Pirates clinch 18th losing season, earliest yet

Extend pro sports record with 7-2 loss to Mets, on pace to lose 109



It happened at 9:59 p.m. Friday when Ronny Cedeno swung through a high fastball, but really, everyone could see it coming since mid-April.

Maybe even mid-March, given the spring follies in Florida.

With the final out at PNC Park -- a 7-2 slamming by the New York Mets, fueled in part by a questionable move by manager John Russell -- the Pirates recorded their annually anticipated 82nd loss against a paltry 40 victories and clinched an 18th consecutive losing season. That extended the longest such streak in the history of North America's four major professional sports, the previous record having been the 16 of the 1933-48 Philadelphia Phillies.


Today

Game: Pirates vs. New York Mets, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.

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

Pitching: RHP James McDonald (2-2, 4.26) vs. LHP Jon Niese (7-5, 3.38).

Key matchup: In two appearances against New York while with the Dodgers, McDonald allowed three runs and two walks in a total of two-thirds of an inning, good for a 40.50 ERA.

Of note: The Pirates now have four 10-game losers, most in Major League Baseball: Jeff Karstens, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf. And Charlie Morton was 1-9 when demoted.

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The streak, the singular defining trait of this franchise's current state, fair or not, is now older than most of the team's recent draft picks. If it were a living entity, it would be old enough to drive, to vote, even to serve in the Armed Forces.

Three more years, and it could drink away some of the pain.

"I don't like it. Nobody likes it," Russell said afterward. "But we've still got a lot of work to do, and the results right now ... we just have to focus on the process. We have to make our hitters better, our pitching, our defense."

Russell, who had challenged his players in spring training to break the streak, was asked if he expected more of 2010.

"You expect something better every year. Nobody likes to lose this many games. It [stinks]. Bottom line, it [stinks]. I hate to cuss, but it does. Nobody likes it. Nobody wants it. But we have to continue to get these guys better. We have a very young team, and we have to keep pushing."

Much of the active roster is new and some of it genuinely promising, notably rookies Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker. But the results ... those just keep getting worse:

• This was the earliest on the calendar the Pirates achieved 82 losses in these 18 years, besting by a week the previous mark of Aug. 27, 2001. And that, of course, means they are on pace for the worst record in that span. The 2001 team, in christening PNC Park, went 62-100. This team is on pace for 53-109, a .327 winning percentage that would be the worst since 1953.

• The record over the losing streak is 1,206-1,600, a .429 winning percentage. The best individual record came with the 79-83 "Freak Show" in 1997.

• The Pirates finished last 10 times -- and are last again in the Central Division -- and three other times next-to-last. They have spent a total of 82 days in first place -- an average of 10.5 days a year -- with 32 of those coming in 1997.

• The latest in any year the Pirates topped .500 was Aug. 26, 1997, when they were 67-66. In this decade, the latest date was May 29, 2004. The current team was 7-6 on April 20, then never again above water.

• In the same span, the Steelers and Penguins have combined for 24 playoff appearances in 34 total seasons. The Steelers have won two Super Bowls, competed in another and reached seven AFC championship games. The Penguins have won one Stanley Cup, competed in another final and reached four Eastern Conference finals.

• The NHL's Vancouver Canucks of 1976-91 and NBA's Kansas City/Sacramento Kings of 1983-98 each had streaks of 15 years. The NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 1983-96 went 14. The longest current streak in sports -- other than the Pirates' -- belongs to the Baltimore Orioles, who are homing in on a 13th and challenging the Pirates for Major League Baseball's worst current record.

From Sid Bream's slide to the 20-0 slaughter by the Brewers, only the names change.

All the time, actually.

The only name that has not changed on the baseball end is that of Jeff Banister, the recently appointed bench coach in his 25th season with the Pirates, having served as a player, coach, minor-league manager and, before this assignment, surveying the system as the field coordinator.

"It hurts. As a guy who wears the uniform proudly, it really does," Banister said of the streak. "But I also look at it with a different set of eyes because of all the things I've been fortunate enough to see. The bigger picture of what we're about to do. So, for me, no, I don't like that record. And I know it hurts the fans, too. But there's another number I think everyone should focus on, and that's the number of years since our last world championship."

That, of course, came with the 1979 Family.

"Ending the streak someday will be nice, but nobody here should be playing for second place."

Walker is a rookie, but he hardly is new to the streak, born and bred in the area.

"There's no getting around how important it is. It's always the elephant in the room," Walker said. "It's obviously frustrating. It's been that way for a long time as a fan and growing up here, and it's frustrating to be a part of it now. But we're all working toward that common goal of playing winning baseball here, and I think we're on the right track."

Starter Jeff Karstens, chased after 3 1/3 innings, seven runs and 11 hits, sounded a similar note.

"It's really tough," he said. "There are bright spots, and there are days when we don't look like we belong on the field. It's part of the growing pains that are going on here. But with all the good things here, Alvarez and Tabata and Walker, once the pitching staff comes along, I think it's going to go in the right direction."

No one associated with the Pirates was more vocal on the matter than team president Frank Coonelly, who earlier Friday called the season "extremely disappointment," said that "nobody's job is absolutely safe," charged the team with "under-performing," and added, "Our performance this year been an embarrassment, to the city, to the Pittsburgh Pirates and to our fan base."

This game was no exception, and the crowd of 23,695 made that vocally known with heavy booing, particularly for Russell.

In the fourth inning, with New York ahead, 7-2, the Pirates put runners at second and third after two outs, and Russell still sent long reliever Sean Gallagher to the plate. Even though the regular cleanup hitter, Garrett Jones, was available on the bench, as was Delwyn Young, one of the National League's most accomplished pinch-hitters. Even though both are left-handed batters and the Mets had right-hander Mike Pelfrey on the mound. Even though the bullpen was mostly fresh. Even though it might have represented a last gasp for a struggling offense to get back in the game.

The crowd, apparently viewing this as Russell conceding the game, booed even as Gallagher approached the box.

That multiplied when Gallagher grounded out.

Russell's explanation: "Well, we're in the fourth inning. We've got a lot of game to cover. ... You feel like we've got five more chances, with the top of the order due up the next inning, to do something. Gallagher was able to give us much-needed innings. You'd like to get the runs, but you have to realize there's still a lot of game left. You start taxing your bullpen and your bench early in a 7-2 game or whatever it was, and it's not going to be a very good situation for us."

Gallagher pitched three scoreless innings, and three other relievers would be used. Young pinch-hit to open the seventh, and Jones never played.

Karstens, now 2-10 and without a victory since June 19, saw the Mets start off with some lucky bloops and rollers, but that soon morphed into lasers.

"I put a lot of pitches up in the zone and, when you don't throw very hard, you can't do that," Karstens said.

Cedeno, author of the clinching out, sat slumped at his stall.

"It's frustrating, the losing," he said. "We have to change it. And that's up to us. We have to believe. It has to change someday."


Dejan Kovacevic: dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Find more at PBC Blog . First Published August 21, 2010 4:00 AM


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