After winning almost every close game they played during the first six weeks of the season, the Pirates remain mired in a spell where all those nail-biters are going the other way.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
There were certainly things that went right on Friday night. Paul Maholm offered an exceptional performance until the end. The offense again showed some encouraging late-inning life. Even the defense chipped in with a few big plays in front of 28,478 at PNC Park.
And yet, all Pittsburgh had to show for the effort was a losing streak now pushed to 12. Friday's 4-3 loss to the Indians extended the season-long skid -- which is the longest in the Majors this season -- as well as mounted the frustrations for a team that now has just three victories since May 25.
"It's frustrating because we played so well at the beginning of the year in those one-run ballgames," said Ryan Church, who drove in all three Pittsburgh runs. "It just seems like now we can't squeak one out."
The Pirates' season began with some disastrous blowout losses, but through May 19, it also featured a 13-4 record in games decided by two or fewer runs. During this current streak, however, eight of the 12 losses have come by just one or two runs.
That includes five of the last six.
"Nothing is going to come easy for us," Maholm said. "It's nobody's fault right now. We've got to get together. We've got to root for each other. We've got to make the pitch. We've got to get the hit. We've got to expect to go out there and win."
Though this loss puts the Pirates one defeat away from matching the franchise's longest losing streak since 1900, the energy seems to be there. Maholm offered a gutsy performance, going toe-to-toe with Cleveland starter Fausto Carmona through a quick six innings. By the time the seventh started, the clubs had combined for only four hits.
But Maholm, who rode the dominance of his changeup and curveball early, blinked first.
A leadoff double by third baseman Jhonny Peralta was the hardest hit ball he would allow to fall, but four of the next six Indians batters singled to push across three runs. None of those four singles were hit especially hard, but they each found a hole. Two squeaked past a diving Garrett Jones at first.
"It didn't go my way," said Maholm (4-5). "Right now it's rough for us. We can't go out there and expect things to fall our way right now."
His night would end after the fifth hit of the frame, and he would be charged with a fourth run when Joel Hanrahan relieved him and allowed an inherited runner to cross the plate with two outs. That last run prevented Maholm from notching a fifth straight quality start. It also turned out to be the game-winner.
"We were close to each ball that was hit and just couldn't quite get there," manager John Russell said. "The way Paul threw the ball, he should have deserved better than that."
The Pirates haven't come back from a deficit greater than two all season, but they put together an admirable rally trying to erase those four Indians runs.
Neil Walker led off the bottom of the seventh with an infield hit. Andrew McCutchen followed with a walk before Jones singled to load the bases.
Church, mired in a 2-for-37 slump and with only three RBIs since May 6, then stepped up and drilled an 0-1 sinker into the gap in left-center field. The double cleared the bases, bringing the crowd to its feet and the Pirates to within one. It also knocked Carmona out of the game.
"Once we scored those four runs I thought, 'It's over. The way [Carmona] was throwing the ball, as dominant as he has been and as close as this game has been, and now we got a four-run lead -- over. We're going to cruise from here,' " Indians manager Manny Acta said. "But you've got to give them credit. They put some good at-bats together against him."
With the Pirates down by just one now, Church scooted to third on Pedro Alvarez's deep flyout. But neither Ryan Doumit nor Ronny Cedeno could get him home to tie things up.
"We finally got a big hit and strung together some guys to get on and started to do some things," Russell said. "We were right there. These guys need to continue to relax and let their abilities come out. We'll get through this."
Pittsburgh couldn't capitalize on Jose Tabata's one-out double in the eighth. The offense then went down in order in the ninth, with Alvarez ending the game striking out. He is 0-for-10 since making his Major League debut. Half of those at-bats have ended in a strikeout.
"Everybody's frustrated that this losing is going on," Church said. "We're working on everything. We're not playing good baseball. We're just not getting enough run support for these guys to go out there and feel comfortable and not feel like they have to make every single pitch."
So what is it likely to take to escape this rut?
"The biggest thing we need is to go out there and have a laugher -- a great pitching performance and we score eight runs and it's easy," said Maholm, still the only starter with a win since May 18. "Guys relax. Guys get back in the groove."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.