Pirates' offense comes up empty against Diamondbacks
Jack Wilson loses the ball while trying to turn a double play in the first inning last night in Phoenix. Wilson forced out Stephen Drew before losing control of the ball.
Justin Upton gives Arizona an early lead with a two-run homer in the fourth inning last night.
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PHOENIX -- The Pirates' offense had another oh-for night, immediately after a 10-for.
As in: Score double figures one night, nothing the next.
Last night, less than 24 hours after an offensive eruption -- for them -- inside a fireworks-night Chase Field, the Pirates shot blanks in a 7-0 loss against an Arizona staff already missing ace Brandon Webb with a shoulder injury.
It was the fifth time the Pirates followed a double-figure display with a clunker of one run or none.
It was the 50th time in 97 games they scored three runs or fewer, and they have lost 40 of those.
The game marked a continuation of a trend that bubbled to the surface in late June, a 22-game sampling in which the Pirates have mustered one run or fewer seven times, or roughly one of every three games, and mustered two runs or fewer 13 times, or roughly two of every three. No wonder they have gone 8-15 in that sputtering span.
Game: Pirates vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, 4:10 p.m., Chase Field.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP Virgil Vasquez (1-4, 5.54) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (5-6, 3.86).
Key matchup: To stay in the rotation, Vasquez must improve against left-handed batters, who have a .341 average against him with seven extra-base hits and eight walks in 44 at-bats.
Of note: The Pirates are 4-10 on Sundays, including 2-6 away from PNC Park.
But it has been a Pirates' problem a lot longer than that: Since an opening week when they dropped two of four to St. Louis while scoring three or fewer runs.
"It is what it's been this year. It's been one of our challenges," manager John Russell said after his club's third shutout in its past 16 games -- it needed the previous 75 games for the other seven. "We've been challenged to score runs. We've got a young lineup. I think we're swinging the bat better. We still have to get over that hump of being a little more consistent."
"That's kind of been the story of our season," said shortstop Jack Wilson, who added a dandy assist -- from mid-left field -- and a diving tag at second in an early going filled with defensive gems that enabled a slightly struggling Ross Ohlendorf (8-8) to pitch to the minimum number of batters through three innings. "One night we get 15 hits and score 10 runs. The next day, we get shutout. It's inconsistency on our part. Inconsistent at-bats."
To be precise, they collected 16 hits Friday in a 10-3 rout of the Diamondbacks. Last night, they got half as many hits and10 fewer runs.
The nine times this season the Pirates have scored double-figure runs, the next game they were shutout twice and scored just one run another two instances. No wonder they've lost five of those nine post-rout games.
No matter how good the pitching has been, a team has to score: The Pirates are 0-24 scoring one run or none, 3-31 with two or less, 10-40 with four or less.
"We've done that a lot, where we've scored 10 and come back and scored none," said Brandon Moss, who along with his teammates left 10 runners on base and overall went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position. "It's not like we're going out there trying to do that.
"I felt like we had some really good at-bats. Nothing really came of them."
The Pirates certainly ran up the pitch count of Doug Davis (5-10) who had beaten them only once in his past five starts against them, but they collected no runs off him. Or Juan Gutierrez, he of the 4.73 ERA. Or Jon Rauch (4.25). Or Chad Qualls (3.63).
These teams meet again this afternoon for the series finale. Arizona's Max Scherzer has faced the Pirates only once before, but at least they scored one run on him.
Buehrle, barely 30, added a perfect game to his resume Thursday at U.S. Cellular -- an instant 5-0 classic against the Rays that will be remembered more for the acrobatic, uncannily well-timed catch defensive replacement Dewayne Wise made as any of Buehrle's 116 pitches.
But man, were these good pitches. Never two in the same spot, rarely one a hitter could anticipate.
Just ask Michel Hernandez. He struck out on a 3-2 changeup for the 26th out, one after Wise robbed Gabe Kapler for No. 25, and one before shortstop Alexei Ramirez handled Jason Bartlett's grounder for No. 27.
You have a perfect game on the line and you throw a 3-2 changeup? That's Buehrle.
The ability to throw the perfect pitch at the perfect time is the true signature of Chicago's best pitcher since Maddux. He now has as many no-hitters as the times he was cut by his high school baseball team. And look at the company he is in.
Five pitchers before Buehrle had thrown more than one no-hitter and at least one perfect game. Those guys -- Addie Joss, Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Jim Bunning and Randy Johnson -- are either already in the Hall of Fame or awaiting induction.
He just may be on his way, if he keeps pitching. He's 133-90 in his 10 seasons, and is as much of a cruise-control, 15-plus victory guy as there is. He doesn't get as much attention as the hard throwers -- CC Sabathia and the rest -- but he thrives in a hitter's park in a muscle-bound league.
Buehrle said after Thursday's game that he has surprised himself throughout his career. He never expected to throw a no-hitter, let alone a perfect game. He never thought he could hit a home run (he got that this season).
There are two things he wants now, he said -- a Gold Glove (he long has been deserving, as pickoff victims will attest) and a Cy Young Award. This could be the season he makes a run at the latter.
This is only the second year of the four-year contract he signed after he moved within half a season of entering the free-agent market. It's too early to talk about a new contract or any of that.
The question may be whether he wants to keep pitching when this contract expires at the end of 2011. He told me this year that this might be the last one of his life, as he misses his family (wife, children, father, mother and siblings) badly when he is away, especially for long stays like spring training.
Was he kidding? I don't think so. He's about as sincere as they come.
Buehrle is one of the players who really gets it. He's willing to share his experiences -- all of his experiences -- with fans via every form of media known to man.
He was making the rounds of talk shows after the perfect game. At the end of one interview, a host referred to him as "a class act."
"Thanks," Buehrle said. "That means a lot."
He's as good as it gets.
First Published July 26, 2009 12:00 am