Zach Duke deserved better. He pitched into the eighth, giving up two tainted runs, and then JR blew it by bringing in Matt Capps. No matter what reasoning he gives in the post-game interview, he had to show some trust in Duke at that point, and didn't.
And Capps made him pay for the quick hook.
With a runner on first and one out, he pumped a 94 MPH heater down the middle to pinch hitter Skip Schumaker, who deposited it in the right field stands. Yah, the same Schumaker with 15 career dingers and four so far this season.
Then Capps plunked Albert Pujols in the ribs with a 95 mile-per-hour fast ball, earning a glare from the Card's big guy, and was promptly ejected by plate umpire Mike Estabrook after his target practice.
If he did hit him on purpose, it was pointless and self-defeating, with the Bucs being behind by just a 4-3 count at that point. And why drill Pujols anyway? He didn't hit the homer, or throw the watermelon to Schumaker. But we suspect that Capps just misfired, an everyday occurrence for Bucco relievers.
Still, it brought on Jesse Chavez, who had no chance to loosen up, and the results - as they've been for the past week - were entirely predictable. By the time the smoke cleared, it was 7-3, as the bullpen continued to pour jet fuel on opponents' embers.
Duke was outstanding. He gave up seven hits, and most were off-the-end-of-the-bat lobs or ground balls with eyes. He gave up a run in the fourth when a pickoff throw went into right field, advancing the runner to third, where he scored on a sac fly.
The Zachster gave up another in the seventh when he picked off Matt Holliday, who was on his way to second. But Steve Pearce couldn't get his throw on line, and Holliday ended up at third, where a single knocked him in.
In the eighth, Duke surrendered a dink single to Mark DeRosa, and followed with a forceout. Then Captain Hook made his way to the mound, and the party was over.
Duke had thrown 97 pitches to that point, and hadn't really struggled, but JR - and we'll give him some credit for thinking out of the box by bringing Capps in the eighth - had seen enough. Have a little faith, skipper, before you lose your staff.
And give Joel Pineiro some credit, too. He was being lit up in the early innings, saved only by a pair of DP balls, and by the fourth, every Pirate position player had a hit.
But that's the inning he wised up; he changed his pitch selection from fastballs to sliders, and the off speed stuff worked its magic on the Bucco bats once again. They didn't have another hit until the seventh. The Pirates got a lead off double that frame, and had runners on first and second with no outs in the eighth. They didn't score.
Ah well, eight in a row at home; the PNC record losing streak is 10, from back in 2005. It's probably a good thing they're going on the road; maybe they can get a fresh start on Tuesday. They're going about as far away as they can, to Colorado. The pitching matchups, from MLB.com, are here.
-- One quiet stat from the series: Tony LaRussa knows his match-ups. He used five pinch hitters in the three games, and they went 4-for-5 with a homer, two doubles, 3 RBI and 3 runs scored.
-- The signing of Zach Von Rosenberg, expected Monday, brings the player total inked this draft to 21, and all of their top nine picks. The Pirates still have about $2M left in the draft budget, and hope to sign 1-3 more players before the August 17th deadline.