Pirates roar back in ninth to steal opener, 6-4

Wilson's bases-clearing double caps 4-run rally vs. St. Louis closer

ST. LOUIS -- It started, really, with a conciliatory pat on the rump.

For all else that went into the Pittsburgh Baseball Club's sizzling 6-4, season-opening body slam of the St. Louis Cardinals last night at Busch Stadium, highlighted by a four-run ninth inning that included Jack Wilson's bases-clearing double, some inside the satisfied clubhouse afterward pointed to an earlier event.

That came in the St. Louis eighth, when Tyler Yates' first pitch resulted in a Ryan Ludwick home run to deep center that brought the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.

Later that inning, John Grabow gave up another, but Yates was taking it visibly hard.

Some teammates approached him in the dugout.

"We've got your back," catcher Ryan Doumit recalled telling him.

Others did likewise, including reserve outfielder Eric Hinske, who appeared to be in no position at the time to help.

"If a pitcher gives up a home run, hey, you pick him up," Hinske said.

And so, they did.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, who has declined to identify a closer, handed that 4-2 lead to 26-year-old, flame-throwing rookie Jason Motte. The Pirates had done their scouting and knew his velocity could touch 98 mph, but they also were aware of a severely limited repertoire.

On deck
  • Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 8:15 p.m. today, Busch Stadium.
  • TV/Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
  • Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (7-12, 5.42 ERA last year) vs. RHP Kyle Lohse (15-6, 3.78).
  • Key matchup: Always Snell vs. Albert Pujols when these two meet. Pujols has batted .424 -- 14 for 33 -- with four home runs, five walks and eight RBIs.
  • Of note: Average age of the Pirates' opening day roster was 27.1, a slight decrease from 27.4 last year. Oldest player was infielder Ramon Vazquez, 32.

First Pitch 2009

The Post-Gazette's four-day preview of the Pirates and Major League Baseball

• Friday: Five reasons to believe in Pirates ... or not
• Saturday: A bat worth waiting for
Sunday: Seven minutes that changed the franchise
• Monday: The march begins to 17?

"Lots of fastballs, we were told," second baseman Freddy Sanchez said.

Sanchez, fully prepared, lined the first pitch he saw -- fastball -- into the left-field corner for a double. And, just like that, some on the bench began to talk about all those comebacks the team had been making in spring training.

"It felt no different, to be honest with you," Doumit said. "Same resiliency."

That was quickly put to the test. Motte smoked Nate McLouth for a strikeout and got Doumit to ground out to second.

Adam LaRoche, not exactly Mr. April, was next. And he reached for a pitch down and in and drove it through the right side to score Sanchez.

It was 4-3 and, by this point, the Pirates were looking increasingly comfortable with timing Motte's fastball.

"He throws hard, but he's going to get hit hard if he doesn't find something else to go with it," LaRoche said. "As a hitter, you just need to get your foot down and start everything a little early."

Now, Hinske had his chance to back Yates, and he dropped a double into left, LaRoche taking third.

Brandon Moss was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Wilson came to bat.

First pitch, 96 mph, swing and a miss.

"He blew that by me pretty easily," Wilson said.

Second pitch, 96 mph, fouled back.

"I said, 'OK, if he throws me another fastball, just put it in play.' I felt like I keyed on it."

Third pitch, yes, 96 mph again, only Wilson squared up and drilled it to the base of the fence in left-center, all runners coming around. The portion of the capacity crowd of 45,832 that braved the cold for that long, which had been standing and roaring with the second strike, fell silent.

One could almost hear Wilson clapping enthusiastically as he stood on second.

"It felt really good. Just for the team, the way we came back. We're a team that never gives up."

Motte's third pitch was supposed to be off the plate, aimed at getting Wilson to chase.

"He was charging after Wilson," La Russa said.

"Bad, bad spot," Motte said. "One strike away. One pitch away."

He acknowledged his lack of diversity.

"These guys are a good fastball-hitting team," he said of the Pirates. "If you get into those kind of counts and throw fastballs up there, those guys are going to hit them."

Matt Capps came on for the save, and he, too, had Yates' back. With Ludwick representing the tying run, Capps zipped a third-strike fastball by him.

Paul Maholm started and pitched 6 2/3 mostly efficient innings, charged with two runs and seven hits, all of those runs and four of the hits coming in a third inning that began with the first of third baseman Andy LaRoche's two fielding errors. Maholm was supported early by the offense of Nyjer Morgan, who went 3 for 5 with two RBIs.

When it ended, there was more patting of rumps, now congratulatory. But, by all accounts, there was no excessive hooting or hollering, no grand speech given to the group.

"It was nice," manager John Russell said. "We gave ourselves a chance to win, and that's the thing you like to see."

"We picked each other up, and that's what good teams do," Doumit said. "You're going to see a lot of that this year."

It was the third consecutive dramatic opening victory for the Pirates, who won in extra innings two years ago in Houston and last year in Atlanta.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog . First Published April 7, 2009 4:00 AM


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