Pirates on course for history after 5-2 flattening
Pirates third baseman Andy LaRoche dives for a ball hit by the Phillies' Pedro Feliz in the eighth inning yesterday. LaRoche made the catch for the third out.
The Philadelphia Phillies' Pedro Feliz heads to home after hitting a grand slam off Pirates starter Virgil Vasquez, rear, in the first inning yesterday in Philadelphia.
Share with others:
PHILADELPHIA -- If nothing else, these Pirates careened into the All-Star break with a clear course: Barring a huge reversal, they will break the major professional sports record with a 17th consecutive losing season.
Easily, at that.
With their no-suspense 5-2 loss to Philadelphia yesterday at Citizens Bank Park, one in which Virgil Vasquez was knocked out after 1 1/3 innings and the offense again mustered precious little, the Pirates:
• Were swept in three by the Phillies.
• Completed a 2-7 road trip, part of a broader 3-11 slide.
• Dropped to a season-low 12 games under .500 at 38-50 overall.
That record projects to 69-93 over the full season, which, of course, projects to history.
• Game: Pirates vs. San Francisco Giants, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (6-4, 4.60) vs. RHP Tim Lincecum (10-2, 2.33).
In January, owner Bob Nutting said he expected to see "improvement" from the Pirates this year, specifically citing the team's record. The 2008 team finished 67-95, so, by strict definition, two more victories would represent improvement. But ...
"Obviously, we would like more wins," general manager Neal Huntington said yesterday. "But the team has battled through injuries, performance inconsistencies and personnel changes."
Huntington is responsible for the latter changes, notably the two trades that sent away Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett, both of which have lessened the major league roster to this point.
As usual, Huntington stressed that off-the-field moves, those or any in the future, should have no bearing on the team's attitude.
"Our starting pitching and defense have been solid, as has our effort level," he said. "We look forward to the same approach and effort in the second half as each and every player has something significant for which to play. We will continue to prepare, play hard and work to put ourselves in a position to win every night as we build as an organization."
Manager John Russell was asked his feelings on the first half.
"I don't think I'm disappointed, but I'm not satisfied, either," he said. "I like the shape of our team, some of the players we've acquired. And I really like some of the guys we acquired last year. The first thing for any organization is to build pitching, and we're doing that. But we still need to score."
The players' feelings seemed equally mixed.
"There are positives and bright sides to come out of it," closer Matt Capps said. "If you'd have told me back in the spring that we'd be without Ryan Doumit for two months and still be within 10 games. We've done some good things at times, hitting, pitching, defense, everything."
He held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.
"We're right, right there."
The Pirates were anything but "right there" in this latest loss, as Vasquez, who figured to be a mismatch for this opponent and ballpark given his propensity for allowing home runs, retired only four of the 11 batters he faced.
One of those, Pedro Feliz, lined a clear mistake pitch -- 0-2 slider, up and over -- into the left-field seats for a first-inning grand slam.
"He didn't have his stuff," Russell said of Vasquez. "He was flat."
"I didn't throw strikes," Vasquez said. "I walked two guys on four pitches, and I don't think I've ever done that in my life."
Vasquez made another mistake earlier that inning, or Feliz might not have come to bat: After the first two batters reached, Chase Utley bounced a ball to first baseman Adam LaRoche, who looked to his right and saw no play at second. He looked to first, and Vasquez was not covering. Utley beat LaRoche to the bag, and bases were loaded.
"In my mind, I was thinking I needed to back up home, for some reason," Vasquez said.
Jeff Karstens settled matters with 3 2/3 innings of no-hit relief, raising the question as to whether or not the Pirates are making the started the correct pitcher.
Russell was asked if Karstens will remain in the bullpen, where he has a 2.70 ERA.
"Jeff's very versatile, and you can use him in a lot of roles," Russell replied. "But we're not going to give up on him as a starter."
"I kind of like it out in the bullpen because you can't overthink things," Karstens said. "But we'll see what happens after the break. Who knows?"
Freddy Sanchez had an RBI double in the sixth, and the Pirates had a chance at another run in the eighth, but Andrew McCutchen made a baserunning gaffe: Sanchez's one-out flyout to right would have scored Jack Wilson from third, except that McCutchen, trying to steal second on his own, was doubled up.
Russell said he should have check with third base coach Tony Beasley upon hearing contact.
"Young mistake," Russell said
"I just had my head down," McCutchen said.
Garrett Jones cut the lead to 5-2 with a home run leading off the ninth, giving him one in each game of this series and five in 11 games since his promotion.
First Published July 13, 2009 12:00 am