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Bucs fall to first-place Cubs |

Bucs fall to first-place Cubs

| Saturday, April 19, 2003 12:00 a.m

Fed up after another embarassing defeat — this one a 7-2 snorefest against the Chicago Cubs — the Pirates called a players-only meeting Friday night.

“You’ve got to have meetings like this after you start out so well then lose three or four series in a row,” shortstop Jack Wilson said. “You’ve got to start talking about it and see what’s going on.”

Several players characterized the closed-door confab as being positive, with no bickering or finger-pointing.

“It was well-timed,” pitcher Kris Benson said. “The veteran players did a good job of picking up on what’s going on. It was time for us to get a little camaraderie going, so we don’t spiral downward.”

Manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t attend the 20-minute meeting, but he was happy to see it happen.

“It’s good to see that your players care,” McClendon said. “They’re very disappointed in their performance of late. I’m sure there’ll be a positive spinoff as a result of (the meeting).”

The Pirates managed just two hits against Matt Clement and two Cubs relievers. The loss dropped the Pirates (8-8) to the .500 mark for the first time this season.

They have lost five of their past six games, while the first-place Cubs have strung together their first four-game winning streak of the year.

Benson (2-2) labored in the first inning — tossing 35 pitches and making an errant pickoff throw — as the Cubs built a 4-0 lead.

“It wasn’t the way I wanted to start off the game, especially with us needing a little lift,” Benson said. “I put us in a hole.”

Mark Grudzielanek led off with a single to center field, and went to third when Benson’s pickoff attempt zipped past first baseman Matt Stairs. It was the Pirates’ 20th error in 16 games this season.

Alex Gonzalez followed with a soft single into shallow right, scoring Grudzielanek.

Sammy Sosa lined a short single to left. Moises Alou walked on four pitches, loading the bases. McClendon quickly went out talk with Benson.

“I thought he was overthrowing, maybe he was too charged up,” McClendon said. “He was missing his spots. It took a while for him to get going.”

Hee Seop Choi fouled off four pitches, then drilled a full-count fastball to the wall in right-center. Gonzalez and Sosa scored on the double.

The Pirates pulled the infield in against Corey Patterson, but it made no difference. Patterson flew out to left, plating Alou.

Benson allowed just three hits — all singles — after that. He went seven innings and allowed seven hits, walked four and struck out four.

The first six pitches right-hander Clement (2-1) threw all were balls. But he recovered nicely and stymied the Pirates for seven innings.

“You could see by the look in his eyes that he really wanted this one,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “It seemed like once he got tired, something kicked in. From about the third or fourth inning on, his ball was moving all over the place”

Clement, a Butler native, finished fourth in the National League last season with 215 strikeouts. He whiffed 10, two shy of his career high, last night. It was the eighth time in his career that he reached double digits in strikeouts.

“I really like pitching in this park, but I can’t say it’s because I’m in my hometown , ” said Clement, who wore an “Oakland Zoo” Pitt basketball t-shirt under his jersey. “I had some pretty terrible times in Three Rivers Stadium.

“I’ll make 30-35 starts this season, and this one isn’t any different. I guess the only different thing is I get to drive down I-279 to the park and see all the familiar sights of home.”

The Pirates got their lone run in the second. Reggie Sanders led off with a double into the left-field corner. With two out, Jack Wilson singled up the middle.

Matt Stairs and Sanders were aboard with one out in the sixth. But Clement fanned Rob Mackowiak and Pokey Reese.

“We’re just not hitting,” McClendon said. “It’s that simple. It has nothing to do with effort. Guys are trying, maybe trying too hard. But we’ll get over this.”

The Cubs tacked on three runs in the ninth against Julian Tavarez. A little more than a year ago, in a multi-player deal with the Florida Marlins, the Cubs dumped Tavarez and acquired Clement.

Sanders hit a solo homer leading off the ninth against Joe Borowski.

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