- Associated Press - Saturday, August 6, 2011

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Pittsburgh Pirates‘ season has unraveled quickly.

Chase Headley’s first-pitch grand slam highlighted San Diego’s first four-homer game of the season, and the Padres cruised past Pittsburgh 15-5 Friday night, handing the Pirates their eighth straight loss.

The Pirates were tied for first place before losing on a controversial call in the 19th inning in Atlanta on July 26. They are 1-10 since and have fallen eight games behind Milwaukee.

“We need to step up _ we know it. We’ve talked about it,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “We need action now, and we need to find a way to fight through the hard part of the season.”

The defeat to the last-place Padres was the seventh consecutive and 12th in their last 14 against them at PNC Park. The crowd was a sellout, the Pirates‘ 13th of the season. But the 37,766 on hand saw Pittsburgh lose for the eighth time in its past nine home games

The Pirates left a season-high 16 men on base. Pedro Alvarez was a primary culprit in that _ he tied a Pirates record by grounding into three double plays. He also struck out and committed an error.

In the midst of a record for North American major professional sports streak with 18 consecutive losing seasons, the Pirates were as high as seven games over .500 only 2 1/2 weeks ago. Now, they’ve fallen to 54-57.

“I don’t hang the word ‘disappointment’ around my shoulders,” Hurdle said. “The season’s too long and there’s too many other things going on. Our record is important, but our level of play, our commitment to one another, the energy we take out there and the way we want to perform in front of our fans and our fanbase and rebound this city with its baseball team, it’s hard right now, but that’s still our plan. We’ll stick to it, and we’ll fight through it.”

The starting pitching that had been the Pirates‘ biggest strength all season has deserted them during a homestand in which they are allowing an average of 7.8 runs per game. Pittsburgh has allowed 14 home runs in falling to 0-5 on this homestand.

“It’s the big leagues: If you pitch the ball down the middle, they’re doing what they’re supposed to do with it,” starter Jeff Karstens said. “I just think we’ve got to be better than what we are, and we’re not doing that right now. We’ve got to make adjustments, because if not, it’s not going to be fun the next two months.”

Karstens (8-6) entered the game with the fifth-lowest ERA in the majors at 2.49, but he was charged with more earned runs (nine) in 3 1-3 innings Friday than he had allowed in his past five starts combined.

“I couldn’t pinpoint what I was doing wrong, but I put it all on my shoulders,” Karstens said. “I expect to be better than that.”

Kyle Blanks, Aaron Cunningham and Jesus Guzman also homered for the Padres.

Will Venable had three hits, two runs and two RBIs, Cameron Maybin added three hits and scored two runs and Luis Martinez had three RBIs for San Diego, which came in ranked last in the NL in runs and homers and hadn’t hit four home runs in a game since July 17, 2010.

“You ask anybody, they’ll tell you hitting’s contagious,” Blanks said.

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