Bucs stuck in the clutch vs. Mets
Big hits hard to come by in extra-inning loss
NEW YORK -- The scoring opportunities that the Pirates had against New York ace Johan Santana on Tuesday were dwarfed by the number of chances they'd have against the Mets' bullpen in the final five innings.
As it turned out, however, the Pirates wouldn't get any more runs off the latter than they did the former.
Ten baserunners against six New York relievers in the final 5 1/3 innings amounted to two runs, which ultimately did nothing more than ensure that the Pirates wouldn't lose this one before heading to extra innings.
A 5-4 loss to the Mets off David Wright's walk-off winner in the 11th in front of what remained of 46,982 fans at Shea Stadium would be how this one finished. The defeat would be the fourth in five games for the Pirates, and it would be magnified by the number of missed opportunities the Pirates had against the New York 'pen.
"We had a lot of opportunities to score and just can't get that big hit, especially tonight," Pirates manager John Russell said. "We had plenty of chances and couldn't do anything with it."
Though they managed to muster just two hits -- solo homers from Nate McLouth and Jason Bay -- off Santana, the Pirates' offense did succeed in chasing him from the game 5 2/3 innings into his start when he needed 114 pitches to make it that far.
And with the Mets faithful booing almost every reliever that Mets manager Willie Randolph called into the game, it seemed as if they were already prepared for the bullpen struggles to follow.
The baserunners would be there for the Pirates. Enough runs, however, wouldn't be.
Down, 4-2, the Pirates would twice strand the bases loaded. Another inning would end with a Jose Bautista being thrown out at home plate. Ten would be left on base in all against the New York 'pen.
"Somebody wants to step up and get that big hit and try to do something a little too much," Russell said. "[They] get out of their approach a little bit and try to hit the ball too hard. We've got to continue to press on and emphasize that we have to stay with our approach."
In the sixth, two walks and a hit batter loaded the bases before Adam LaRoche ended the inning with a weak line drive to short.
In the seventh, with runners on the corners and two out, Bautista attempted to score on a pitch that got past Mets catcher Raul Casanova. He was called out by home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt, though replays showed that Bautista appeared to touch the plate before the tag was made.
A bases-loaded walk to LaRoche in the eighth would narrow a two-run deficit to one, though the Pirates let a bases-loaded, one-out situation after that walk go for naught.
They would, however, manage to scrap for one more, a two-out RBI single by Freddy Sanchez off Mets closer Billy Wagner in the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
As the Pirates offense labored to move runners around the bases, their bullpen continued to throw up zeros. When starter Ian Snell was pulled after 4 1/3 innings, four Pittsburgh relievers combined to pitch 5 2/3 innings.
However, that scoreless run by the 'pen would end in the 11th.
After giving up a leadoff single to Endy Chavez, John Van Benschoten was called for a balk with Marlon Anderson at the plate. The second-base umpire ruled that Van Benschoten, who was making his first Major League appearance of the season, flinched his knees while on the pitching rubber, stopped and then stepped off.
"I didn't know what went on," Van Benschoten said afterward. "I thought I stepped off. It's just a tough call."
It wouldn't be the only tough call he'd have.
Chavez advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, before Van Benschoten followed with an intentional walk. Pitching to Luis Castillo with one out, twice Van Benschoten felt he had Castillo on a called strike three. Wendelstedt, however, never flinched to make the call.
"I thought I had him," said Van Benschoten, who had been with the team since Sunday. "It's tough to swallow. We'd probably still be playing if things would have gone an inch or two to the left."
Wright followed by slicing the first pitch he saw from Van Benschoten into the right-field corner. It stayed just fair and gave the Mets the walk-off win.
Afterward, however, Snell wouldn't let anyone shoulder the blame -- not the offense for missed opportunities, not Van Benschoten for the eventual loss.
"I was out of control," Snell said. "I don't blame nobody but myself. I feel like I let the team down."
He watched a 2-0 Pittsburgh lead disappear in the fourth, when Ryan Church took him deep for a two-run shot. He'd give up two more in the fifth, the second when Sanchez muffed a potential inning-ending, double-play feed from shortstop Chris Gomez.
"I tried to bring it back and get too much on my throw rather than just catch it and throw it," Sanchez said. "I have to be able to make that play."
As has been the case for much of April, it didn't look like the Snell that the Pirates watched last year. The right-hander admitted to rushing himself and trying to forcibly locate pitches rather than just let loose and throw.
Snell's outing was the shortest since last July, when, also at Shea Stadium, the righty exited after four innings of work. And even though he's struggled with his command throughout his six starts this year, Tuesday's outing marked the first time the righty was unable to finish six innings in a start.
"I just don't feel like I'm in it right now," Snell said. "I'm just not concentrating enough. I'm not doing my job. I've just got to get back to my original self and stop trying to be something that I'm not."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.