Mere weeks after the papers were full of talk about a possible contract extension, the Pirates appear to getting ready to pull the plug on manager Lloyd McClendon writes the Post-Gazette’s Dejan Kovacevic.

Lloyd McClendon and his Pirates were blanked 8-0 yesterday by the Houston Astros before 19,769 at PNC Park to conclude their worst series in three years.

The Astros took all four games by a combined score of 34-8. That was the most runs allowed by the Pirates in being swept in a four-game set since Aug. 12-15, 2002, when the St. Louis Cardinals outscored them, 37-19.

Afterward, McClendon briefly addressed his players with the latest of his many keep-your-chin-up speeches. And he appeared no less upbeat in facing the media a few minutes later, twice cracking the joke, “It’s going to be OK, guys,” when waiting for the next question.

Given his fiery personality, it would seem he is a walking explosive waiting to be detonated. But a few of the Pirates’ players confirmed he has had no blowups during this miserable 1-8 stretch in which they have been outscored, 64-16, and outhit, 116-56.

McClendon even managed a small smile when asked by a reporter if he is simmering underneath.

“Me?” he said. “I’m about the calmest person that you’ll ever meet.”

He also shrugged off what would appear to be an increasingly tenuous job status. The Pirates have an option to renew his contract for 2006, but general manager Dave Littlefield has not come close to indicating if it will be exercised. Finishing the year in a free fall surely will not help.

“It’s a tough game. That’s just the way it is,” McClendon said when asked if that added to his pressure. “Hell, I’ve been getting fired for five years. And you know what? One day, I will be fired. In this job and, if I’m lucky enough, I’ll be fired two or three times. That’s the nature of this business. You can’t worry about those things. If I start worrying about those things, then I’m not concentrating on doing my job.”