Duke on failing to retaliate: 'I dropped the ball'
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is unable to catch a three-run home run by Dodgers' Andre Ethier in the third inning.
Dodgers starter Carlos Monasterios allowed one run on three hits and hit two batters
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LOS ANGELES -- Forget the game.
It was largely forgettable, anyway: Zach Duke lost his third in a row as the Pirates lost to Los Angeles, 5-1, Saturday night at Dodger Stadium.
Focus, instead, on the real reason Duke was sitting at his stall, staring forward, scowling, while left completely alone: Two of the Pirates' batters were hit by pitches early in the game and, in the fifth inning, Andrew McCutchen was brushed back on successive pitches by reliever Ramon Ortiz, the second one toward his head.
And, when Ortiz batted in the sixth, a rare plate appearance for any reliever and a golden chance to follow the baseball code of retribution ...
A fastball and three curves produced a strikeout, but not so much as a shiver out of Ortiz.
"I had to step up and retaliate," Duke said. "I dropped the ball."
Game: Pirates vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 4:10 p.m., Dodger Stadium.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP Jeff Karstens (0-0, 2.70) vs. RHP Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 2.36)
Key matchup: Karstens vs. history. He is 5-10 in his career as a Pirates starter, 0-1 with a 4.32 ERA vs. the Dodgers.
Of note: Ryan Doumit has compiled 10 of his 28 hits and half of his 12 RBIs against the Dodgers.
Neither baseball players nor their managers or coaches are prone to discussing such matters, so Duke's acknowledgement is extraordinary in that sense. But it also was, as per that code, unmistakably exactly as he described: He dropped the ball when he should have dropped one of the Dodgers. McCutchen is the Pirates' best player, the future of the franchise, and eye-for-an-eye is how it works.
Reliever Jack Taschner, with the Pirates' first pitch after Duke was done, flung a fastball behind Los Angeles' Andre Ethier to open the seventh, and that appeared to settle things.
But it was clear from the palpably angry mood afterward in the visitor's clubhouse that more was expected early, even if few wished to speak to it on the record.
"It stinks," right fielder Ryan Church said of the pitches at McCutchen. "You don't throw at somebody's head."
Manager John Russell, asked about those pitches, replied simply, "I don't like it," and he bit off each word. But he also was known to be privately livid about how all of it played out, and it can be expected that the coaching staff will address Duke's role, specifically.
Expect to hear nothing about that, either, again as per the code.
Rewind for the full picture ...
Carlos Monasterios, Los Angeles' Rule 5 draft pick making his first major-league start, gave up McCutchen's solo home run in the first. Some of the Dodgers apparently did not appreciate what they saw as a celebratory gesture from McCutchen as he rounded second base.
McCutchen denied knowledge of any reason the Dodgers might have been upset with him.
"I didn't do anything, hot-dogging or anything," McCutchen said. "I play the game right."
In the second, Monasterios hit Lastings Milledge and Ronny Cedeno, each up high, but the Pirates got nothing out of the inning when Andy LaRoche grounded out with bases loaded and, moreover, apparently thought nothing of the errant throws.
Monasterios, moved out of the bullpen, held the Pirates to a run and three hits over four innings.
"I didn't think he was that good," Milledge said. "We just didn't come with our A-game. It's not like he was Cy Young out there."
Duke did not look that way, either, giving up Ethier's three-run home run in the third on a hanging 0-2 slider.
"If I get that pitch down, it's an out," Duke said. "But I didn't, and that's the one that really hurt me."
"It was a big blow," Russell said.
Duke would exit after six innings with a 4-1 deficit, charged with four runs and nine hits despite throwing first-pitch strikes to 26 of 29 batters and running up two-strike counts on 12 of them. He found the third strike five times but, too often, gave up solid contact.
His ERA has more than doubled in these three starts, from 2.37 to 6.09.
"He was OK," Russell said of Duke's performance, intonating that last word toward the negative. "He's better than that."
Ortiz vs. McCutchen came in the fifth: After McCutchen swung over a slider, one fastball came high and tight, and the next went right at his head. McCutchen dropped quickly out of its way.
"I'm sure it was just a couple pitches that got away from him," McCutchen said.
That was what Ortiz said.
"Let me tell you something: Everybody, not only me, everybody has to pitch inside," Ortiz said. "If you don't pitch inside, you're done."
Taschner took the mound two innings later, and he wasted no time in throwing behind Ethier.
The Los Angeles dugout began leaping and hollering in the direction of the mound, notably catcher Russell Martin. Taschner gave some back, as did several others on the visitors' side, most visibly Bobby Crosby. Home plate umpire Doug Eddings spoke briefly with Taschner but issued no formal warnings.
Taschner would give up a run that inning -- Ethier and Matt Kemp doubled -- but he doubtless gained a large measure of respect from his teammates, as no other incidents occurred, and the message was sent.
Staying tidily in line, Taschner acted as if nothing happened.
How did he feel about seeing McCutchen brushed back?
"Well, you don't want to see it," he replied.
And what of his pitch behind Ethier?
"The ball slipped. It was kind of a damp night. It happens."
The Pirates, 3-6 on this long road trip that ends today, will try to split the four-game series with Jeff Karstens on the mound.
First Published May 2, 2010 1:15 am