Free-falling Pirates losing at historic pace
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen reacts after the end of the eighth inning during an 11-6 loss against the Padres last night at PNC Park.
Padres outfielder Luis Durango gets back to first base safely as Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Steve Pearce awaits the throw in the eighth inning.
Pirates starting pitcher Daniel McCutchen throws against the Padres in the first inning.
Pirates outfielder Garret Jones is congratulated after hitting a solo home run off Padres starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc in the first inning.
Padres third baseman Chase Headley slides into second base with a double as Pirates shortstop Ronny Cedano waits the throw in the ninth inning.
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What has been witnessed over the past month at PNC Park is the worst stretch of baseball in Pittsburgh in nearly a century.
Well, it almost has been witnessed.
A paid crowd of 12,566, with slightly more than 4,900 actually passing through the turnstiles and no more than 300 by the final pitch, saw the Pirates fall short again, 11-6, in 11 innings to the San Diego Padres last night, marking their 20th loss in 23 games.
Stop and think about that for a moment.
It can be easy to get numb to all the losing in these parts, but a 3-20 record represents a .150 winning percentage since Aug. 28, which projects to one win per week, 21 over a full season.
It is the worst such mark over a 23-game span since the 1916 team of Honus Wagner and Max Carey ended on a 3-20-2 free fall. And, put in further context, the current Pirates have had two stretches of winning just three of 20 games -- they also went 3-17 from July 25-Aug. 16 -- since the franchise most recently had any 3-17 stretch back in 1954.
• Game: Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Season series: Reds, 8-4.
• Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (10-14, 3.96) vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (9-10, 4.41).
• Key matchup: Do not arrive late. Cincinnati has given up 113 first-inning runs, most in Major League Baseball, and the Pirates have given up 99.
• Of note: Cincinnati's next loss will clinch a ninth consecutive losing season, eight shy of the Pirates' ongoing record streak. The Reds' previous longest streak was 11 in 1945-55.
Suffice it to say that, while these players clearly are giving an effort -- and they surely did last night by rallying three times to pull within a run, then tying in the ninth -- they are falling short at a historical rate.
"It's very frustrating," outfielder Brandon Moss said. "Just seems like it's Murphy's Law: Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Everything is going against us."
"Even when we play well, like we did the last couple games, it doesn't work," shortstop Ronny Cedeno said. "It's very hard right now. This is hard."
No part of this one was harder to swallow than going 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position -- 3 for 32 in the four-game series -- including multiple chances to win the game.
In the ninth, the Pirates were down, 6-5. But, after bases were loaded with nobody out off San Diego closer Heath Bell, Delwyn Young bounced into a forceout at home, and Cedeno's fielder's choice grounder was enough to tie. Pinch-hitter Jason Jaramillo rolled out to end the inning.
Another chance came in the 10th, with two aboard and one out for pinch-hitter Neil Walker, but that ended with a 4-6-3 double play.
"We had eight different guys come up in situations like that, and we couldn't get the big hit," manager John Russell said. "Neil hit his hard, but it was a double play. They found a way to get it done, and we didn't."
San Diego scored five times in the 11th, all charged to struggling Jeff Karstens. The tiebreaking blow came off the bat of Chase Headley, an RBI double that brought a career-high five hits. After an intentional walk, Carlos Salazar's double brought two more.
Karstens has a 5.53 ERA and has been scored upon three times in four outings since coming off the disabled list.
"I don't know what it is," he said. "It's just not clicking."
Karstens was kicking himself, too, over a poor flip to first baseman Steve Pearce on David Eckstein's bunt single to lead off that 11th. Pearce was set to catch an underhand toss, but Karstens threw overhand, and the ball clanked off Pearce's glove. It was ruled a single.
The Pirates had sought a lift with the return of three players to the lineup: Garrett Jones was back from a sore right shoulder, Young after a week of back stiffness and Andy LaRoche at the tail end of a flu bug.
"None of them is really 100 percent," Russell said. "But we'd like to get some offense."
There was some: Jones hit his 20th home run to become the franchise's fourth rookie with that many, in the first. Young broke an 0-for-27 drought with two hits. Andrew McCutchen reached base four times and had a two-run double in the eighth. Ryan Doumit reached base four times, as well, and his single opened the tying rally in the ninth.
Starter Daniel McCutchen again failed to get his first victory, charged with three runs and eight hits over six innings. His bugaboo has been five home runs allowed in four starts, and he gave up another on Adrian Gonzalez's two-run shot in the first.
"I started off a little rough," McCutchen said. "I didn't feel really comfortable."
Neither did reliever Jesse Chavez, visibly wearing down while making a team-high and career-high 69 appearances. He gave up eighth-inning home runs to Headley and Nick Hundley, the latter a two-run shot, that put San Diego ahead, 6-2.
To avoid 100 losses, the Pirates must go 7-7 the rest of the way, and this hardly looks like a group on the cusp of any .500 clip.
First Published September 22, 2009 12:34 am