SAN FRANCISCO -- The Pirates have started out this season getting so few base hits, they are sorry even for the ones they do get.
Make it, for the one they get.
James McDonald wore a long face following Friday afternoon's game at AT&T Park. His and the Bucs' 5-0 loss to the Giants was only one reason.
The other? McDonald got the only hit off and was the only baserunner against mound opponent Matt Cain, who otherwise completed a masterful one-hitter.
"Man ... the pitcher standing in the way of a perfect game. That kind of stinks. But it happened," McDonald said.
Bear in mind, the Pittsburgh right-hander was talking about his own base hit, with two outs in the sixth, which will survive as the memorable highlight of a game that earned McDonald other props for his gutty pitching with mediocre weapons.
"That means the history books. If that was me," McDonald said, "I'd be, 'Man, the pitcher got me? That stinks.' He threw a great game."
Since pitching has starred this young season for the Pirates, it was entirely appropriate for one of their hurlers to stick out not only on the mound but also in the batter's box, to be the only thing to come between Cain and immortality.
Cain retired the first 17 men he faced, holding the Bucs without a baserunner for 5 2/3 innings until the left-handed-hitting McDonald punched a fastball sharply to left.
"That's the beauty of the game! A swinging bat is a dangerous bat," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said enthusiastically.
"I've been working on my hitting," McDonald said. "Obviously, taking more hacks makes you better in the game. I continue working on it in batting practice, having a plan that I take into the game.
"There, I was just looking for a ball out over the plate, try to hit it to left field. I'm not a power hitter; I'm not going to be pulling any home runs to right."
McDonald's hit avoided what would have been the first perfect game ever against the Pirates, who have not even been no-hit on the road since May 12, 1955, when the Cubs' Sam Jones did it in Wrigley Field.
It could do nothing to avoid Pittsburgh's record dropping to 2-5, while its runs output remained at 11 through seven games.
For the fifth time in six games, the opposition scored in the first inning. That, according to Andrew McCutchen, is part of the problem. Not how much the Pirates pitchers give up (very little) nor even how little the players are scoring ... but when.
"Scoring first" was McCutchen's snappy response when asked what could open up the offense's floodgates. "If we can do that, it'll give the pitchers a little leeway, to where they can breathe.
"For the most part, it's been zero-zero, and they have to go out and put up scoreless innings till we're able to get on the board or come back late. When the offense scores first, it gives our pitchers a little breather."
Not too long ago, McDonald might have made a quick exit out of this type of game, which began with him on the run.
With two outs in the first and Melky Cabrera aboard with a single, Buster Posey doubled to center to score him. Aubrey Huff's single then scored Posey to make it 2-0.
The new and improved McDonald, rather than lose his balance and topple, righted himself. He blanked the Giants on a measly single across the next four innings.
"You got to see him pitch a Major League game," said an obviously pleased Hurdle. "He kept us in the game without his best stuff or best command. He battled today. He kept coming and kept coming and kept getting outs. And at the end of the day, he gave us a chance."
He also gave himself the chance to stay in the game long enough to ruin Cain's masterpiece.
The Giants added another run in the sixth, when Nate Schierholtz's two-run single scored Pablo Sandoval and chased McDonald. Huff belted a two-run homer off Joel Hanrahan in the eighth.
In 5 2/3 innings, McDonald was charged with six hits and three earned runs. And credited with at least saving some face for the Pirates.
"Thank God he got that hit," McCutchen said. "I guess he'll be the talk of the team for a while. 'The pitcher, of all people, gets the only hit off Cain.' I'm glad he was able to get it. Guess that's one positive we can get out of this. He battled and battled for us, and I hate that we can't score for him."
"Think nothing of it, Cutch," McDonald said -- in so many words.
"I've got to keep grinding, focusing on making pitches," McDonald said of his mindset amid the offensive lull. "There'll be times in the year when I may not be at my best, making bad pitches to make it tough on the team.
"We're all human. They're battling their butts off, playing hard behind me. That's all you can ask for."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.