CINCINNATI -- They didn't completely drop an egg here in this Easter Sunday shutout.
There was dandy defense from the Pirates who entered this weekend last in National League fielding, then turned a dive-in-the-dirt double play even more highlight worthy than their first triple play in 16 years.
- Game: Pirates vs. Houston Astros, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (1-0, 1.42 ERA) vs. RHP Brian Moehler (0-1, 37.80).
- Key matchup: Duke will attempt to continue his solid spring for a home crowd eager to see if he can approach a return to his pre-2006 form. He allowed three runs, one earned, and five hits while striking out four Cardinals in 61/3 innings Wednesday in St. Louis.
- Of note: The Pirates are 1-1 all time in home openers against Astros, 2-6 in PNC Park openers and 70-52 overall in home parks.
There was another staunch effort by a Pirates starter, Ian Snell yielding a two-run homer in the first inning and then regularly escaping difficulty thereafter in what he called a performance "back to my form."
There was another scoreless couple of innings from the bullpen, this time from less-than-prime-time guys such as Craig Hansen, Sean Burnett and Jesse Chavez.
Granted, Cincinnati's Aaron Harang three-hit the Pirates in a 2-0 Reds triumph yesterday just a couple of days after St. Louis' Chris Carpenter similarly confounded them in a one-hitter. Yet, to them, this loss wasn't good for nothing. The Pirates packed up what they considered a couple of building blocks to go with a 3-3 road record and made their way back to Pittsburgh for their home opener today in PNC Park.
"Our two losses," Jack Wilson said of the Carpenter Thursday and the Harang Sunday, "you take a lot of positives from those two."
The same as Ross Ohlendorf battled Carpenter in that 2-1 defeat the game before last, Snell (0-2) -- after an eight-run showing in his first outing -- enabled his club to stay in relative proximity to Harang (1-1). He allowed a leadoff double to Willy Taveras and, two outs later, a two-strike, two-run homer on a down fastball that Brandon Phillips deposited over Great American Ball Park's left-field wall. Snell allowed baserunners in five of his six innings. He allowed the Reds to put men on second and third with one out in the third and fifth innings. Yet those two early runs accounted for all the scoring, despite Snell throwing just 61 strikes among his labor-intensive 104 pitches.
"I was proud of Ian, he kept us in the game," Pirates manager John Russell said. "You take away the two-run homer in the first, a couple of shaky innings. ... The great thing is, he showed he could get out of a jam. He seemed to get stronger and threw the ball very well for us. Obviously, well enough to win."
Snell, off playing with Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic most of March and off kilter with the flu for much of a fortnight, was pleased: "I had to prove something to myself. I feel like I got my stuff back. I got out of those jams, no further damage. I feel like I'm getting back to my form."
Meantime, Harang was atop his. He walked none and struck out nine while throwing 28 balls among 108 pitches. He allowed a game-opening double to Nyjer Morgan, a fifth-inning single by Brandon Moss and a ninth-inning Morgan hit. Offered Freddy Sanchez: "He was painting. That's vintage Harang."
In the field, Sanchez and Wilson frolicked. They ended the sixth with a doozy: Wilson dived to his left and, from his stomach, tossed the ball from his glove to Sanchez at second, who while falling to his left turned a double play. Then, in the eighth, with Phillips and Jay Bruce running on contact and no out, a liner by Ramon Hernandez helped Wilson to start in disbelief his first triple play in a quarter-century ... since T-ball. Wilson threw to Sanchez at second who then tossed to Adam LaRoche at first.
"One of the highlights of my career so far," Wilson said. "I don't think I've ever seen one with my own eyes. And it was like, 'Was there nobody out?'"
"You can't teach that," Russell said. "He has instincts, he has fun out on the field, him and Freddy play well together -- so things like that happen."
It was the Pirates' first triple play since Aug. 10, 1993, Jay Bell to Carlos Garcia to Kevin Young against St. Louis at Three Rivers Stadium. The previous road triple play by the club came 41 years and two Cincinnati stadia ago, in Crosley Field July 31, 1968. It went Gene Alley to Bill Mazeroski to Donn Clendenon.
Still and all, Sanchez said, "the triple play and the double play don't take away what we didn't do at the dish offensively."
Chuck Finder can be reached at email@example.com .