Pittsburgh Pirates take record plunge

Bad call in Atlanta win started 10-game decline

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PITTSBURGH --- As the botched plays, bad losses and loud boos at PNC Park mounted in recent days, Clint Hurdle and the Pittsburgh Pirates stood firm in reciting a familiar refrain.

Pittsburgh's Kevin Correia was tagged for four earned runs in 5w innings on Sunday as the Pirates dropped their 10th in a row.   Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Pittsburgh's Kevin Correia was tagged for four earned runs in 5w innings on Sunday as the Pirates dropped their 10th in a row.

Over the course of a 162-game season, they rationalized, every club eventually endures a slump, a stretch of poor play, a losing streak.

"We know there's no reason to panic," outfielder Garrett Jones said, "because even the best teams have rough patches like this."

But not one this costly this quickly in major league history.

Leading the NL Central on July 25, the Pirates lost the next day when plate umpire Jerry Meals admittedly made the wrong call in the 19th inning at Atlanta. By Sunday night, Pittsburgh had lost 10 in a row and suddenly found itself trailing by 10 games.

Never before had a first-place team plunged 10 games back in a 13-day span, STATS LLC said.

Coming off the worst homestand in their 125-year existence, the Pirates hoped to end their skid Monday night at the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

"To go from in the hunt to out of the hunt in 10 games like this, it's bad," infielder Brandon Wood said after Sunday's 7-3 loss to San Diego, finishing an 0-7 week at home.

"It's amazing how quick things can change. But on the other hand, they can change that quick in the other direction as well," he said.

Look at the Red Sox, the Pirates say, who started 0-6 and now have the best record in the American League. Or the Brewers, who have gone on 0-7 and 1-7 runs but still lead the NL Central.

The Pirates had better start heading the other direction soon if they are to salvage a season that so surprisingly was filled with such promise before the bottom fell out.

A year after losing 105 games for their North American major professional sports record 18th consecutive losing season, these Pirates peaked at 51-44 and were five games over .500 in July for the first time since 1992 when the trouble began with that 4-3 loss to the Braves.

Pittsburgh's players had woke up that morning knowing they were on a team tied for first place, poised to be buyers at the trading deadline for the first time in 14 years and having captivated a long-dormant fan base back home.

Less than two weeks later, having acquired Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick for a possible playoff push, the Pirates were 54-59 and seemingly spiraling toward yet another sub-.500 campaign. They had been outscored 82-37 during the 10-game skid and dropped 12 of 13 since peaking.

An embarrassing sweep at the hands of the last-place Padres -- the lowest-scoring team in the NL, they put a team-record 35 runs in a three-game series -- followed sweeps at Philadelphia and at home against the Chicago Cubs.

The sellout crowds that had been drawn in by the strong play of the Pirates in June and the first three weeks of July were booing during losses of 15-5 and 13-2 on Friday and Saturday.

Hurdle, in his first year of managing the Pirates, understood the fans' reaction.

"If you've ever been involved in sports at any level, you've been involved in a situation where you don't win," he said. "When you do well, people cheer. When you don't do well, people can boo. That's always part of it."

It isn't getting easier for the Pirates, who are 0-7 since getting Lee and Ludwick. Next up are games at San Francisco and at the division-leading Brewers, whose 11-1 run has coincided with the Pirates' skid and been equally responsible for Pittsburgh's historic drop in the standings.


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