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MIL@PIT: McCutchen scampers home on wild pitch

PITTSBURGH -- When the Pirates arrived home last week boasting a 4-2 record and a pair of road series victories, they were greeted by a city yearning to embrace this 2011 club.

Some had been energized by the hiring of a new manager. Others pointed to the young core as reason to believe. And many saw the quick start as a sign that things were going to be different this year.

With 150 games remaining, it's far too early to draw portentous conclusions. But the Pirates' 1-5 homestand -- which wrapped up with a flat 4-1 loss to the Brewers on Thursday -- was not the first impression needed to sustain what had, just days ago, been palpable excitement and enthusiasm.

"It's frustrating because we know what we can do," Andrew McCutchen said, speaking particularly of the dormant offense. "We know what we're capable of doing. We know we can hit the ball. We know we can score runs. It's just not happening."

After splitting their first two home games of the year, the Pirates dropped the next four. That included losing a pair to Milwaukee in which Pittsburgh didn't score a run until a wild pitch was thrown with two out in the ninth. For that matter, it wasn't until the ninth that a runner advanced as far as third in the series.

"We've got to get going on offense," Ronny Cedeno said. "We get men on base and we're not doing anything. It's frustrating."

John Axford's wild pitch halted the Pirates' scoreless string of innings at 22. This hasn't been a stretch of missed opportunities, either, as the offense simply hasn't given itself much of a chance to even try and stir a rally.

Since the fifth inning of Sunday's game, Pittsburgh has tallied just eight hits. Seven have been singles.

"We need to get a couple of guys hot," said manager Clint Hurdle, who fiddled with his lineup on Thursday, hoping that a different cleanup hitter and an unbalanced number of right-handed hitters atop the batting order would get to Brewers starter Randy Wolf. "We need to get everyone involved to some degree. We've just got some pieces that aren't hot and aren't contributing right now. We haven't been able to connect the dots from top to bottom of the lineup."

Particularly quiet this homestand was the middle of the Pirates' order. Lyle Overbay and Pedro Alvarez, who didn't start on Thursday, each collected three hits. Neil Walker went 4-for-22, while McCutchen had just two knocks in 23 at-bats.

"There's really no explanation for it," McCutchen said. "We're just not getting it done."

Players were hesitant to give much credit to Wolf, fixating instead on their own deficiencies. Regardless of which side was more responsible for Wolf's success, there was no denying his numbers on Thursday.

In 6 2/3 innings, Wolf scattered three hits and struck out 10. Not until the ninth inning -- when the deficit had already stretched to four -- did the Pirates manage to put two runners on base in the same inning. They loaded the bases in that final frame, only to have Josh Rodriguez strike out to end the game, after a wild pitch allowed one to score.

By ending the night 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, the Pirates finished with six hits in 44 such opportunities during the homestand.

"We weren't able to create a big inning, let alone chip away," Hurdle said. "We've just got to find a way to push through it."

Without any support, Paul Maholm was a tough-luck loser once again. The bullpen cost him a win in his season debut, and the offense couldn't save him from a rocky first inning in this one.

Maholm labored through a 28-pitch opening frame. A pair of Brewers runs scored on two hits, two walks and a sacrifice fly. The second of those hits was an RBI single by Prince Fielder, who entered the night 3-for-42 against Maholm.

To Maholm's credit, he responded with six scoreless frames to follow. Milwaukee managed just two hits off of him after the first.

"Maholm settled down and pitched really well and changed speeds," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "He has pitched well for them, and really has had some bad luck."

Maholm also reached a career milestone in the outing. He became the 39th pitcher in club history -- and first since 1993 -- to throw 1,000 innings in a Pirates uniform. Maholm needed to pitch 6 1/3 innings to reach that threshold.

But maybe the best news of the night -- in an odd reversal from last season -- was that the Pirates were headed from the ballpark to the airport following Thursday's game. A seven-game road swing awaits the club, with a four-game series against the Reds in line first.

One year after winning just 17 times away from home, could it be that the Pirates actually welcome the chance to get back on the road again?

"I think everybody is looking forward to going to Cincy to get back on the track we need to be on," Maholm said. "[The] first homestand, everybody is trying to do too much, probably.

"We expect to come in and compete every day. Is it fun this homestand? No. But I can guarantee you that [Friday] we'll get to Cincy and we expect to win it. And that's all you can do. Turn the page."

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