They couldn't out-hit a late (1-hour, 59-minute rain delayed), staggering start by Morton, who lasted only the first four innings of the 8-1 loss to Cincinnati at PNC Park.
The only possibly memorable part of it was the Major League debut of Jordy Mercer, which lasted all of two pitches. As an eighth-inning pinch-hitter, he grounded out on an 0-1 pitch from the Reds' Homer Bailey.
Morton had a couple of relief accomplices as the Bucs' four-game winning streak came to a crashing halt, but he unwittingly set the tone for the late evening.
"He made some mistakes with the breaking ball, and had some sequences that weren't sharp," said manager Clint Hurdle, who appeared concerned about being able to reclaim the righty he saw go through stretches of serious dealing last season. "He doesn't look to me like the same guy."
He didn't look the same to the Reds, either. In 2011, Morton owned Cincinnati, winning all three of his decisions against the Reds with an 0.93 ERA. In contrast, his mound foe stayed true to his history with the Pirates. Bailey brought a lifetime 5-0 record and 1.94 ERA in seven starts against them to work, and put in a complete-game, four-hit shift. Just to be an even bigger nuisance, Bailey also went 2-for-3 with an RBI at bat.
"He's got a good fastball and was throwing it for strikes, particularly Strike 1. He's got a sneaky delivery, and he had good control, especially of his offspeed pitches," Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said after Bailey's second career complete game. The first had also come against the Pirates, a May 12, 2010 shutout at PNC Park.
"We were ahead in a lot of counts," said Bailey. "I thought Devin [catcher Devin Mesoraco] did an excellent job back there. We were pretty much on the same page all night. We threw a lot of strikes, put the ball in play and our defense made a lot of great plays. It's what it takes to go nine innings."
The Pirates could get to Bailey only in the fifth, when they bunched three of their total of four hits, consecutive one-out singles by Matt Hague, Rod Barajas and pinch-hitter Casey McGehee. The run-scoring hit improved McGehee in the pinch to 4-for-8, with a pair of RBIs; Pittsburgh's other pinch-hitters are a combined 5-for-50.
Morton allowed six hits and four runs. The hits off him included three doubles and a triple. Morton failed to register a strikeout for the second time in his last four starts. As a sinkerballer, even at his best he doesn't need swing-and-miss stuff. Still, a mere five strikeouts in the 23 innings of his last four starts could be a red flag for his pitches' lack of movement -- along with the fact only four of his 12 outs Tuesday night came on the ground.
"That can lead to a bit of information," Hurdle said of the lack of strikeouts. "The other thing you look at is ground balls. There weren't many, not like we're used to seeing. The ball was in the air a lot tonight."
Hurdle called out Morton for a lack of aggressiveness, an assessment with which the right-hander agreed. Morton also felt the Cincinnati hitters were poised for his secondary pitches, since he had trouble locating the critical sinker.
However, both pitcher and his manager minimized the effect of the lengthy rain delay, which settled in as Morton was halfway through his original warmups.
"I don't think the double warmup helped, but I'm not sure it hurt," is the way Hurdle put it.
Doug Slaten was the first man out of the Bucs' bullpen, the left-hander working a 1-2-3 fifth in his first Major League appearance since Sept. 27, when he was with the Nationals.
It was a milestone game for Barajas: No. 1,000 behind the plate, the third active catcher into four figures (A.J. Pierzynski 1,474 and Ramon Hernandez 1,414).