Morton keeps Bucs in game, but bats falter

Morton keeps Bucs in game, but bats falter

Morton keeps Bucs in game, but bats falter
PITTSBURGH -- The Bucs backed another team to the wall Wednesday afternoon at PNC Park. But instead of delivering the finishing blow, they helplessly watched another cornered opponent get over that wall and escape.

Wednesday's matinee culminated in an eighth-inning duel between Mets reliever Bobby Parnell and Andrew McCutchen, who was representing the potential go-ahead run with two outs when he check-swung at strike three, dooming the Bucs to a 3-1 defeat in front of 25,731.

The climax of a quiet early-afternoon of baseball had arrived at the junction for which everyone in Pittsburgh could only hope. Even McCutchen knew that.

"You love for that opportunity to come up and have the right guy up there at the right time," said one of the few Pirates running a temperature that can be classified as truly hot. "It is expected out of me to come through in those key situations."

Parnell was fresh on in relief of left-hander Jon Niese, who'd held the Bucs to five hits for 7 2/3 innings to outduel Charlie Morton, but had left trouble behind. Clint Barmes had begun the eighth with a single and, with two outs, Niese walked the last man he would face, rookie Gorkys Hernandez.

The chance to tie the game turned even better after Parnell's 1-and-1 pitch to McCutchen. It was ball two, but of greater significance was catcher Rob Johnson's attempt to catch Hernandez napping at first. The throw instead caught first baseman Ike Davis napping, and Davis' error moved the runners to second and third.

"Eight out of 10 times, I'm going to come through. But sometimes, not," said McCutchen, who, after consecutive foul balls, couldn't hold up on Parnell's fastball on the outer half of the plate.

"He pitched me a little differently than the last time [Monday night, when Parnell also got him swinging]. That time, he got ahead two strikes and elevated the fastball," McCutchen said. "This time, he stayed away, while also pumping the fastball up a little bit. It's one of those coin flips, and he got me. That's twice he got me. I don't plan on it going that way anymore. When we go to New York, I'll remember it.

"You hate for it to happen, but it happens. Oh, well: You have to shake it off and get ready for Friday, try to win three weekend games against the Cubs."

A shake off was also the only resort for Morton, whose ill-fortune was to start on a day Pittsburgh would lose for the sixth time while allowing three runs or fewer.

Morton thus joined the rank of Pittsburgh pitchers tendering quality starts without a payoff. He allowed three runs along with eight hits in seven innings.

"My job is to go out there and limit the other team from scoring runs. That's how I evaluate my day," said Morton, whose day was quite good.

"His tempo and rhythm was really what we've looked for, in at least a couple of sequences," said manager Clint Hurdle. "He made some positive strides; we put some building blocks in place."

The Bucs thought they had also done that with their stirring 5-4 comeback win in Monday night's series opener. It is both surprising and disappointing that the Pirates haven't been able to generate any momentum off that game, following with two generally flat efforts, against R.A. Dickey, who at least had the track record, and against Niese, who had a 4.85 ERA.

Through 4 2/3 innings, the Pirates' lone hit was an infield single by Yamaico Navarro. He got the hit when, with a runner on first and two outs in the second, shortstop Ronny Cedeno dove to smother his grounder up the middle, but missed the connection with second baseman Daniel Murphy for the force.

"It's location, location, location," said Niese's manager, Terry Collins. "He located his fastball on his outside corner, got him looking out there. That set up the cutter in, and he pitched great."

Barmes got the Pirates' second hit with a two-out single in the fifth, then a combination familiar by now clicked to get them on the board in the sixth. Josh Harrison doubled down the left-field line to begin the inning, and scored on a one-out single by McCutchen. Excluding driving himself in on home runs, five of McCutchen's last six RBIs have been scored by Harrison.

So perhaps that is what was missing in the eighth-inning opportunity: Harrison on base.

Lucas Duda had given the Mets a 1-0 lead in the first with his RBI single, and Morton kept it there until wobbling in the fifth, when Kirk Nieuwenhuis' sacrifice fly and David Wright's run-scoring double tripled the score.

Under ordinary circumstances and for most teams, a 3-0 deficit can be a crack, not a chasm. But these Pirates are exceptional, and not necessarily in a good way. They entered having averaged 2.9 runs per game, and arrived at that figure with consistency, not reaching three runs for the 20th time in 44 games.

Tom Singer is a reporter for 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.