09/07/09 4:37 PM ET
Pirates stand alone in latest loss to Cubs
Club guaranteed record 17th consecutive losing season
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
Sure, the sting from not being able to sustain any momentum from a thrilling walk-off win on Sunday was there. And certainly the mounting frustration of having lost 10 of the last 11 games didn't help the mood. But on the surface, it was essentially just another loss.
From a historical sense, however, this one was vastly different.
Perhaps fitting that it would come on an overcast day and under an ominous sky, Monday's Labor Day defeat sealed another losing season in Pittsburgh. And this one, the franchise's 17th in a row, permanently stamped the Pirates as the only North American professional sports franchise to ever endure that many consecutive losing years.
"None of the guys on this team were here for any of the majority of that. It's just the label we've been given," third baseman Andy LaRoche said. "But it's up to us to apologize to the fans because we're the team that actually broke the record."
LaRoche said that it wasn't until Sunday he realized that the club sat one loss away from such a distinction. That absence of awareness seemed to be the norm. Yes, most players knew that such a streak existed, but it had been anything but a common subject in the clubhouse.
"It's frustrating," said Brandon Moss. "But how many of these players have been here more than three years? We don't think about it."
To answer Moss' question, the answer is four. Only Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Ryan Doumit and Matt Capps started the 2007 season with the Pirates.
"We in the front office own the 17-year losing streak. We are a part of it," general manager Neal Huntington said. "These players, their job is to get better on a nightly basis and to consistently win games. Their job isn't to worry about how we've lost for so many years."
The 16-year losing streak the Pirates had entered the 2009 season with matched that of the 1933-48 Phillies.
"Our great fans deserve to be able to passionately support a winner again," said Pirates president Frank Coonelly. "The fact that they have supported us so well through these last 17 years intensifies our commitment to provide them with that opportunity and to do so as quickly as possible."
It will be Pirates starter Daniel McCutchen who finds his name attached to this historic loss, despite the fact that McCutchen has thrown just 205 pitches in his brief one-week Pirates career. He picked up the loss on Monday in what was his first professional decision.
He admitted afterward that he didn't know this potentially historic day actually fell on Monday until just before he took the mound. And if only it hadn't been for Chicago's Derrek Lee.
The Cubs first baseman saw two pitches from the rookie September callup and sent both over the wall. The first, a fastball, was crushed into the shrubbery out in center for a solo shot. The second, a changeup, was lined just to the inside of the left-field foul pole and into the first row for a two-run blast. The combination of homers gave the Cubs the early 3-0 lead.
"Both of them weren't located where I wanted to pitch them," McCutchen said. "A guy like that, he's the don't-let-him-beat-me guy in the lineup."
To his credit, McCutchen battled and kept Chicago from widening its lead any further. Making his first start at PNC Park, he followed up his six-inning debut with a seven-inning effort against the Cubs. He was charged with four runs on nine hits, but also struck out five.
The only problem was that an offense so enthused one day earlier had little answer against Cubs starter Ted Lilly. Moss' one-out double in the fifth pulled the Pirates to within two of Chicago's lead. LaRoche had taken Lilly deep with his own first-pitch homer back in the third.
"I noticed he was just trying to get me with fastballs to get ahead," said LaRoche, who now has eight homers this year. "I was sitting on something middle in and happened to get it. It felt good to square something up."
Those two hits would be it for Pittsburgh, as three Cubs relievers, including former Pirates pitcher John Grabow, followed Lilly's six-inning start with a perfect inning each. Grabow, along with lefty Tom Gorzelanny and third baseman Aramis Ramirez, had an unusual vantage point for Monday's record-setting defeat as all took paths through Pittsburgh before joining the Cubs.
"If you play for them, you feel sorry for them," said Ramirez, who played in Pittsburgh from 1998 until 2003, when a Trade Deadline deal sent him away. "Since I've been here [with the Cubs], we've been in the playoffs three times, and that's fun. They make you play for something. When you're never in the race -- you're going to have years when you're going to struggle, everybody goes through that -- but 17 years in a row is a long time."
Considering the Cubs hold arguably baseball's most recognized run of futility with a 100-year World Series drought, perhaps there's some irony that the Pirates hit loss No. 82 against the Cubs.
"Teams try, nobody wants to lose," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "I'm sure [the Pirates] in the near future will start winning with more regularity. It'd be great for the National League and it'd be great for the fans here. They have a lot of history here and they've had success in the past to draw on."
That was precisely manager John Russell's message afterward.
"We can't erase it," Russell said of the streak. "We can't say it didn't happen. It did. But our job is to continue to play baseball and to continue to grow for the future."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.