Late messes cost Pirates 6-5 loss, chance at .500
Pirates catcher Chris Snyder waits on the late throw as the Padres' Ryan Ludwick slides safely in the third inning Tuesday at Petco Park.
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SAN DIEGO -- Ample precedent shows there are two relative certainties about the Pirates on those rare occasions when they venture near .500:
1. They will demean it as a goal.
2. They will fail to reach it.
Manager Clint Hurdle vocally achieved No. 1 Tuesday afternoon when, with his team having a chance to go 15-15 for the latest .500 record in any season in seven years, he boomed, "The .500 thing means absolutely zero to me!"
And No. 2 was ensured at least partly because of one dubious decision by Hurdle -- allowing struggling reliever Joe Beimel to preside over most of a blown late lead -- in the 6-5 loss to the San Diego Padres at Petco Park.
Rewind to a busy seventh inning ...
The Pirates were trailing, 3-2, when pinch-hitter Matt Diaz, 1 for his previous 18, drove an RBI double to deep right-center. Andrew McCutchen followed with a two-run single into center and, just like that, it was 5-3 for the visitors.
Game: Pirates vs. San Diego Padres, 6:35 p.m., Petco Park, San Diego.
TV, radio: Root Sports, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP Kevin Correia (4-2, 2.90) vs. LHP Clayton Richard (1-2, 3.82).
Key matchup: Most pitchers benefit from Petco Park, but Correia's 4.46 ERA in 34 starts here for the Padres is virtually identical to his 4.48 career ERA.
Of note: The Pirates have scored 25 first-inning runs, second-most in Major League Baseball behind the New York Yankees' 27.
But San Diego tied in the bottom half, despite barely making a sound.
Mike Crotta, the Pirates' shakiest reliever of late, gave up infield singles to his only two batters, which Hurdle aptly described as "real bad luck."
Hurdle turned to the left-hander Beimel to face the Padres' left-handed batter, Eric Patterson, even though it was an obvious bunting situation, and even though the heart of the order coming up after Patterson was all right-handed.
Was it because Beimel had fared well Sunday in the 8-4 victory in Colorado?
"Joe's pitched in those situations before, and I felt he was the best option at the time," Hurdle said.
Hurdle acknowledged he had his relievers available except Chris Resop, who had a 28-pitch inning the previous night.
So, with Beimel inheriting Crotta's two runners, Patterson put down the expected bunt, only to have it become a single when third baseman Brandon Wood failed to anticipate or charge it.
"We knew the bunt was going to be down, but we didn't defend it well, made a bad read at third base," Hurdle said. "That's an out we have to get."
"Just a bad read on my part," Wood said.
With bases loaded, Beimel walked right-handed Ryan Ludwick on five pitches to pull San Diego within 5-4. And right-handed Jorge Cantu bounced into a double play, with a run scoring to bring the 5-5 tie.
"Unfortunately, there's the walk, but he did the job," Hurdle said of Beimel.
That case can be made reasonably, but Hurdle sent Beimel back out for the eighth, and it came back to bite the Pirates when, after one out, right-handed Rob Johnson crushed a full-count curve well beyond the left-field fences, and San Diego had the lead back.
The Pirates still had a last gasp in the ninth, but that went badly, too.
Wood drew a leadoff walk off and was bunted up to second by Ronny Cedeno. But, with Ryan Doumit at the plate and the team still having two cracks at an RBI single in baseball's most spacious park, Wood tried to take third when closer Heath Bell's pitch bounced in front of the catcher Johnson.
Johnson scooped it up quickly and nailed Wood for the second out.
"That's how I learned to play baseball, how we did it in Anaheim, to just react and take off when it's in the dirt," said Wood, formerly of the Los Angeles Angels. "That's how I'll play here until Clint tells me not to."
"He tried to push a play, and he's already in scoring position," Hurdle said. "The Angels are aggressive when it's in the dirt, and we play that way, too. But there are times you have to be smart. When you make an out at third base in that situation, it never looks good. That's not what you're looking for."
On April 24 at PNC Park, Hurdle absolved Andrew McCutchen of a more egregious baserunning mistake, when he made the final out at home by trying to score on a fly ball with the Pirates trailing the Washington Nationals, 6-3.
"You never want to make the last out at home, but sometimes those things are going to happen," Hurdle said that day. "It's not a perfect world, it's not a perfect game, but our mentality is to play aggressive."
The Pirates opened well, as has been the trend: McCutchen walked, Xavier Paul put down a bunt single and, one out later, Neil Walker lashed a two-run double off the fence in center.
But starter Jeff Karstens took that 2-0 lead no further than the third, which counterpart Mat Latos led off with the first home run in Petco history by a San Diego pitcher. Eric Patterson homered two batters later, Ryan Ludwick doubled and Cameron Maybin's single put the Padres up, 3-2.
Karstens' line -- three runs on six hits over four-plus innings -- does not do justice to the lack of stuff he showed.
"I thought it could have been a lot worse," Karstens said. "I needed to go deeper and not give up home runs to pitchers."
Be sure that Hurdle will not be chilling champagne for the next bid for .500.
"I can understand why .500 might have significance to some people," he said before the game. "But I keep saying it: I'm not getting T-shirts printed up! I'm not going to do it! We're not trying to be a .500 team or to break the streak."
It was mentioned to Hurdle that the Pirates' most recent contact with .500 at this point or later in a season came June 11, 2005, the night they crushed the Tampa Bay Rays, 18-2, to improve to 30-30. The next afternoon, some fans came to PNC Park with homemade banners to commemorate the event.
"I get it. I do. I'm a Detroit Lions fan," Hurdle said. "I can't control what people think, but we're doing things here that are aimed at a championship, not .500."
The Pirates can begin pushing that boulder back up the hill today with a chance to take a fifth road series, one more than all of 2010.
First Published May 4, 2011 1:02 am