PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates had looked forward to the Longest Homestand of the Longest Season as a means to shortening their playoff odds. Instead, it has turned into the longest test of their mettle and resilience.With Kevin Correia losing his charm even before he lost his stuff and Chad Billingsley compounding matters by throwing eight shutout innings, the Bucs fell to the Dodgers, 11-0, Tuesday night. Manager Clint Hurdle assessed the damage -- two physical errors, more mental blunders, 0-for-7 with men in scoring position, five more runs off his once-unyielding bullpen -- and declared, "We've got it hard now." The Pirates lost ground to the Reds in the National League Central, their deficit now at six games, while the third-place Cardinals moved within a game of the Bucs.
"This is our worst patch. We know what we're dealing with," Hurdle added. "We have to find a way to turn it around. You have to embrace the hard, figure it out. We've got to play better. That's it."Andrew McCutchen was ready. "We're still right where we need to be," the Majors' leading hitter said after his third hitless game in the last five. "We're still fighting. We'll show up tomorrow and get ready to win. We have to keep playing like we're the team everyone is still scared to play against." Correia (9-7) endured his first loss since June 13, a career-long seven-game winning streak ending on a night that bore a bleak resemblance to all the other nights of this homestand. With two more games to go against Los Angeles, the Pirates fell to 3-6 on a PNC Park stand they had begun with the Major Leagues' top home record, and a fifth loss in the last six games has them scrambling to recapture the momentum and the magic that for two months had begun to capture the nation's attention. The Dodgers haven't seen any of that magic yet. Including a series sweep in Los Angeles during the first week of the season, they have taken the Pirates five straight, games in which they have defused the Bucs' few offensive opportunities by holding them to two hits in 28 at-bats with men in scoring position. "Billingsley shut us down. The opportunities we had, we weren't able to capitalize on," Hurdle said. "They got the start they needed from him. Kevin ... his line is hard to read." Putting an end to the recent early-game shenanigans, Correia became the first Pittsburgh starter to retire his first six men since July 31, when A.J. Burnett started off his one-hitter in Chicago with 11 straight outs. When he did surrender his first hit, to Luis Cruz leading off the third, the fundamental Dodgers turned it into a run. A.J. Ellis followed Cruz's single by drawing a walk, and both runners moved up on Billingsley's sacrifice bunt before Shane Victorino's grounder to second sent Cruz home. That was merely a prelude to a lunatic fourth. For skeptics looking for signs that the thin ice under the Pirates is beginning to crack, there were omens all over the place. Before Cruz lined a legitimate two-run single to left-center to open up a 4-0 lead, the Dodgers had already scored one run and set the table for more on a judgment error and three infield grounders that traveled a combined total of 180 feet. Matt Kemp began the frame with a single, then Andre Ethier hit a grounder into his path and to second baseman Neil Walker. As he has done whenever such an opportunity presented itself, Walker intended to tag Kemp then toss to first for a double play. However, when he collided with the runner, the ball squirted out from its secure seat in his glove pocket. Second-base umpire Angel Campos ruled Kemp safe. "No forced contact," Hurdle, who went out to argue the call, relayed the arbiter's interpretation. "Walker fielded the ball, went to make the tag, the runner was holding his line to get to the base, the tag went on him and the ball was dropped. Walker wasn't taking the ball out ... I tried every defense I could out there." Hanley Ramirez followed by topping a ball that simply stopped on the edge of the grass about 20 feet up the third-base line, which loaded the bases and did not make any of the Pirates feel any better. On his way back to the mound, Correia's lips curled in one of those involuntary what-are-you-gonna-do smiles. "At that point, what can you do? You can't stand out there and feel sorry for yourself," Correia said after the game. "No one's going to get the outs for you. You're gonna be just standing out there for a while if you're waiting for that to happen." James Loney's simple grounder to first scored one runner and advanced the two others, who were soon rambling home on Cruz's single. The Dodgers further propped up Billingsley's cushion in the sixth, adding a pair of runs on another RBI single by Cruz and Ellis' sacrifice fly. That was the final frame for Correia, who in six innings allowed seven hits and six runs (five earned) while walking one and striking out three. A bleak game got plain ugly in the ninth, when the Dodgers added five runs on a run-scoring single by Kemp and a two-run single by Ethier off Chad Qualls, and a two-run double by Ramirez off Chris Resop that set the final damage.
Cruz's three RBIs, incidentally, were one more than he had gotten in 70 at-bats while playing some shortstop for the 2009 Pirates."Just a weird game," Correia summed up, getting no argument from anyone witness to it.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.