07/29/09 2:50 AM ET
Morton takes hard-luck loss to Giants
Pirates strand 11 runners as clutch hits prove elusive
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
Tuesday night's pitchers' duel essentially came down to two battles between Pirates starter Charlie Morton and Giants second baseman Eugenio Velez. And with Velez getting the better of Morton in both, it was enough to send the Pirates reeling to a fourth straight loss, this one 3-2 in front of 35,972 fans at AT&T Park.
It's no surprise that pitching has driven the Giants against Pittsburgh, as San Francisco did enter the night leading the National League with a 3.59 ERA. But the Pirates, ranked 11th in the league with a 4.36 mark before Tuesday's contest, have responded with some solid pitching of their own.
The two teams have faced each other five times now in the last 12 days and have scored only 23 runs combined. Three of the games have been determined by one run. The other two have ended with a two-run difference.
Still, despite holding their own against the league's best staff, the Pirates were in no pat-on-the-back type of mood after Tuesday's latest defeat.
"It's unbelievable," said third baseman Andy LaRoche, who stranded the bases loaded in the third. "It seems like we hadn't been getting a lot of runners in scoring position and the one or two times we come through, it just seems like we can't come through. We're not producing near like we're capable of."
In suffering their fourth one-run loss in their last 15 games, the Pirates are now 7-16 this season in one-run affairs.
"Right now, we really don't have enough offense to where we can get over that hump," manager John Russell said. "The guys played tough and never give in. We give ourselves an opportunity, but we always fall just a little bit short."
A team that has been recently offensively challenged managed to get a run early against Giants starter Barry Zito, who entered the game winless in three career starts against Pittsburgh. Delwyn Young's RBI single, which dropped just inside the right-field foul line, drove home Andrew McCutchen, who led off the game with a double.
That run snapped a streak of 28 straight innings in which the Pirates had not scored an earned run.
But falling into much the same pattern as they have all month, the offense otherwise was unable to do take advantage of run-scoring opportunities. And they had plenty, evidenced by the 10 total hits and 11 runners left on base at the end of the night.
"When you struggle offensively, that's going to happen to you," Russell said of the missed opportunities. "You just can't get over that hump of stringing together hits and keeping it going."
The Pirates have hit just .228 as a team this month, the second-worst batting average in the NL. Pittsburgh has also now scored two or fewer runs in seven of 12 games since the All-Star break.
"We've got to be more consistent, [have] a more consistent approach at the plate," LaRoche said. "We have to go up there ready to attack. Whatever we're doing right now isn't working."
The Pirates' inability to produce offensively kept Morton from being able to pick up his third win despite making his second quality start against the Giants in the last 10 days. And afterward, he'd be left frustrated by two sources: Velez and his own bunting.
Fresh off a callup from Triple-A on Monday, Velez drove in the first two San Francisco runs. He tied up the game with one swing of his bat in the second when he took Morton deep with a two-out homer.
"It was a 2-0 sinker," Morton said of the two-seam pitch to Velez, "that just didn't sink."
Velez then broke the 1-1 tie with a one-out double in the sixth. His second hit of the night drove in outfielder Fred Lewis, who had singled and swiped second earlier in the inning.
"Velez was a thorn in my side tonight," Morton added. "I just didn't get him out."
Those were the only two runs allowed by Morton, who took the tough-luck loss despite pitching six strong innings. Though he walked three and allowed six hits in the loss, Morton did use his fastball more aggressively -- and successfully -- than he had in his last start. He also had the Giants fooled at a number of different points, getting a handful of checked-swing called third strikes.
"I thought he threw the ball very well," Russell said. "He had good velocity, mixed speeds very well."
Where Morton wasn't successful, though, was at the plate. With a chance to advance a runner to second with one out in the fourth, Morton couldn't get the sacrifice bunt down. He didn't again in the sixth with two runners on.
All three of those runners ended up being stranded.
"I was just as disappointed with that as I was with my pitching," Morton said. "I just didn't get my job done."
When Morton exited, the Giants tacked on an insurance run in the seventh with Pablo Sandoval's RBI single off reliever Jesse Chavez.
It proved to be critical, as the Pirates scored their own run in the eighth when LaRoche led off the inning with a double and came home on Luis Cruz's sacrifice fly.
Cruz's 2-for-3 night with one RBI was one bright spot in the evening, as the utility player took advantage of the opportunity to make his first start of the season.
"I've been working hard trying to do my best to help the team," Cruz said. "They gave me the chance to play and show that I can help the team win."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.