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Pirates' June swoon has been brutal this year

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Pirates have faced periods packed with more heartbreak, confusion and frustration than their great June Swoon of 2010.

But not many.

This month began on a wildly positive note, when Neil Walker clubbed his first career homer to complete a 3-2 comeback against the Cubs. With the Pirates "only" nine games under .500 and in fourth place in the NL Central, it was part of what I suppose you can call the good old days of the 2010 season.

One week later, the Pirates had begun free-falling into what would become a 12-game losing streak. Today, with four games to play in June, they are beyond hope of reaching .500, let alone contending in the division.

There have been plenty of low points along the way. The Pirates ramped up the Stephen Strasburg hype machine -- who knew that was possible• -- by whiffing 14 times in his debut. The Aki Iwamura Experiment ended badly. The Dana Eveland Experiment ended badly.

There was Contractgate, as team prez Frank Coonelly finally was forced to admit that he'd re-upped GM Neal Huntington and manager John Russell in October, then chose not to tell anyone. The team deservedly took a big credibility hit among local media and fans.

Tony Sanchez broke his jaw. Zach Duke went on the DL. Paul Maholm was flat-out humbled by the Rangers. There has been finger-pointing in the clubhouse, shouting matches in the dugout and dazed expressions on the field.

"It hasn't been a very kind month to us," Russell said. "Usually, when you face your worst adversity, that's when you grow the most. I hope we've hit the bottom and are heading back up."

It would be easy to look at the follies of the past three weeks, laugh and say things are never going to change. But, even among that mess, there have been tangible reasons for hope.

Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez arrived and will play every day. Despite long odds, Walker has won a starting job at second base. The Pirates selected what might be the two top arms in the draft. (Of course, the challenge now is getting those pitchers to sign before the Aug. 16 deadline.)

Two or three years from now, June 2010 could be remembered as just another in a long series of losing, laughable months.

Or it could be recalled as the time when things finally began to change.

"Everyone can kind of take a little breath," Russell said. "It's a clean start. We want to push everything behind us -- not forget about it, obviously, but build off it."




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