Pirates' pulse flatlines in five-game slide
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Tom Gannam, Associated Press
Tom Gorzelanny lies on the ground after being hit on the left thumb by a ball hit by St. Louis Cardinals' Aaron Miles in the sixth inning yesterday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Gorzelanny left the game and picked up his third loss of the season.
ST. LOUIS -- It is one thing for the Pirates to lose, as they did by a 3-1 count to the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday at Busch Stadium.
Hardly a fresh development there.
Good pitching, lousy hitting, runners stranded near the end ... so on and so forth.
But it is something else entirely, from a wider scope, to witness the team's general listlessness and lethargy -- on and off the field, from the players to management -- as this season-high, five-game losing streak threatens to derail yet another season before it is two months old.
It has been most easily evident on offense: At-bats that looked so methodical a week ago now look as if they are being forfeited, with first-pitch hacks or selfish swings for the fences with men on base. There have been dubious decisions and even questionable efforts in other facets, as well, right down to the 90-foot sprint to first base.
The fire, the passion they exhibited with that riveting, season-opening sweep in Houston?
Hard to detect.
It is evident away from the diamond, too: Although the Pirates have plunged to a new low at eight games below .500 at 19-27 and are 8 1/2 games off the pace in a sorry Central Division, there have been no public expressions of dissatisfaction from any level of management, there have been no significant roster moves, there have been few benchings, there have been no extra team-wide workouts, and there have been no players-only meetings since the April 22 gathering in Los Angeles.
A flatline, pretty much across the board.
Are the Pirates simply standing by as a 15th consecutive losing season unfolds?
The issue was raised with a few of the team's veteran leaders after this latest loss, and they did not hold back.
"Something has to be done," closer Salomon Torres said. "Maybe it's up to the veteran guys to come up with a solution to stop this. We're better than this, and we know it. It just seems like we're going through the motions."
Perhaps realizing how strong that sounded, Torres paused.
"I mean, without trying to offend anybody, that's how it looks as a team. Individually, some of us are doing well. But some of us are not playing up to our capabilities, either. It's time for all of us to wake up and play the kind of baseball we did in the beginning of the season. Something has to change. I don't know what, but something."
Outfielder Xavier Nady, part of the contending New York Mets until being traded to the Pirates in July, was asked if his current atmosphere is similar to the previous one.
"No, it's not," he replied without hesitation. "The way it was in New York, when we were down two or three runs, we felt like we could come back. Obviously, here ... we're struggling. We find ourselves in a hole early, then we add pressure, and we don't have good at-bats when we have opportunities."
He shook his head.
"It's not like it's a lot of fun. It stinks."
First baseman Adam LaRoche came from a winner, too, having spent the previous three years in Atlanta. He was no less forthright.
"It stinks getting swept," he said, biting off each word. "It just stinks. This is miserable right now."
And how, LaRoche was asked, has that affected the Pirates off the field?
"At times like this, you look around. Are guys blaming each other for stuff? No. Are guys celebrating after getting a couple of hits in a loss? No. You still see a team. You see chemistry. You see everybody pulling for each other. I haven't been here too long but, as far as I can see, there's nothing in here that says there's a meltdown going on or that we're falling apart."
So, what is the problem?
"Well, you can have all of that and more, but you've got to go play."
Manager Jim Tracy, who never has questioned his team's effort since taking the job and kept his cool even through a 13-game losing streak last year, has shown no signs of outward emotion this time, either. Yesterday, as he has so often, he simply cited the quality of the pitching and bemoaned the lack of hitting in the clutch.
Tom Gorzelanny and the bullpen kept the Pirates within 2-1 until the eighth inning, but the offense mustered only five hits and, even with the gift of three hit batsmen to set up some late activity on the bases, went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.
"We kept them where we needed to keep them," Tracy said of the pitching. "And, once again, we had the opportunities. ... We couldn't get the hit. That's it."
And on the subject of the losing streak?
"We just have to keep battling this," Tracy said. "But, you know, we find ourselves in baseball games every day with an opportunity to win. We've been beaten up a couple of times, but it's mostly been games like that one out there today. There's all kinds of opportunity for us, if we can get that big at-bat."
Gorzelanny limited St. Louis to two runs despite 10 hits and was forced to leave one out into the sixth inning because of a bruised left thumb. That came on a comebacker by Aaron Miles that caromed off the back of the thumb with enough force that it skipped off shortstop Jack Wilson's mitt into center field.
The injury appears minor: X-rays detected no fracture, and the Pirates were not ruling out that Gorzelanny, one of their two reliable starters, could take his next turn in the rotation.
"We dodged a bullet," Tracy said.
Gorzelanny described it as a "pretty bad bruise" but said he hoped not to miss any time.
All of the Pirates' offense came on Jose Bautista's wind-aided home run in the sixth off St. Louis starter Braden Looper. That cut the Cardinals' lead to 2-1.
Otherwise, it was more exasperation: The Pirates loaded the bases in the seventh, but Bautista grounded out to end it. They put two more on with one out in the eighth, but Jason Bay struck out swinging and Nady bounced out.
Yadier Molina's sacrifice fly in the eighth off Brian Rogers brought St. Louis an insurance run, and Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen breezed through a 1-2-3 ninth.
Next up are the Cincinnati Reds, the only team in the division still below the Pirates, though that could change once the weekend is up.
"We've just got to go out there and keep on playing," Wilson said. "Obviously, no one in here is going to give up. Since I've been here, we've never had a team give up."
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tom Gannam, Associated Press
Ronny Paulino drops a foul ball off the bat of the St. Louis Cardinals' Scott Rolen in the sixth inning. The Cardinals swept the three-game series with the Pirates.
Click photo for larger image.
Game: Pirates (LHP Paul Maholm 2-6, 5.82) vs. Cincinnati Reds (RHP Aaron Harang 5-2, 4.78), 7:10 p.m., Great American Ball Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Key matchup: Adam Dunn, owner of 11 home runs this season, seldom touches the ball against Maholm. He is 2 for 18 with five walks and seven strikeouts.
Of note: Things are so bad in Cincinnati -- the Reds have lost 10 of 13, including just being swept by the equally lowly Washington Nationals -- that team owner Bob Castellini tried a clubhouse pep talk Wednesday. Two more losses followed.
Tom Gannam, Associated Press
Jose Bautista celebrates with Chris Duffy after hitting a solo home run in the sixth yesterday for the Pirates' only run.
First Published May 24, 2007 10:48 pm