Yeah, it's no fun at all," he replied. "Nobody likes to lose. But we've got to come back tomorrow, make sure we get ready, make sure we give ourselves a chance and, hopefully, this will turn around. Nobody here, the staff or players, enjoys this one bit. But the players continue to work. We got some hits tonight."

They had 14 but went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position.

"It's very wearing, obviously," Duke said of the losing. "Hopefully, we can just put it behind us, just get a win. We're all desperate for a win right now, for a well-played ball game."

This one started fine, as McCutchen hit his fourth leadoff home run, 12th of the season, and Ronny Cedeno's RBI double in the fourth made it 2-0.

Not for long.

Duke gave up five hits and a walk in the fateful fifth. Doumit committed his third throwing error in as many games -- his attempt to complete a 2-3 double play hit the runner and cost a run -- Cedeno failed to cover third base on a bunt wheel-play, and two of the hits were rollers through the infield. But there was no question Duke was not at his sharpest.

"There were some interesting things that happened there," Duke said. "I allowed the leadoff single by the seven-hole hitter, didn't make a very good pitch."

That was Darnell McDonald, batting .255.

"It kind of unraveled from that point. There were some interesting plays, but I shouldn't have let it get as out of control as it did."

"All year long, Zach's been able to get out of those jams," Russell said. "Unfortunately, tonight, he couldn't limit the action a little bit. I thought he still threw the ball very well except for that one inning."

Duke now is 10-15, giving him the National League lead in losses in the same year he was chosen for the All-Star game on merit as the Pirates' second selection. Duke and the Baltimore Orioles' Jeremy Guthrie, also 10-15, are tied for the Major League Baseball lead.

The paid crowd was 16,492, but, again, less than a third of those who had tickets showed up. Of those who did, barely anyone bothered to boo.

When the Pirates summoned Eric Hacker to pitch in his major league debut in the eighth, one person clapped.


Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog . Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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