SAN FRANCISCO -- The dash was of the mad variety.
Kevin Newman tapped a grounder to the infield’s right side. Giants ace Logan Webb was the only defender who could make this play. Newman sprinted up the line. Webb scampered toward the ball. The two converged at first base. Newman dove. Webb dove. The latter beat the former. Webb, lying on his stomach, looked up at Newman. He gave him a courtesy tap, as if to say, “I got you.”
The sequence was one of several that was emblematic of the Pirates’ 2-0 loss to the Giants on Saturday night at Oracle Park, a night during which they went hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. Webb, yes, shoved. The budding star held Pittsburgh scoreless across eight innings. But the Pirates’ shortcomings extend beyond the confines of just one game.
“It's obviously tough,” Newman said. “Those are times when you want to come through. You want to put runs up on the board. Again, sometimes you've got to tip your cap to the guy. [Webb] pitched a heck of a game. Tip the cap to him.”
As things stand, the Pirates are batting .208 with runners in scoring position this season. If that stands, the team will own the fifth-worst batting average in that situation in NL/AL history (since 1901). That mark would also be the worst in franchise history. This trend won’t change in one night. This trend also won’t change with nights like tonight.
The Pirates certainly had their chances.
In the third inning, Rodolfo Castro, who had two of Pittsburgh’s five hits, pulled a leadoff double down the first-base line. The subsequent three hitters didn’t just fail to drive in Castro, but failed to even advance him to third base. An early chance to strike was squandered.
Pittsburgh did not put another runner in scoring position until the eighth inning, the frame in which the offense finally managed to slow Webb’s uptempo pace. In this penultimate inning, the Pirates, again, had an opportunity.
Tucupita Marcano doubled down the left-field line. Josh VanMeter drew a pinch-hit walk. Newman lined out, but Bryan Reynolds walked, too, loading the bases for Ben Gamel. On a 1-2 changeup, Webb’s 99th pitch of the evening, Gamel made contact, but the ball nestled neatly into the glove of catcher Austin Wynns, who pulled out the white orb for all to see. It was evidence that the out had been made. It was evidence that the Pirates didn’t score.
The game, appropriately enough, ended with a runner stranded in scoring position. Greg Allen drew a one-out walk, stole second base, then advanced to third on a groundout. Castro made solid contact on Camilo Doval’s 2-2, 101.3 mph sinker, but the ball was hit right into the awaiting glove of Luis González.
“Baseball's streaky, and it seems like right now we're kind of struggling with that,” Newman said. “Hoping that we'll keep grinding away at-bats and it's going to turn here soon, get those big hits and get those runs in.”
The frustration Saturday night was palpable. Marcano yelled at the earth after striking out with a runner in scoring position. Oneil Cruz expressed frustration after grounding into an inning-ending double play in the fourth inning. After striking out to end the sixth inning, Bryan Reynolds tossed his bat and slammed his helmet.
“Guys do get frustrated and they should get frustrated when you have those opportunities and you don’t execute -- that’s normal,” Shelton said. “I think the big thing is we have to continue to grind. We have to continue to come out and play hard.”
There isn’t one magic remedy to change the tides. This problem has pestered Pittsburgh all season long.
When Shelton was asked what could be done to reverse the trends, he pointed to consistency of approach.
“When you have a young club, you’re going to see stretches where we can maybe get too aggressive or we can get too on the pull side, and that’s just something our guys have to continue to learn,” Shelton said.
Said Newman: “There's so many games. There's going to be opportunities tomorrow. There's going to be opportunities the next day. If you dwell on the past, you know, tonight's over. If you think too much about it, then you definitely don't want it to carry into the next day. I think that's the best way to go about it.”