Opportunity knocks, Bucs fail to answer
Prior to a seven-game homestand that concluded Monday afternoon with a crushing 5-4 loss in 11 innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Pirates were riding a wave of optimism previously unseen this season.
They had won 11 of 17 games. They were 17-14 at PNC Park, where they would face two struggling clubs (Minnesota and Arizona) and a St. Louis squad that was missing reigning league MVP Albert Pujols.
Essentially, these seven games were going to make or break the Pirates' chances to post a respectable record.
Seven winnable games later (five losses on this homestand were by two runs or less), the Pirates are once again a season-worst 19 games below .500 at 26-45.
That wave of optimism is gone following a loss yesterday in which they couldn't score a run in the ninth, despite having the bases loaded with no outs, or in the 10th with a runner at third and one out.
The Pirates needed a clutch fly ball -- not a hit -- to salvage the final game of this disastrous homestand, and they couldn't even manage that.
"This is probably the most difficult (loss) because we had so many chances to win this game," said Jason Bay, who was walked intentionally to load the bases in the ninth, with Jack Wilson representing the winning run at third.
"We were playing really well before this stretch. We were holding onto leads, closing out games and getting big hits when we needed them. All of that kind of disappeared when we got home."
The Pirates go on the road for three-game series against the Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers. The former is baseball's worst team. The latter is the previous baseball home for manager Jim Tracy, who no doubt had a hard time sleeping last night following the team's flight to Kansas City.
"It's tough to think about losing a game like that when you have a club on the ropes like we had (Arizona) on the ropes," Tracy said. "There were way too many chances for us not to win that game. It's hard to believe we didn't get it done."
With Wilson, Sean Casey and Bay on the base paths and no outs in the ninth, Arizona relief pitcher Greg Aquino fanned Jeromy Burnitz, Freddy Sanchez and Jose Castillo on 13 pitches -- most of them sliders, according to Aquino.
In the 10th, rookie catcher Ronny Paulino doubled and was at third with one out, but Aquino forced Jose Bautista to pop out and then induced Wilson into a ground ball that ended the threat.
"That's a tough loss," Burnitz said. "We had so many opportunities to get something done, and we didn't. It's really disappointing, but we've been through this before."
Not coming up with the necessary big play late in the game is fast becoming a sorry hallmark for this club.
Starter Zach Duke looked to be on his game early, but he allowed four runs in the fourth when his mechanics betrayed him. Duke lasted just five innings -- only the third time this season he has failed to work at least six.