St. Louis trumps Pirates' rally, 4-3
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ST. LOUIS -- How bad?
This bad ...
Jose Hernandez delivers a dramatic, two-out, ninth-inning home run, and it is wiped away in the bottom half.
Roberto Hernandez throws an apparent third strike to the game's premier hitter, it is called a ball, and the decisive hit soon follows.
The Pirates dare to think for a few fleeting minutes, that maybe, just maybe, they finally have found a way to win, and it disintegrates into a seventh consecutive defeat, 4-3, to the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday at Busch Stadium.
This one, perhaps, more painful than the many before it.
"It's tough to lose it that way," Roberto Hernandez said. "It's tough, and it's bitter."
The bitterness was easy to detect throughout the clubhouse, almost all of it aimed at home-plate umpire Jerry Meals.
The Pirates entered the ninth down, 3-2, and St. Louis closer Jason Isringhausen quickly fanned Craig Wilson and drew a groundout from Joe Randa. Into the box stepped Jose Hernandez, lugging a .143 average.
Isringhausen's 1-1 fastball was walloped into the bullpen in left field.
To a team that had yet to win any game it trailed from the sixth inning and on, it carried the air of an awakening.
"Oh, yeah," Hernandez said. "I hit it, and we're tied. We thought it was going to change everything."
Not at all.
David Eckstein led off the Cardinals' half with a slicing single to right off Roberto Hernandez, and Hector Luna's broken-bat bloop landed in shallow center.
Up stepped Albert Pujols, who twice was walked intentionally earlier. Doing that again would load the bases with no outs for Juan Encarnacion.
"We ran into a situation where we couldn't avoid Albert," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said.
Roberto Hernandez, throwing far harder than any 41-year-old should, zipped a 97-mph fastball that missed a mammoth Pujols swing. He then pinpointed 92-mph heat for another called strike on the outside corner.
The third offering, ratcheted back up to 97, looked to hit the same spot. But Meals never flinched.
"I guess Albert Pujols gets the benefit of the doubt," Hernandez said. "I guess if he doesn't swing at an 0-2 pitch, it's not a strike."
And was it?
"Same spot as the second pitch."
"I'm really wondering about that pitch," Tracy said.
The count ran to 2-2 when Hernandez pushed another 95-mph high and slightly tight. Pujols knifed it down the left-field line to score Eckstein and spark the already-standing crowd of 38,728 into a wild celebration.
"It was a good pitch, up and in on my hands," Pujols said. "He was throwing gas, and I thought he might get it by me. But I'm really comfortable with two strikes, and my job is to drive in the run. That's what I did."
The one-run loss was the Pirates' sixth, as their record fell to 5-18 and their road trip ended 0-6.
This bad ...
The trip was the Pirates' longest without a win since going 0-7 Aug. 13-19, 2001, in Phoenix and Houston.
They were outscored, 30-12, on the trip and had one lead. For half an inning.
The season record is tied for the worst 23-game start in the franchise's 120 years. Only one team, the 1952 edition, started 5-19, which these Pirates can match tomorrow.
Not even the horrific 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenies, who wound up a franchise-worst 23-113, started this badly. They were 8-14-1 through 23 games.
The Pirates have lost 12 of their first 13 road games, including five by a run.
Of those one-run losses, three have come when Zach Duke takes the mound. Duke delivered another quality start, his fourth in five outings, by limiting St. Louis to three runs and eight hits through six innings. He walked five, but three were intentional.
Tracy called it "a really good performance," but Duke was not nearly as effusive.
"It was kind of a struggle, mostly because I fell behind a lot, although I was able to make some pitches in key situations," he said. "I don't know if I was trying to do too much, be too nasty, maybe because it's the Cardinals."
Duke allowed St. Louis a 2-0 lead through two, but he would strand seven runners before giving way to the bullpen.
The Pirates tied the score in the fourth on Wilson's seventh home run, a two-run shot to the seats beyond left-center off St. Louis starter Mark Mulder.
Afterward, Tracy and the players continued to stress the positive.
"We played a good ballgame today," Tracy said. "We did everything we could do."
"It's tough to go through a stretch like this. It's no fun," Duke said. "I give credit to our team, though. We played very hard today. We're scratching and clawing. We're just not able to come out on top."
No matter, it seems, how the table gets set.Tom Gannam, Associated Press photos
Pirates' Zach Duke pitches in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals in their baseball game yesterday afternoon at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Click photo for larger image.
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Tomorrow vs. Phillies 7:05
Ian Snell (0-2) vs. Brett Myers (2-0)
Saturday vs. Phillies
Paul Maholm (0-3) vs. Cory Lidle (2-2)
Cardinals' Albert Pujols swings for the game-winning RBI-single in the ninth inning against the Pirates yesterday at Busch Stadium. David Eckstein scored on the hit, edging the Cardinals to a 4-3 victory.
First Published April 27, 2006 12:00 am