Morris' 'inch or two' measures Pirates' loss
Ronny Paulino waits for the throw as the Cardinals' Jim Edmonds scores on a three-run double by Chris Duncan in the third inning last night in St. Louis.
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ST. LOUIS -- It was not an ideal scenario for the Pirates' Matt Morris, with St. Louis runners surrounding him on all bases, but he was managing just fine.
- Game: Pirates (RHP Tony Armas 2-5, 6.75) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (LHP Mark Mulder, season debut), 8:10 p.m., Busch Stadium.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Key matchup: Mulder vs. major rust. He had rotator cuff surgery last September and has not started a game since Aug. 29, 2006. His most recent victory came June 15, 2006, vs. the Pirates at PNC Park.
- Of note: The Pirates are 50-38 when their starter pitches six or more innings, 10-40 when he does not.
He needed one more out.
He had the hitter he wanted in slumping Chris Duncan, having worked around Jim Edmonds.
And the pitch he threw was a fastball on the outer corner with some extra oomph, precisely where catcher Ronny Paulino had lined up ... with one exception.
"Maybe an inch or two higher," Morris recalled.
Baseball can be cruel.
Duncan had flied out to left in his previous at-bat on that same pitch, an inch or two lower. But he reached out and poked this one into the left-field corner for a double that cleared the bases, cracked a third-inning tie and catapulted the Cardinals past the Pirates, 6-2, last night at Busch Stadium.
"The game boils down to that at-bat," Tracy said.
No one would dispute it.
The score was 2-2, the Pirates overcoming two first-inning runs for St. Louis -- hanging curveballs by Morris resulted in back-to-back doubles for David Eckstein and Rick Ankiel -- by getting an RBI groundout from Nyjer Morgan and a two-out double from Jose Bautista in the third to tie.
After one out in the bottom of that inning, Eckstein singled, and Ankiel walked for more trouble. Albert Pujols flied out for the second out, but Jim Edmonds got a favorable two-ball call from home plate umpire Bruce Froemming -- "You mean the pitch right down the middle?" Morris asked -- and decided to walk him to load the bases.
Duncan lugged an 0-for-13 doughnut to the plate, but he got ahead in the count, 2-1.
That, as Morris would point out, set up "a fastball count to a fastball hitter who is kind of an over-the-plate guy."
So, the last thing anyone expected was a fastball, including Duncan.
"I thought he'd stay soft with me," Duncan said. "But he fell behind, and I was looking for something out over the plate."
He did not quite get it, but Duncan, not known as an opposite-field hitter, took the only productive approach he could take with that pitch and put St. Louis ahead, 5-2.
"It's something where maybe my catcher and I could have gone another way," Morris conceded.
From there, the Pirates' sixth loss in seven games was decided by an offense that stranded 10 runners, all after their two runs.
The lowlight came in the eighth, when bases were loaded for pinch-hitter Nate McLouth representing the tying run. His bat was broken by Ryan Franklin for a flair to second.
"We had several opportunities to get more," Tracy said. "When you get that many guys on, you've got to get some of them in. They got theirs in. We didn't."
Thus, Morris was left with another just-not-good-enough outing, his line finishing at five runs in as many innings.
His record since joining the Pirates falling to 1-2 with a 5.18 ERA, and the team is 3-4 in his seven starts. That certainly represents an upgrade over his calamitous final month with the San Francisco Giants, but it clearly is not to his satisfaction, especially given that he seems to have genuinely taken to his new team and teammates.
"It's very frustrating, to be honest with you, to not be doing more," Morris said. "For me to go five innings ... I don't even know what to say. It's just really disappointing. It's a pitch here, a pitch there but, ultimately, it costs us the game."
Franquelis Osoria relieved Morris in the sixth, and he paid for an errant fastball, too: His two-strike, 93-mph offering to Russell Branyan was intended to go inside, but it drifted over the plate, and Branyan pulled it into the right-field seats to put St. Louis ahead, 6-2.
First Published September 5, 2007 12:00 am