ST. LOUIS -- It should have been the Pirates' sweetest victory of the season, a superb way to start a 22-game swing through the Central Division, but the mood was more guarded than giddy after outlasting the St. Louis Cardinals, 8-4, in 10 innings last night at Busch Stadium.
And with good reason ...
Ryan Doumit, their cleanup-hitting catcher with the .350 average, sustained a fractured left thumb in the first inning when a Phil Dumatrait fastball struck his glove awkwardly, and he will be out indefinitely.
"It's awfully disappointing for everybody," manager John Russell said. "But let's wait and see how long it is before we get too down."
The positive: X-rays taken at the stadium showed the fracture is small and on the tip of the thumb. Russell said he managed a player in the minors last season who had that type of injury and that it generally takes anywhere from 10 days to three weeks to recover.
- Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (2-3, 4.79) vs. RHP Todd Wellemeyer (3-1, 3.56).
- Key matchup: Maholm vs. his road issues. He has not won in five road starts since his most recent victory, Aug. 23 in Denver. This season, he is 0-3 with a 9.60 ERA away from PNC Park.
- Of note: Tony La Russa's quirk of having his pitchers bat eighth has its dividends: St. Louis' pitchers lead the National League with 18 hits and 12 RBIs.
The negative: If the fracture is deeper, the prognosis could eat up much more of Doumit's summer.
Russell stressed that a firm diagnosis will not be available until today, when Doumit flies back to Pittsburgh for an examination by Dr. Mark Baratz, the Pirates' hand specialist at Allegheny General Hospital.
In the meantime, the Pirates will recall a catcher from Class AAA Indianapolis, and that almost certainly will be veteran defensive stalwart Raul Chavez, who is batting .306.
Ronny Paulino's RBI single in the 10th snapped a 4-4 tie, Adam LaRoche's bases-clearing double piled on, and Marino Salas was a winner in his major league debut, but all that was overshadowed.
"Ryan Doumit means a lot to this team," Russell said.
In addition to his golden average, Doumit has five home runs, 15 RBIs and, after an offseason of unprecedented conditioning aimed at avoiding yet another injury-plagued season, had shown marked improvement defensively.
He did not hide his displeasure afterward.
"Obviously, it hurts," Doumit said. "I don't even know what to say. It couldn't have come at a worse time. I'm tired of the cliches, about how things happen or things are going to get better. I'm tired of it all. It's frustrating."
How it happened: St. Louis had two aboard and two out with Troy Glaus at the plate. Doumit called for a fastball and set up low and inside, but Dumatrait fired 93 mph, up and away. Doumit moved his mitt across, but the ball skipped off it for a passed ball as the runners advanced.
Two pitches later, the inning was done on Glaus' flyout, but so was Doumit. Paulino batted for him to lead off the second.
"It was a four-seamer, and it just got away from me," Dumatrait said of his straightest pitch. "It's really unfortunate."
If not for that, the Pirates surely would have relished winning for the seventh time in eight games, pulling within a game of .500 at 19-20 and -- sit down for this -- pulling within four games of the first-place Chicago Cubs, their opponent this weekend.
This one took root with Nate McLouth's two-run home run -- inside the right foul pole off a Kyle Lohse changeup -- in the fourth inning for a 2-0 lead.
It was his team-leading 10th home run, making him the National League's sixth player to reach double digits.
Dumatrait turned in another quality start, with three runs over six innings, but all of those came on one swing, Glaus' three-run shot in the sixth, to put St. Louis ahead, 3-2.
Otherwise, Dumatrait looked very much in control.
"I thought he threw really well, if you take away the bad pitch," Russell said. "He's a lefty I see as very much a part of our rotation."
The Pirates leapfrogged ahead in the eighth, 4-3, on back-to-back doubles by Jason Bay and Paulino, and an RBI single by Jose Bautista.
But John Grabow gave that up in the bottom half, when Albert Pujols took him deep to tie.
It was the first home run Grabow allowed all season, as well as the second extra-base hit in 70 at-bats.
Russell wanted to preserve Matt Capps for a save, so he summoned Salas to keep the tie in the ninth, which he barely did. Three walks, one of them intentional, loaded the bases with two outs for Ryan Ludwick, but Ludwick popped out.
"Easy," Salas said, smiling.
Nervous at all?
"No. I wanted to be out there."
The decisive 10th, began with Freddy Sanchez's single off Ron Villone. He was bunted to second, Bay was intentionally walked, and Paulino came through again with an RBI liner into left.
That raised his season average to just .224, but he is an exceptional 9 for 20 with runners in scoring position.
"Ronny's been taking advantage of his opportunities," Russell said. "Ryan's been supportive of Ronny, and vice versa. We like what we have with our catching tandem."
After Xavier Nady's walk loaded the bases, LaRoche drove home everyone with a double to the fence in left-center.
He has 11 of his season's 16 RBIs in the past 10 games.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published May 14, 2008 4:45 AM