Most of the hope that this could be the year the Pirates finally played .500 baseball faded by Memorial Day. But on Friday, in front of 23,695 at PNC Park, the inevitable became official. Extending their current losing streak to four with a 7-2 loss to the Mets, the Pirates also sealed the franchise's 18th straight losing season.
"No one wants to lose this many games," manager John Russell said. "It [stinks]. The bottom line is, it [stinks]. I hate to cuss, but nobody likes it, nobody wants it."
It was last year that the Pirates became North America's only professional sports team to endure 17 straight losing years, meaning that until the Pirates break a skid that essentially began with Sid Bream's slide, they will only be adding to their own history.
"We have our bright spots, and then we have our days where we don't look like we belong on the field sometimes," starter Jeff Karstens said. "It's part of the growing pains that are going to go on here, probably for the rest of this year. Hopefully, they won't carry on past this year."
The club did stamp one new footnote to the streak this season, though, as the 2010 club reached 82 losses quicker than any other team in the 18-year span.
"You always come into the season thinking positive," Andrew McCutchen said. "At the same time, you have to leave the season positive. Just because our record isn't there, we still have to go out there and play hard every day and continue to keep working. We're not playing to lose, even though we're losing. Things just haven't been going our way lately."
Friday's loss, which produced the Pirates' 10th losing streak of at least four games this season, in many ways mirrored many of the 81 that preceded it. There were starting-pitching issues and an inability for the offense to capitalize when run-scoring opportunities arose. Opponents stole more bases (two this time), and the defense had its lapses.
Expect all those facets to continue to be addressed in the 40 games that remain.
"With the results right now, we have to really focus on the process," Russell said. "We have to focus on how we can get our hitters better, how we can work to make our pitching better and continue to work on our defense. We have to really finish off making sure these guys have a good understanding of what they're doing. The record is what it is. I'm not going to run from it. But we can't focus on that right now. We need to focus on getting these guys better."
Karstens lasted a season-short 3 1/3 innings and allowed a season high in hits (11) and runs (seven) in becoming the fourth Pittsburgh starter to lose 10 games this year.
The Mets could certainly identify with the Pirates' offensive woes, though they didn't necessarily display that. Entering the series averaging fewer than three runs a game since the All-Star break, the Mets surpassed that average in the first.
"I threw a lot of pitches up in the zone, and when you don't throw hard, you can't do that," Karstens said. "They made me pay for it."
Karstens didn't get knocked around particularly hard in the frame, but the Mets found ideal placement on each of their five hits. Two squirted up the middle, just out of the reach of a diving middle infielder. Another found no-man's land between shortstop Ronny Cedeno and outfielder Jose Tabata. Yet another dropped just out of the reach of a lunging Neil Walker.
Ryan Doumit cut into New York's 3-0 lead with a second-inning solo homer, but the Mets scored twice in the third and fourth to end Karstens' night.
"You can say, 'Well, bad luck,' but as you see the ball elevated, it's going to lead to that too often," Russell said.
David Wright's error opened the door for Pittsburgh to add a second run off Mets starter Mike Pelfrey, but for the fourth straight night, the Pirates were unable to get more than two runs off an opposing starting pitcher. This time the opponent was sick, too. Minutes before first pitch, Pelfrey was vomiting in the visitors' dugout tunnel.
"He was really struggling with some type of stomach problem," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said of Pelfrey, who lasted eight innings. "I thought that was pretty courageous of him to go as far as he did."
The Pirates appeared to have a chance at denting a five-run deficit in the fourth, but Russell had his relief pitcher bat rather than try to capitalize.
Given how little noise Pittsburgh has been able to make on offense lately, the decision to send reliever Sean Gallagher to bat with two runners in scoring position and two out drew plenty of boos from the crowd. Those only augmented when Gallagher grounded out to end the inning with possible left-handed pinch-hitters Garrett Jones and Delwyn Young sitting on the bench.
Afterward, Russell explained his decision as being all about timing.
"You feel like you've got five more chances to try and do something," Russell said. "It's the fourth inning of the game. It's one of those situations where you'd like to get the runs, but you also have to realize there is a lot of game left. When you start taxing your bullpen and using your bench that early, it's not going to be a very good situation for us."
Gallagher did go on to give the Pirates three scoreless innings, but it hardly mattered as Pittsburgh had just one other runner advance into scoring position the rest of the night. The Pirates have now scored two or fewer runs in eight of their last nine games.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.