Pirates misstep just enough to fall short ... again
Andy LaRoche has words with the home-plate umpire after being called out on strikes in the second inning last night against the Florida Marlins at Land Shark Stadium in Miami.
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MIAMI -- Does it seem, at times, as if these Pirates do just enough to fall short?
Take their 5-3 loss to the Florida Marlins last night at Land Shark Stadium: There were pivotal points galore, but the offense came up 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position, Zach Duke threw a bases-loaded wild pitch to his mound opponent, and reliever Evan Meek later threw to the wrong base to allow an insurance run.
And yet, as manager John Russell put it, "We were right there. It was just one of those games we couldn't pull out."
One of many, actually.
Consider that the Pirates are the only team in Major League Baseball with a positive run differential -- they have scored four more than they have allowed, 356-352 -- that also has a losing record: They last night reached the season's midpoint at 37-44, one game worse than last year even though the 2008 edition had a minus-52 run differential at the same point.
Here is another: The Pirates are 5-12 in one-run outcomes, the worst such record in the majors.
Those who scrutinize the sport's statistics can cite evidence that teams that lose with a positive run differential or that lose a high ratio of one-run games are, plain and simple, unlucky and due for a reversal.
But waiting for destiny to do its thing does not make for much of a chalkboard slogan.
"Well, aside from luck or broken-bat hits or whatever you want to call it, I really think it's going to take better at-bats to turn this around," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "Obviously, I can point at myself tonight. I had some brutal at-bats."
• Game: Pirates vs. Florida Marlins, 1:10 p.m., Land Shark Stadium.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Ross Ohlendorf (7-6, 4.41) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (5-6, 5.99).
• Key matchup: Adam LaRoche bats .300 of Nolasco, 6 for 20 with two doubles.
• Of note: The Pirates currently are carrying eight rookies, most in Major League Baseball: Andrew McCutchen, Jason Jaramillo, Robinzon Diaz, Garrett Jones, Virgil Vasquez, Steven Jackson, Jesse Chavez and Evan Meek.
He went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and a groundout into a double play.
"But you can go on down the line," LaRoche continued. "There in the last inning is a small example: It's a good time to make a guy throw strikes."
Florida closer Dan Meyer, protecting the 5-3 lead, got Garrett Jones to fly out, Andy LaRoche to strike out and Robinzon Diaz to fly out, all on a dozen pitches.
"If you're down by one, take a shot," Adam LaRoche said. "If you're down by two, unless you really know a guy, it's risky to try to jump him early. Obviously, it's stuff that guys are learning. But it all adds up."
Jones and Diaz are two of the Pirates' eight rookies on the active roster, most in the majors. And Andy LaRoche is one of six others who have yet to play a full season in the majors.
That is 14 out of 25 total.
"I hate to bring up that we're a young team, but we are," Duke said when asked about the close losses. "The more you deal with situations, the more you know how to handle them the next time around. You don't press as much. We're right there. You can see that. Give it a little bit of time. We'll be fine."
Duke allowed four runs on untidy six-inning totals of seven hits, including Hanley Ramirez's two-run home run in the first, as well as three walks and that wild pitch.
The latter stood out ...
Andy LaRoche's home run to lead off the fifth and Delwyn Young's RBI single the next inning had pulled the Pirates within 3-2, but Florida gave Duke more trouble in the bottom half by loading the bases with two outs.
The good part: Andrew Miller, a career .074 batter and left-handed, would face the lefty Duke.
The bad: Catcher Robinzon Diaz and Duke decided to go at him with all sliders, despite that always being the riskiest choice with a runner on third.
The first three sliders brought an 0-2 count, and Diaz signaled for a fourth. It dug into the dirt well outside, skipped off the catching gear and into foul territory, and the Marlins were up, 4-2.
"It's dangerous, I know," Diaz said of the slider. "But we knew the pitch would get him out."
"It absolutely was the right pitch to throw," Duke said. "I just yanked it."
Russell cited only the pitch's location, not the selection.
"The wild pitch really cost us, but I thought Zach threw really well overall," he said.
As it turned out, Duke struck out Miller swinging through a curveball.
There would be one more mishap ...
In the seventh, Jones hit his second home run in four games since being promoted, and the Pirates once again were back within one, 4-3.
In the bottom half, Florida's Emilio Bonifacio greeted Meek with a leadoff triple. After a walk, Ramirez bounced a comebacker, and everyone on the field shouted the same thing to Meek.
"Diaz, Jack Wilson, everyone yelled out, 'Check! Check!' " Meek recalled.
That order means the fielder should check the lead runner back to his base before attempting any other out. Instead, Meek whirled immediately and started a 1-6-3 double play.
The rally was killed, but the Marlins' two-run lead was restored.
"There's no telling what would have happened after that, but Meek should have kept the run from scoring," Russell said. "It's a little bit of youth there."
"It's frustrating," Meek said.
It was the Pirates' first loss to Florida in five meetings this season.
First Published July 5, 2009 12:00 am