Pirates find fresh low with 5-4 loss to Rockies
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DENVER -- Leave it to the Pirates to travel a mile high and sink to another low.
The 5-4 loss to Colorado yesterday at Coors Field, fueled by the Rockies' five runs off struggling Paul Maholm, extended a four-game losing streak, ended this road trip 1-5 and, surely of greatest concern, dropped the overall record to 31-38, a season-low seven games under .500.
Twice previously, they had been seven under.
"It's tough right now," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "Good time for a day off."
That sentiment seemed universal.
"Yeah, a day off will be nice," manager John Russell said. "Been a long trip. Time to go home and regroup."
Although this trip was just six games, the Pirates have been out of Pittsburgh for 13 of the past 16. After the day off today, though, there are 10 games at PNC Park, beginning with the Cleveland Indians tomorrow.
It is within that homestand, it is safe to say, that the season will be either saved or lost ... assuming the latter has not already occurred.
• Game: Pirates vs. Cleveland Indians, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (2-7, 5.08) vs. LHP David Huff (2-2, 7.09).
Set aside that the last-place Pirates are 7 1/2 games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in the Central Division -- the standings have not mattered for this franchise since late 1997 -- and just consider this: To achieve .500 and avoid that record 17th consecutive losing season, they must go 50-43 from here, a pace not seen in Pittsburgh since Barry Bonds was skinny.
And there most definitely was nothing within the game yesterday that capped Colorado's three-game sweep to indicate that such a rush is on the horizon ...
Maholm, hammered for eight runs Tuesday in Minneapolis, completed book-end losses on this trip by giving up those five runs to the Rockies on eight hits, including a Clint Barmes home run, and four walks.
"I need to get back on track" Maholm said. "This has been a disappointing trip."
After four starts, Maholm was 3-0 with a 2.03 ERA. Now, he is 4-4 with a 4.48 ERA.
He blames that on the loss of his sinker, the pitch that had been getting him groundouts and keeping his pitch count efficient. Yesterday, he recorded just four groundouts, half on sacrifice bunts.
His other stuff, notably a sharp curve, contributed to seven strikeouts, but ...
"I can't go out there and throw 80 curveballs," Maholm said. "I don't feel like the sinker is working, like I can get a ground ball whenever I want. It seems like my arm angle's changing. I need to get back into a rhythm."
He and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan plan to focus exclusively on the sinker between starts.
The Pirates powered their way to an early 3-0 lead: Andrew McCutchen's triple brought a run in the first when Freddy Sanchez singled him home. The next inning, McCutchen's single was followed by Sanchez's sixth home run.
And that was about it.
Despite facing the weak link of the Colorado rotation, Jorge De La Rosa, the Pirates managed just three more singles off him as he lasted 5 2/3 innings. All 10 batters who faced the Rockies' bullpen were retired.
"We could have scored more runs, for sure," Russell said.
De La Rosa is 2-0 against the Pirates, 1-7 against all other opponents, with an overall ERA of 5.85.
That probably stung the most.
Colorado's first run came on Dexter Fowler's RBI single to left in the second inning. There might have been a play at the plate had Delwyn Young charged the ball and, to boot, Young dropped it once it arrived and let Fowler take second.
The next batter, Barmes, skied a ball that Sanchez, the only fielder with a play, lost almost immediately in the blazing sun. It plopped behind him for an RBI double.
"Freddy usually makes that play," Russell said. "It hurt. Cost us two runs."
Sanchez chooses not to use sunglasses because, he said, they interfere with grounders.
"Still, that can't happen," Sanchez said. "I have to find a way to make that play. If I do, who knows how this game turns out?"
In the next inning, with Troy Tulowitzki at second base, Garrett Atkins singled to right. Tulowitzki, apparently confident Eric Hinske could not throw him out, stormed through the stop sign of third base coach Rich Dauer and scored easily when Hinske's throw sailed up the line.
Making the play uglier, catcher Robinzon Diaz failed to hold onto the throw, and Atkins took an extra base.
"It seems like when we hit, we don't pitch," Hinske said. "When we pitch, we don't hit. When we do both, something else goes wrong. I don't know how we make it all come together."
One thing that has remained together is the team, according to Hinske, one of its leaders.
"Everything in here is fine. We just need to find a way to win, and soon."
The Rockies keep finding ways, winners of 16 of their past 17 and 18-5 under Jim Tracy.
Correction/Clarification: (Published June 23, 2009) The Pirates were 31-38, which tied their season worst at seven games under .500. Their record was incorrect in this article as originally published in June 22, 2009 editions.
First Published June 22, 2009 12:00 am