Peter Diana, Post-Gazette photos
Catcher Ronny Paulino throws out the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez last night at PNC Park.
Even the most gifted pitching prospects, as they move through a team's minor-league system, have questions affixed to their names:
Will they pitch through pain?
How will they adapt when they lack their best stuff?
Can they shake off a bad bounce or a bad call?
Tom Gorzelanny was no exception on all counts as he rose through the Pirates' ranks. But anyone with lingering doubts about any of the above would do well to examine video of his and the team's 4-1 flagging of the San Diego Padres last night at PNC Park.
It was two parts grit, one part guile.
Gorzelanny took his regular turn despite a bruised thumb that knocked him out of his previous start. He endured a laborious, bases-loaded first inning. He sweated through a near-total absence of breaking pitches until the game's midpoint. And yet, somehow, he capped his night by walking off the mound to the roar of 15,794 after a sweet strikeout of slugger Adrian Gonzalez to end the San Diego seventh.
This after being squeezed for a walk that brought the tying run to the plate.
This on pitch No. 120.
"I'll tell you what: He showed a lot to me, to his manager and to his teammates," reliever John Grabow said. "Trust me when I tell you it's appreciated."
Gorzelanny's fine line -- a run on seven hits over seven innings -- was nothing new. He is a staff-best 6-3 with a 2.39 ERA and has been charged with a total of eight earned runs over his past half-dozen starts.
But the manner in which this one was achieved might have represented a rather important step in his already remarkable progress.
"He showed, to me, tremendous signs of a very mature guy out there," manager Jim Tracy said. "In the first inning, it looked like, 'How far are we going to be able to get with him?' He just kept battling. I mean, this guy finds ways. And he kept getting better as the night went along."
"He showed me a lot," closer Salomon Torres said. "He's a young kid who's developing into a superstar, and we're all watching it."
Gorzelanny hardly was alone in cooling off the National League's hottest team in May: Jason Bay homered and doubled on the day he was named the league's player of the week. New leadoff man Jose Bautista generated his team's first two runs. And Matt Capps, Grabow and Torres kept things quiet in relief.
Torres called the victory, the Pirates' fourth in five games and one that moved them into second place in the Central Division, "a beautiful thing."
Be sure, though, that Gorzelanny could find other terms to describe his 33-pitch first inning. The Padres filled the bases on a single and two walks, only to strand them on a Kevin Kouzmanoff flyout.
Was Gorzelanny feeling the thumb that had been badly bruised by a line drive Thursday in St. Louis?
"Nothing at all," he said, looking at his pitching hand. "Just a normal outing."
And that first inning?
"I just needed to calm down. I was fortunate to get out of it."
In the bottom half, Bautista, 10 for 30 since moving atop the Pirates' order, singled off San Diego starter David Wells and scored on Xavier Nady's two-out single through the left side. Bautista doubled to open the third and came home when Freddy Sanchez dropped a single into center, and the Pirates were ahead, 2-0.
Gorzelanny found trouble in the fifth, with two men on and one out. But he put down Mike Cameron on a flyout, then had a terrific reaction to raise his glove and knock down a Gonzalez shot through the box. The carom went back to catcher Ronny Paulino, who fired to first in time.
It was the second above-the-norm play Gorzelanny made on a hard comebacker, no hint of trepidation after his incident Thursday.
The Padres got their run off Gorzelanny in the sixth on a Terrmel Sledge sacrifice fly, but Bay took it right back by leading off the bottom half with his eighth home run, his third in five games. Cla Meredith left a 1-1 sidearm offering up and over the outer part of the plate, allowing Bay to extend his arms and loft it just above the Clemente Wall.
"When you're going good, you get those kinds of pitches," Bay said.
Gorzelanny whisked through his first two batters of the seventh. And it might have been 1-2-3 but for two "very close pitches," as Tracy called them, to Cameron that home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor deemed balls. Cameron walked, and Gonzalez, owner of 12 home runs, stepped in.
"There's nothing you can do about calls," Gorzelanny said. "You just need to keep pitching."
Tracy had made up his mind Gonzalez would be Gorzelanny's last batter, and Gorzelanny seemed aware of it. Four pitches later, Gonzalez was frozen by a good-night fastball that grazed the outside corner.
"I got a little tired toward the end, but I tried to stay focused," Gorzelanny said. "Really, I didn't see anything too special. I threw a lot of pitches, 120 after throwing 118 last time. I need to do better. I'll keep saying this all year: I'm not a finished product."
The Padres sounded impressed, anyway.
"I don't think we were going to score more than one run off him," Wells said of Gorzelanny.
"You can see why he's got that two-and-a-half ERA," manager Bud Black said. "Nice stuff."
Bay doubled and scored in the eighth on Adam LaRoche's third hit of the night, and Torres breezed through his 12th save.
Starter Tom Gorzelanny gave up one run, struck out four and walked three to help the Pirates win for the fourth time in their past five games.
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Game: Pirates (LHP Paul Maholm 2-6, 5.43) vs. San Diego Padres (RHP Chris Young 5-3, 2.70), 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Key matchup: Pirates vs. Young's rising fastball. He is 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA in two starts against the team that drafted him. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning the first time, into the ninth the next time.
Of note: After a rough start, San Diego's Kevin Kouzmanoff could be entering the race for National League rookie of the year. In his past 11 games, he is 14 for 36 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.
Manager Jim Tracy argues a call on a Jason Bay trap ball last night at PNC Park.
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