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Slipping Away

The Pirates lost a season-high fifth consecutive game as the Cubs battered Kevin Correia for four homeruns and 8 runs in just two innings, routing the Pirates 11-6 at home on Tuesday night. Garrett Jones hit two homers and knocked in four runs for the Bucs in the loss.

Downtown Pittsburgh’s skyline provides a majestic backdrop for games at PNC Park. After his start against the Cubs on Tuesday night, Kevin Correia should be able to point out the city’s skyscrapers, from PPG Place to the Federated Tower, with little trouble.

Correia served up four tape-measure home runs in an 11-6 beatdown versus Chicago, including a 451-foot blast off the bat of Tyler Colvin that reached the Allegheny River on a bounce. Aramis Ramirez punched a three-run homer into the Pirates’ portion of the bullpen, Geovany Soto reached the shrubbery in center field for a two-run shot and Alfonso Soriano followed by depositing a pitch into the second deck of the left field bleachers.

“I feel like I could have tried to throw the ball down the middle and got a better result than that,” Correia said. “It was just a bad, bad game.”

Tony Watson, who came on in relief after Soto and Soriano’s back-to-back shots in the top of the third, surrendered two more solo homers in the fourth frame. Marlon Byrd pulled one inside the left field foul pole and Soriano sent the Left Field Loonies ducking for cover yet again.

In falling back to the break-even mark at 54-54, the Pirates lost their fifth straight game and have now dropped seven of their last eight. The club led the NL Central Division as recently as July 25, but they’re now a distant third behind the Brewers and the Cardinals.

“Everybody’s got their own little Rubik’s Cube to figure out right about now,” Pirates manager Hurdle said.

Correia (12-9) was flogged for 10 hits and eight runs in two-plus innings. His ERA jumped by nearly a half-run, from 4.24 to 4.71. And that city skyline hasn’t been kind to Correia. He has a 2.74 ERA and has surrendered 0.9 home runs per nine innings on the road. In Pittsburgh, he’s got a 7.71 ERA, with two homers allowed per nine.

“I’m gonna be moving into the Westin Downtown because it seems like I can only get people out if I sleep in a hotel bed,” Correia said.

“He was even or ahead of all but two hitters while he was out there,” Hurdle said. “The execution wasn’t what we needed it to be. He kept finding hot zones….just when we think we’re gonna catch our breath in the bullpen, we have to go back and end up pitching seven innings tonight.”

Neither Hurdle nor Correia blame the bad outing on fatigue.

“Did you watch the game in Atlanta?” Hurdle asked, referring to Correia’s two-run, 6.1 inning win over the Braves on July 28. “There wasn’t fatigue there.

“You ask the guys how the feel, and he felt strong,” Hurdle continued. “We’ve modified workouts. They’re continuing to get the work in the need to get in to stay strong through the season, and he’s a guy who has pitched deep in seasons and pitched innings, so it’s not new territory for him.”

“Physically I feel fine,” Correia said. “There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to go out there and pitch better.”

Pirates pitchers coughed up six home runs in a game for the first time since August 9, 2006, against the Astros. Chicago (45-65) tied the Giants, who also ripped six road home runs on August 4, 2002, for the most opposing shots in a game at PNC Park.

Pittsburgh briefly led 2-1 in the bottom of the first before the Cubs plated ten unanswered runs. Andrew McCutchen, moved back atop the order after the Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick acquisitions, singled off Cubs starter Randy Wells. With Garrett Jones at the plate, McCutchen lowered his head and bolted toward second base before retreating to the first base bag.

That was enough to fool Soto, who launched the ball into center field and allowed McCutchen to advance to second on the error. Jones then belted a 3-2, center-of-the-plate changeup over the right-center field wall.

Wells (3-4), who entered play with a 6.16 ERA, silenced the Pirates after that. He allowed five hits in six innings pitched, striking out seven batters and walking one.

In the eighth inning, Jones cleared the Clemente Wall on a pitch from Ramon Ortiz for his second home run of the night, and Brandon Wood drove in two later in the frame on Pittsburgh’s first pinch-hit homer of the season.

“It felt good just to get the ball on the barrel,” Jones said, crediting his big cuts to using his hands more in his swing.

Jones tallied his fourth RBI in the ninth on a sacrifice fly, but that late-game outburst merely narrowed the Cubs’ lead to five runs.

“It was embarrassing,” Correia said of his outing. “But I can’t sit around and mope about it. When it comes down to it, it only counts as one loss.”

“Our confidence hasn’t dropped at all,” Jones said. “We’re confident in what we can do, and tomorrow is a new day.”

The Cubs were one homerun away from their club record for homers in a single game, set three times, most recently against San Diego in a 23-6 Chicago win May 17, 1977. The Pirates record for homeruns allowed in one game is eight, in Game 1 of a doubleheader against Milwaukee in 1953.

When Aramis Ramirez stepped into the box and immediately creamed a curveball from Correia in the second inning, he extended his major league lead in first-pitch homers hit this season. Ramirez has gone deep on the first pitch 10 times in 2011.

Joe Beimel made his 100th career appearance at PNC Park on Tuesday night, becoming the sixth pitcher to reach that mark since the ballpark opened in 2001. John Grabow (197), Salomon Torres (188), Matt Capps (154), Scott Sauerbeck (108) and Damaso Marte (103) rank ahead of Beimel on PNC Park’s all-time appearance list.

Pinch-hitting is hard. Overall, N.L. batters have a .607 on-base-plus-slugging percentage while pinch-hitting in 2011, compared to a .705 OPS in all hitting situations. But the Pirates had been especially bad entering play Tuesday, with a .516 OPS in pinch-hit situations that ranked 14th in the league. Brandon Wood’s eighth inning shot was Pittsburgh’s first pinch-hit homer of the year, leaving the Marlins as the only Senior Circuit team that has yet to go deep in a pinch.

The Pirates acquired shortstop Brian Bocock from the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday. Bocock, 26, briefly appeared in the majors with the Giants in 2008 and got a handful of at-bats with the Phillies last season. The right-handed hitter has a career .414 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the majors and a .578 OPS at the Triple-A level.

RHP Matt Garza (4-8, 3.99 ERA) faces RHP Charlie Morton (8-6, 4.04 ERA) on Wednesday night. Morton pitched an average of nearly seven innings per start in April and May, holding hitters to a .329 on-base percentage and a .315 slugging percentage. Since then, Morton has thrown less than five innings per start while allowing batters to reach base 41 percent of the time and slug .473. The averages for NL starters this season are .319 for on-base percentage and .403 for slugging.

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