The Pittsburgh Pirates‘ not-so-magic number is zero, or the number of winning teams they’ve had during a record-setting run of futility over 17 forgettable seasons.
The Chicago Cubs assured the Pirates of an unwanted place in baseball’s record book, getting two homers from Derrek Lee and an effective start from Ted Lilly while beating the last-place Pirates 4-2 on Monday.
“We can’t ignore it and say it didn’t happen,” said manager John Russell, whose team was dismantled by the trading of five everyday players since opening day. “We’re not accepting it. We’re making moves to make sure we build a championship team, and we want that to happen as soon as possible.”
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The present-day Pirates (54-82) are a mix of prospects and lower-paid players, and most were oblivious to the significance of the loss. Rookie starting pitcher Daniel McCutchen (0-1) didn’t realize his first career loss would be the Pirates‘ 1,501st since the streak began, the season after former Pirates star Barry Bonds left to sign with the Giants.
In the opposing dugout, the Cubs‘ Lou Piniella remembered managing in Cincinnati against Bonds-led Pirates teams that averaged 96 wins from 1990-92.
“There isn’t any team that wants to lose,” said Piniella, whose own team hasn’t won the World Series since 1908. “Some are a little more fortunate, some have more money to spend, some of them draft better players. But I’m sure this organization in the near future will start winning with more regularity. It would be great for the National League and the fans here, they’ve had a lot of history here and success in the past to draw on.”
No recent success, for sure. The Pirates have been in a rebuilding mode under three owners, four general managers and six managers since the streak began, but no team finished better than four games under .500.
Fittingly, the song “Money for Nothing” was played during one inning break, which befits a team that has spent about a half billion dollars on salaries since 1993 yet has fielded only one team that went into September with an opportunity to win a division title.
Given that the Pirates‘ top talent is mostly in the minor leagues, it’s conceivable the streak won’t end in the next year or two.
“Setting a major league mark for losing hurts and it hits particularly hard for us because everyone in this organization is extraordinarily proud to be a part of a franchise that has such a long and rich history of winning,” team president Frank Coonelly said.
A franchise that won five World Series from 1909-79 and sent 13 players to the Hall of Fame did not publicly mention the dubious record, and there were few eyewitnesses – 14,673 – on a drizzly Labor Day. The loss was the Pirates‘ 24th in their last 30 games against the Cubs, one of the majors’ most disappointing teams this season.
Except against the Pirates, who are 2-7 against the Cubs.
Lee hit his 30th homer into the center field shrubbery with two out in the first, then hit his 31st into the front row of the left-field bleachers two innings later after Ryan Theriot‘s two-out single. It was Lee’s second multiple-homer game in three days and the 22nd of his career.
“It’s been a good few days,” Lee said. “I definitely have been feeling good at the plate. It seems when I get a pitch, it’s been going out of the ballpark.”
McCutchen has allowed three homers since being promoted to the majors on Aug. 31, each on a first pitch.
Lilly (11-8) needed 86 pitches over six innings to win for the first time in his last six road starts, with the left-hander and relievers John Grabow, Angel Guzman and Carlos Marmol combining on a two-hitter. Lilly gave up both hits, struck out seven and walked one.
Marmol pitched the ninth for his 10th save in 14 opportunities.
Andy LaRoche hit his eighth homer in the third and Brandon Moss doubled in a run in the fifth, but they couldn’t prevent the Pirates from being mathematically eliminated in the NL Central race.
McCutchen (0-1) gave up nine hits and four runs in seven innings. … Chicago recalled right-hander Jeff Stevens from Triple-A Iowa for the fourth time this season. He has a 7.36 ERA in six games. … Chicago won for only the fourth time in its last 13 road games.