This pitching ace too much for Pirates
Royals starter Zack Greinke gave up two runs on seven hits through 6 1/3 innings against the Pirates yesterday.
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Quite a few times in the Pirates' 3-2 loss to Kansas City yesterday at PNC Park, they appeared poised to topple yet another opponent's ace, this time the Royals' sensational Zack Greinke.
"Give us credit: We were after him all day," second baseman Freddy Sanchez said. "But he's one of the best pitchers in baseball, and there's a reason for it. Every time we got something going, he shut us down."
The Pirates got a single in the second inning ... and nothing.
Another single the next inning ... still nothing.
Two-out single in the fourth ... caught stealing.
Single in the fifth ... two popups.
Finally, something semi-solid materialized in the sixth, once Kansas City had taken a 3-0 lead off Charlie Morton: Nyjer Morgan singled with two outs and, when Greinke tried to pick him off -- not a bad idea lately -- the throw sailed into right field, and Morgan sprinted all the way to third.
• Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (8-5, 3.09) vs. RHP Rich Harden (4-4, 5.10).
• Season series: Cubs, 2-1.
• Key matchup: Chicago leadoff man Alfonso Soriano, batting .300 this season, is 15 for 29 off Duke for his career, with two home runs and four doubles.
• Of note: The Pirates' 21-14 home record is fourth-best in the National League. Tops are the Los Angeles Dodgers at 26-12.
Next was Sanchez.
His previous time up, he went down on a curve, 94-mph fastball and two sliders.
This time, as the radar-gun readings displayed, Greinke was in no mood for finesse, never mind the scouting report that Sanchez makes excellent contact with fastballs: He saw 97, 96, 96, 96 and 97 mph for an inning-ending groundout to second, and a groan from the 25,888 on hand.
"Once he got somebody on base, he stepped up," Pirates manager John Russell said of Greinke. "Every pitch Freddy saw there was heat."
It was not, safe to say, what Sanchez expected.
"I really thought I'd see something offspeed," he said. "Just goes to show the kind of confidence he's got."
All of which very much fits the dominant-at-will description of Greinke, the heavy midseason favorite for a Cy Young Award who improved to 10-3 with a 1.95 ERA after limiting the Pirates to two runs, seven hits and no walks over 6 1/3 innings.
As he put it afterward," I felt like I could throw it wherever I wanted."
Greinke, 25, has taken his game to an elite level many had seen as unlikely despite his wealth of talent. He was diagnosed with clinical depression and social anxiety in early 2006 and granted a leave of absence by Kansas City, afforded a chance to rekindle his love for the game. Pitching had become so easy that, remarkably, he developed an apathy toward it.
Treatment has immensely improved his condition but, even today, he does media interviews only in group settings and only after he pitches, and the Royals take care to give him that space and more.
The results are unmistakable: Greinke now is Major League Baseball's fourth 10-game winner -- the others are the Toronto Blue Jays' Roy Halladay, Minnesota Twins' Kevin Slowey and Boston Red Sox's Tim Wakefield -- and he is the only starter with an ERA below 2.00.
"He's been great, man. What can you say?" Pirates left fielder Nyjer Morgan said. "The guy brings it."
Greinke nearly brought much more yesterday, but he was chased by rain: Andy LaRoche's one-out RBI triple in the seventh brought the Pirates' first run and knocked out Greinke because of a delay of 59 minutes.
After the delay, Jason Jaramillo's RBI groundout off Jamey Wright made it 3-2. But that was it.
Did the delay help the Pirates?
"Yes and no," Russell said. "It slowed our momentum."
"I felt like I was leading off a whole new game," Jaramillo said of his groundout. "It was a totally different feeling."
Wright, John Bale and Joakim Soria closed it out for Kansas City with 2 2/3 innings of perfect relief, and the Royals avoided a sweep and ended the Pirates' four-game winning streak.
And the Pirates, in a rarity, did not win when facing an ace, this after claiming victory in games started by Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle and Cliff Lee, among others.
Morton, making his home debut, continued to show decent stuff despite three runs and seven hits in five innings. Even the Royals' biggest hit, David DeJesus' home run to lead off the fourth, came off a low-and-away, 93-mph fastball with a 2-2 count.
Still, Morton's fastball, which he threw effortlessly at 95 mph last week in Denver, was more in the 92-93 range yesterday.
"I didn't have my best stuff, but I've got to find a way to work with that," Morton said. "Overall, it was just good to start getting into a rhythm out there."
The Pirates finished interleague play 8-7.
First Published June 29, 2009 12:00 am