Bucs blow another lead
Reggie Sanders brought the candles, but his efforts failed to light a fire under the Pirates on Saturday night.
On a day when Sanders tried to brighten the mood by lighting candles in the clubhouse, the bullpen blew another lead and the Pirates lost their fourth consecutive game, a 4-3 decision to the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park.
Shawn Green’s homer off Scott Sauerbeck (0-2) with two outs in the eighth inning broke a 3-3 tie as the Dodgers rallied from a 3-0 deficit.
The Pirates bullpen, the backbone of the team last season, blew a lead for the third time in four games, this one coming 24 hours after a 2-0 ninth-inning lead was squandered.
“We haven’t performed well on all fronts,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “This has been a tough stretch. Hopefully, it will build character and help us down the road. I think it will.”
In addition to the game, the Pirates lost center fielder Kenny Lofton to a left quad injury. He exited in the bottom of the fifth because of tightness in the muscle and is day-to-day.
Wasted was another strong pitching performance. Salomon Torres, making his first start in place of an injured Josh Fogg, opened with four perfect innings. But the Dodgers scratched out a run in the fifth and two in the sixth, tying the score on Adrian Beltre’s two-out, two-run single off Joe Beimel.
“I feel bad for Salomon because he pitched a great game,” Beimel said. “If I do what I’m supposed to do, chances are we win this game.”
Hideo Nomo (3-3) gave up five hits and three innings for the win. Sauerbeck (0-2) took the loss.
The Pirates had two runners aboard with nobody out in the ninth, but Eric Gagne retired the next three batters for his seventh save.
“We can’t allow guys to get down and start looking for excuses,” McClendon said. “If we do, the Dodgers will be out there looking to kick our butts (today). We have to be ready to go.”
Sensing that the Pirates needed a pick-me-up after the 5-2 loss Friday, Sanders bought white candles and strategically placed nine of them throughout the clubhouse. He also placed one in McClendon’s office.
“White is the sign of a new beginning,” Sanders said.
Sanders also dimmed the lights in the clubhouse to better capture the mood. His goal was to purify the clubhouse and “get the demons out.”
“I want to get a calm atmosphere,” Sanders said. “Change things up and relax. I want this to feel like home. No thinking about the other crap.”
Sanders burns candles at home but this was the first time he ever brought some to the ballpark.
“It smells good,” McClendon said before the game. “I hope it works.”
It did for four innings as the Pirates took a 3-0 lead on Jack Wilson’s two-run triple in the third and Matt Stairs’ RBI double in the fourth.
Torres, meanwhile, retired the first 12 batters, losing his perfect game when Fred McGriff opened the fifth by beating out a chopper to third. Beltre followed with a line drive off the right-field wall that put runners on second and third. McGriff scored on Todd Hundley’s grounder to short to trim the Pirates’ lead to 3-1.
The only other hit Torres permitted was Alex Cora’s leadoff single in the sixth. After Cesar Izturis’ grounder moved Cora into scoring position, McClendon went with the early hook. With three left-handed hitters scheduled among the next four batters, McClendon opted to bring in the left-handed Beimel.
“He hit a wall. He was done,” McClendon said about Torres, whose 77 pitches were 24 more than he had thrown in his five-inning relief stint last Sunday. “My pitching coach felt it was best to get him out of there.”
Beimel complicated the situation by hitting Green with an 0-2 pitch. McGriff grounded to second, putting runners on second and third. With first base open, Beimel could have walked Beltre, but McClendon thought the Dodgers would have pinch-hit Brian Jordan for Daryle Ward.
Beltre singled to right-center to tie the score.
After Beimel pitched a perfect seventh, the Dodgers took the lead with two outs in the eighth. Green lined Sauerbeck’s 2-1 pitch a few rows into the right-field seats above the Clemente Wall.
“Every night we go out there, there’s no room for error,” Sauerbeck said. “That’s mentally taxing more than anything else. But none of us are scared to take the ball. We’re just not getting the results.”