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Reality bites back for beleaguered Buccos

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The 2010 season began at PNC Park with Garrett Jones homering during his first two trips to the plate. In 86 games since, Jones has just nine homers. Pedro Alvarez got his much-anticipated call-up but is striking out in almost half of his at-bats. The bullpen has been brilliant but also badly overworked because the starters have struggled.

It has been that kind of year for the Pirates: teases of potential, tempered by large doses of stark reality.

April 5 — Garrett Jones launches a two-run homer into the Allegheny River in his first at-bat and a solo shot in his next in an 11-5 rout of the Dodgers.

April 9 editor Michael Ozanian reports Bob Nutting might try to sell the Pirates sometime this summer. Nutting retorts: "There is absolutely nothing to this blog rumor."

April 11 — Delwyn Young starts at third base for the first time in his career. He cleanly fields the first ball hit his way, then throws it wildly for an error.

April 11 — The Diamondbacks score 13 runs in the fourth inning of a 15-6 victory. It ties the Pirates' mark for most runs allowed in an inning.

April 12 — Back spasms prevent Ross Ohlendorf from making his second start of the season. He suffers the injury sleeping on a too-soft mattress at the team's posh resort hotel in Arizona.

April 14 — Aubrey Huff, 33, hits his first inside-the-park homer in a 6-0 Giants victory. It is one of three homers served up by Charlie Morton, who slices eight points off his ERA despite yielding six runs in six innings.

April 17 — Jones' RBI single in the ninth produces a 5-4 victory against the Reds. It's the Pirates' second straight walkoff win.

April 20 — After Morton fails to get four outs in an 8-1 loss against the Brewers, GM Neal Huntington says it would be "short-sighted" to send the righty to Triple-A.

April 22 — A 20-0 rout by the Brewers is the Pirates' worst loss in the franchise's 124-year history. The Pirates are outscored, 36-1, and out-hit, 46-18, in the three-game series.

April 24 — Chris Jakubauskas' debut lasts 12 pitches before the righty is struck on the head by Lance Berkman's line drive. Jakubauskas spends the night in the hospital with a concussion, and the Pirates lose their fifth in a row.

April 26 — The Brewers score nine runs in the ninth inning and roll to a 17-3 victory. In back-to-back games against Milwaukee — separated by a series in Houston — the Pirates allow 37 runs.

April 27 — Ryan Doumit's ninth-inning grand slam off Trevor Hoffman lifts the Pirates to a 7-3 win, snapping a 22-game losing streak at Miller Park.

April 28 — Doumit hits a ninth-inning homer off Hoffman for the second game in a row. The Pirates win, 6-5, in 14 innings.

May 1 — After Lastings Milledge and Ronny Cedeno are hit by pitches and Dodgers reliever Ramon Ortiz throws at Andrew McCutchen's head, Pirates starter Zach Duke reacts by ... doing nothing. The lack of retaliation draws the ire of management, fans and media.

May 5 — Morton earns his first win in six starts. The Pirates hit three consecutive doubles in the third inning and Ryan Church, queasy from a stomach virus, homers for the second straight day.

May 6 — Milledge is tagged out on his way to third base after hitting a ball off the wall at PNC Park. Milledge was not running hard because fireworks were mistakenly shot off and he thought he had homered.

May 7 — The Cardinals turn a bizarre 1-5-2 double play when Andy LaRoche and McCutchen both end up on third base. LaRoche is tagged out when, mistakenly believing he already was out, he steps off the bag.

May 10 — On an unseasonably chilly night, 9,045 fans turn up at PNC Park to see the Pirates get five hits in a 2-1 loss to the Reds.

May 11 — On an even wetter, colder night, 9,027 fans turn up at PNC Park to see the Reds' Johnny Cueto toss a one-hitter.

May 14 — McCutchen and Jones go a combined 10 for 11 with two homers and seven RBI in a 10-6 win against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

May 18 — The Pirates edge Roy Halladay and the Phillies, 2-1. It's their first win at Citizens Bank Park since 2008 and wraps up their first winning road trip since 2007.

May 25 — Neil Walker is recalled from Indy when Steve Pearce (sprained ankle) goes on the disabled list. Pearce was injured chasing a wild throw from third baseman Young.

May 27 — Morton gives up seven runs in two innings against the Reds and falls to 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA. Morton insists his shoulder fatigue "is not a big issue."

May 28 — Morton is placed on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder fatigue.

May 31 — Aki Iwamura, batting .172 and making $4.85 million, is benched indefinitely. Walker, drafted as a catcher who moved to third in the minors, becomes the everyday second baseman.

June 1 — Plans to call up top pitching prospect Brad Lincoln are put on hold when lefty Dana Eveland is acquired from Toronto. Huntington says Eveland will "upgrade" the rotation but adds his stuff is "fringe to average." Walker hits his first career homer, a two-run shot in the eighth to upend the Cubs, 3-2, at PNC Park.

June 7 — The Pirates use the second overall pick on fireballer Jameson Taillon, considered the best high school pitcher in the draft.

June 8 — Nationals righty Stephen Strasburg makes his major league debut and racks up a franchise-record 14 strikeouts in a 5-2 victory against the Pirates.

June 9 — Top prospects Brad Lincoln and Jose Tabata make their debuts against the Nats. Lincoln gives up five runs in six innings and gets a no-decision. Tabata goes 2 for 4 but leaves the game with a cramp in his hamstring.

June 10 — Eveland, unable to unseat Jeff Karstens for the No. 5 starter's job, is shifted to a bullpen role.

June 15 — Shortly after a 6-4 loss to the White Sox, the Pirates call up Pedro Alvarez from Triple-A. reports manager John Russell might soon be fired.

