Pirates' latest close loss carries extra weight
Bay slam, six-run lead undone by Reds, 9-8
Friday, May 19, 2006
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For the better part of the season's first quarter, these Pirates have spoken of their litany of one-run losses as if they were a badge of honor, a tangible, touchable sign that brighter days were ahead.
This might well have been one of those brighter days, maybe the brightest.
Instead, it disintegrated into one of their darker defeats, 9-8 to the Cincinnati Reds before 18,502 at PNC Park.
"Disappointing," starter Victor Santos said.
"So close," center fielder Jose Bautista said. "We were right there."
"Yeah, it's pretty tough," shortstop Jack Wilson said. "You're going for a sweep of a good team
, you're up six runs early, you'd like to get everyone on a roll ... we certainly put ourselves in position."
That they did.
Many times over.
Their first three hitters reached, and Jason Bay brought them all around by clubbing a 66-mph curveball from Cincinnati starter Dave Williams
into the left-field bleachers for a grand slam.
The next four hitters reached, too, and it was 6-0.
"We had a tremendous first inning," manager Jim Tracy said.
The Pirates had a chance to wear down the Reds' wobbly bullpen when they chased former teammate Williams, who was throwing noticeably softer than last season
, after three innings. But all they would get over the next six innings was Jeromy Burnitz's solo home run in the fourth -- off an Elizardo Ramirez curveball and over the Clemente Wall -- that made it 7-3.
"We could have buried them, but we didn't," Bay said.
Santos had a chance to cruise after being spotted a touchdown lead. But he would extend his recent trend of getting hit hard and often by allowing five runs in as many innings, including home runs by Jason LaRue and Austin Kearns.
The Reds had clawed within 7-5 upon his exit.
"Every inning, they just kept coming," Santos said. "That was the difference."
Ultimately, Cincinnati's four-run seventh was the difference. Matt Capps, solid for most of his rookie season, was charged with three runs after giving up one-out, back-to-back doubles to Scott Hatteberg and Edwin Encarnacion, then an RBI single to Ryan Freel.
There, too, there was a chance in that scenario. Bautista nearly made a sprinting, diving catch of Hatteberg's liner, but the ball ricocheted off his glove and into the gap.
"Tough one," Bautista said.
Damaso Marte gave up another run in that inning, but only after the Pirates fell short of capitalizing on yet another chance.
Bases were loaded for Ken Griffey Jr., who blooped a 2-2 fastball into shallow left. Bay charged hard and dived forward, but he could not prevent the ball from landing in the grass.
"Just couldn't get there in time," Bay said.
There would be one more.
The Pirates manufactured a run in the eighth by pushing around Jose Castillo after a leadoff double. It was 9-8.
Freddy Sanchez delivered another leadoff double in the ninth. Nate McLouth, running for Sanchez, took third on Bay's bouncer to second. But Burnitz and Ronny Paulino each grounded out to the right side to end it.
With that, the Pirates let slip an opportunity to win three in a row for the first time this season and to finish off their first three-game sweep since July 2004. Against one of the National League's top teams, no less.
Instead, they were left bemoaning another one-run loss, their 11th loss in 15 one-run games.
"You go back and look at all of them, and you miss something by inches, or an at-bat, or you make a play," Tracy said. "You just move on. When the sun comes up tomorrow, it's a new day. We have to look at that way. We have to."
One area for optimism of late, apart from the Pirates going 4-4 on the homestand that ended yesterday, has been an offensive resurgence. They scored 24 runs in three games against the Reds and batted .319 on the homestand.
No one has been hotter than Sanchez, whose 3-for-5 output yesterday raised his season average to .346. In 13 games at No. 3 in the order, he is batting .388 with six doubles, a triple, a home run and 14 RBIs.
Asked how he will find room for Sanchez with Wilson rejoining the lineup for the first time since May 6 and Bautista faring well at third, Tracy replied, "It's a nice problem to have."
Bay's bat is alive, too. He went 2 for 5 to extend his hitting streak to 10, and he has 14 RBIs in that time.
That could help explain why he rebuffed a suggestion that the Pirates' brief momentum might have been cut off by yet another narrow loss.
"You know what? They're all tough to take, one-run or not," Bay said. "I like the way we're playing right now. It's definitely a better direction than we were going in a couple weeks ago. I think we still have it."
(Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org