Pirates fall short in extra frames

Pirates fall short in extra frames

PITTSBURGH -- The stage was set for Pittsburgh Pirates rookie slugger Brad Eldred to play the role of hero in his first big league game on Friday night at PNC Park.

But in the end, it was a well-established first baseman who stole the show as the Colorado Rockies topped the Bucs, 5-3, in 10 innings.

Eldred, a prized hitting prospect who was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis earlier in the day, stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning of a 3-3 game. The crowd of 35,262 was still in a frenzy two batters after Matt Lawton tied the game with an RBI single. After fouling the first pitch he saw from Rockies closer Brian Fuentes into the stands, Eldred chased two pitches out of the zone for the second out of the inning.

"It was definitely a situation you want to be in as a player. I just tried to get too big chasing pitches out of the zone. I went up there hacking. I probably should have hit that first one."

Fuentes completed his Houdini act by fanning Rob Mackowiak for the final out of the frame.

"We had several chances to blow the game open," said Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon. "We just couldn't get the hits that we needed."

Rockies first baseman Todd Helton made the Pirates pay for their missed opportunity. Bucs closer Jose Mesa (1-6) retired the first two batters he faced in the 10th inning before giving up a broken-bat single to Aaron Miles. Helton followed with his 11th home run, a moon shot that landed in the first few rows atop the 21-foot wall in right field.

McClendon was not happy with catcher Humberto Cota's decision to call for a high slider on the home run pitch.

"I told my catcher to make sure [Helton] hits the ball the other way," said McClendon. "That's not the pitch that we wanted in that situation. We'd rather see sinkers down and away. If the guy hits the ball out of the ballpark the other way, you tip your hat to him, but certainly not on that type of pitch."

The Pirates never led during the game. Matt Holliday's fourth home run of the season, a solo shot off Bucs starter Kip Wells in the fourth inning, gave the Rockies a 1-0 lead. Garrett Atkins made it a 3-0 Colorado advantage with a bases-loaded double off Wells in the sixth.

The Pittsburgh offense began to show signs of life in the bottom half of the sixth inning. Lawton drew a walk from Rockies starter Jamey Wright, swiped second base and scored on a Jason Bay double which one-hopped the center-field fence. Bay stole third base and scored on a Mackowiak groundout to second base. After Jose Castillo and Cota singled to continue the inning, the rally was cut short when Wright picked off Castillo at second base.

"Young players are going to make inexperienced mistakes," McClendon said of Castillo's gaffe. "You hope that they will learn from them, and you try to teach them as much as you can."

Eldred's night was certainly not a complete wash. He went 1-for-5, including a single in the second inning during his first Major League at-bat.

"That was definitely a very exciting moment for me," said Eldred. "This is what you work your whole life playing baseball [for], to get up to this point. To get a hit in my first Major League at-bat was pretty special."

Wells was charged with three runs on five hits and a walk in seven innings. Wells, who has dropped six of his last seven decisions, was on the hook to be the first 11-game loser in the National League before the Bucs' ninth-inning rally.

"Considering where [Wells has] been, and the performance he had tonight, I was pleased in a lot of different ways," said McClendon.

Prior to the drama in the bottom of the ninth inning, the highlight of the night for the Pirates was an outstanding defensive play during the top half of the frame by shortstop Jack Wilson and Castillo. Wilson dove behind the second base bag to snare an Atkins grounder up the middle and, while lying face-down on the ground, flipped the ball to Castillo, who threw on to first base for the out.

"That was a tremendous play," McClendon said. "Jack and Castillo continue to work extremely well together the more they work together. That was a perfect example of those two knowing each other."

The loss was the ninth for the Pirates in their last 11 games and, coupled with a Cincinnati Reds win over the Milwaukee Brewers, dropped Pittsburgh into last place in the National League Central division.

Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.