By Paul Ladewski
CHICAGO – Leave it to home plate umpire Mark Carlson to do what the Pirates haven’t done often enough this season.
Actually knock an opponent pitcher out of the box.
But not even the ejection of Chicago Cubs hot head Carlos Zambrano was enough to shake the Pirates out of their latest funk in a 5-2 setback at Wrigley Field on Wednesday afternoon.
Throw out a rare 10-run outburst in the series opener two nights earlier, and the Pirates scored 13 runs in their last seven games.
“We’ve been there the last few years,” said firstbaseman Adam LaRoche, who had one of the eight singles that his team totaled for the day. “It’s just one of those stretches where nothing goes right.”
Outfielder Reed Johnson broke a 2-2 deadlock with a solo home run against reliever Jesse Chavez in the eighth inning. The Cubs added a pair of insurance runs against Sean Burnett, but they weren’t needed.
Among National League teams, the Pirates ranked 10th in runs scored and 14th in home runs at the start of the day. The chronic
lack of run support has negated whatever improvements they have made on the mound and in the field this season.
“When we’re in a hitter’s count, we either chases pitches that we shouldn’t or miss pitches that we should hit,” LaRoche pretty much summed up the season in one sentence.
Well-known for his short fuse, Zambrano went into a wild rage after outfielder Nyjer Morgan tied the score at 2-all on a close plate at the plate in the seventh inning.
Morgan attempted to score from third base on a wild pitch and appeared to touch the plate with his left hand before Zambrano applied the tag. Immediately the pitcher took issue with the call and brushed Carlson in the process.
After Zambrano was ejected from the game, he gave Carlson a heave-ho of his own. Then he threw the ball to the warning track in left field and his glove against a dugout fence.
Zambrano finally headed to the clubhouse, but not before he vented on a Gatorade dispenser with a bat in the dugout.
Before his departure, Zambrano limited the visitors to one earned run in 6 1/3 innings.
Starter Zach Duke didn’t have his best stuff, but he kept his team in the game for seven innings. He allowed two earned runs on eight hits.
The Pirates (21-26) did have a few chances. They loaded the bases in the second and fifth innings but failed to score both times.
Second baseman Freddy Sanchez wasn’t in the line-up even though he had had eight hits in nine at-bats in the series. He walked as pinch hitter in the ninth inning then was doubled off first base after a routine fly out.
Delwyn Young was indicative of the struggles at the plate. He looked at third strikes in three consecutive trips to the plate. The second baseman also was guilty of an errant throw in the first inning.
“It’s one of those things that we got to try to fight through, try to scrounge a couple runs here and there” third baseman Andy LaRoche said. “When we get a runner on base, we got to take advantage of it.”