June 16 — Iwamura, batting .182, is designated for assignment. Alvarez goes 0 for 2 with a walk in his debut. The Pirates commit six errors, including four in the ninth inning, in a 7-2 loss to the White Sox, stretching their losing streak to 10 games.

June 17 — The Pirates reveal the contracts of Russell and Huntington were extended through 2011. The decision was made in October, but team officials choose to keep it quiet for eight months.

June 19 — The Pirates end a 12-game losing streak with a 6-4 victory against the Indians. Alvarez snaps an 0-for-11 run by getting his first career hit, an RBI double which bounces over the left field wall.

June 22 — Hours after finding out he was selected to play in the All-Star Futures Game, prospect Tony Sanchez is hit in the face by a pitch. He needs surgery to repair a fractured jaw and is out indefinitely.

June 23 — In a 13-3 loss to the Rangers, Paul Maholm becomes the first pitcher in franchise history to work one inning and allow 11 or more baserunners. With nobody interested in Iwamura, he is optioned to Indy and becomes the richest second baseman in the minors.

June 24 — The morning after allowing six runs in 2 23 innings against the Rangers, Eveland is designated for assignment. Eveland put up an 8.38 ERA in three outings with the Pirates.

June 25 — Walker is KO'd in a collision with right fielder Church as they chase a pop-up against the A's. Walker sits out a week with a concussion.

June 27 — With two outs in the eighth inning, catcher Jason Jaramillo drops a pop-up by Oakland's Kurt Suzuki, who makes the most of his second chance by hitting a game-winning homer.

June 28 — Second baseman Bobby Crosby, starting in Walker's place, collides with Milledge as they chase a pop-up against the Cubs. Crosby leaves the game with concussion-like symptoms. The Pirates win, 2-1, snapping a 17-game road losing skid.

July 3 — Morton's rehab assignment ends. He is activated from the DL — and immediately optioned to Triple-A.

July 4 — Alvarez homers for the second straight game, igniting a six-run rally for an 8-5 win against the Phillies. The victory goes to reliever Evan Meek, who earlier in the day was named to the All-Star Game.

July 8 — Walker's two-out single in the first inning is the only hit allowed by Roy Oswalt in the Astros' 2-0 win.

July 9 — Leading, 4-2, in the eighth inning, the Pirates have Jones at second base with two outs. Milledge singles and Jones scores, but the ball nicks the umpire and is ruled dead, so Jones must go back to second. Cedeno then strikes out to end the inning. The lost run looms big when the Brewers rally for a 5-4 victory in 10 innings.

July 11 — Corey Hart rips a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Brewers to a 6-5 victory. The Pirates head into the All-Star break with a 30-58 record. The only team in the majors with a worse record is the Orioles at 29-59.

Quotes of the first half

• "It's early, now. It's one game. Let's not go crazy, but it's a good start for us. If we keep playing good baseball, good things will happen." — Reliever Brendan Donnelly after the Opening Day win against the Dodgers

• "It's something you don't see too much, just the whole lineup hitting the ball. There's not much you can do. Just tip your hat and try to forget about it." — Garrett Jones, after the Brewers scored 20 runs on 25 hits April 22

• "You can't pitch that way when you're not swinging." — John Russell, after the 20-0 loss against Milwaukee

• "That's why baseball is such a beautiful, beautiful sport. You can get absolutely boat-raced one day, then come back the next and put a hurting on the same team. This one feels good." — Ryan Doumit after a 7-3 comeback snaps a 22-game losing skid at Miller Park; the Pirates had lost, 17-3, the day before

• "He told me, 'Papa, you'd better save the game tonight.' So, I got the ball for my son. That's pretty nice." — Octavio Dotel, after saving a game against the Cubs two days after his son Eduardo was born

• "I was just trying to make it through the game and not throw up on TV," — Ryan Church, who played despite a stomach virus May 5 and hit a game-winning homer

• "I looked like an idiot." — Andy LaRoche, after stepping off third base and being tagged out for a 1-5-2 double play May 7 against St. Louis

• "I do now." — Andrew McCutchen, when asked if he likes hitting at Wrigley Field after going 5 for 5 with two RBI and two stolen bases

• "Maybe they should play that more often. Play it every day. I guess it works." — McCutchen, after the PA system at Turner Field played Aerosmith's "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" before an at-bat in which McCutchen homered

• "This goes back to when I was 5 or 6 years old, sitting in peanut heaven at Three Rivers Stadium, watching games. This is a Cinderella story. It's incredible. I'm going to cherish this." — Neil Walker, after hitting his first career homer June 1 at PNC Park

• "I cried a little." — Jose Tabata, describing his emotions when he told his mom he had been called up to the majors.

• "I expect to be in Pittsburgh for a lot of years, and so does Neal." — Russell, after the team revealed his and Huntington's contracts have been extended through 2011

• "There's no way to sugar-coat it or pretend that it's been anything but a simply brutal stretch. I would hope that this is the low point." — Bob Nutting, on the 11-game losing streak in June that dropped the Pirates' record to an NL-worst 23-43

• "It felt like Milledge was wearing shoulder pads and I wasn't wearing a helmet." — Bobby Crosby, who was knocked out of a game after colliding with Milledge as they chased a pop-up

• "It's like the Bermuda Triangle out there." — Russell, after seeing the Walker-Church and Crosby-Milledge collisions in short right field in a four-game span

• "It's amazing to be selected, an overwhelming feeling." — Evan Meek, on being named to the NL squad for the All-Star Game

• "I just got (ticked) off and started throwing." — Paul Maholm, who gave up a two-run homer in the first inning July 9, then allowed just two singles in the next six innings




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