Hottest team in Major League Baseball?
Not on this cold, rainy night at PNC Park, where Ross Ohlendorf and the Pirates threw a wet blanket over the Florida Marlins by dunking them, 8-0, and dominating every facet: Ohlendorf pitched seven scoreless innings and allowed just two singles, Nate McLouth blasted a towering three-run home run, the offense pounded out 11 hits, and third baseman Andy LaRoche turned three defensive gems.
Winners of seven in a row, they had been aiming to become the first 12-1 team since the 2003 San Francisco Giants, but they were hollow at the plate and ragged in the field, handing away a run on one of their three wild pitches, another run on a balk.
Still, Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez focused more on the opposing pitcher.
• • Game: Pirates vs. Florida Marlins, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Jeff Karstens (0-0, 6.75) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (1-0, 1.64)
• Key matchup: The Pirates' right-handed hitters vs. Sanchez. Right-handers are batting .333 off him in the early going, left-handers just .231.
• Of note: Florida is batting .327 with runners in scoring position, second in Major League Baseball to Atlanta's .353. The Pirates are at .252.
"You got to give a lot of credit to that kid across the way,'' Gonzalez said of Ohlendorf. "He threw some good sinkers. We had him right off the get-go, and he got out of it. I don't think we put a good swing on him the rest of the night.''
Ohlendorf improved to 1-2 with a superb showing, striking out five, walking one and getting lifted only because his pitch count had reached 91. As Gonzalez indicated, the Marlins had Ohlendorf in trouble in the first inning, with runners at second and third and one out, but he got Jorge Cantu to hit a comebacker and Dan Uggla to fly out.
"Ross did a tremendous job," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He attacked the zone with everything. He had a very good mix."
That might have been key: Unlike his first two starts, Ohlendorf mixed in more offspeed material, notably an effective changeup, and was able to target Florida's individual weaknesses: When facing Hanley Ramirez, he used the slider. Against Cantu and Uggla, the rest of the heart of the order, it was the changeup.
It was a far cry from Ohlendorf's first start in St. Louis, where, even though he found good results, he leaned almost entirely on the fastball and sinker.
"I know they're a good fastball-hitting group, so it was important for me to find my other pitches," Ohlendorf said. "I had them all tonight, especially the changeup, and I guess you could say it was good timing. It felt good to pitch like that. It really did. Especially against that team."
Tyler Yates and Jesse Chavez finished off the Pirates' third team shutout in four games.
"It was good all-around," Russell said. "We knew coming in that, to beat these guys, we'd have to pitch well and play well all-around, and we did."
That started with some atypically aggressive baserunning.
The Pirates had only five stolen bases all season but took three off Florida starter Andrew Miller, who had immense difficulty holding runners. They made other bold decisions on the basepaths, too, and all paid off.
Nyjer Morgan led off the first with a four-pitch walk, stole second and scored on McLouth's shot through the middle.
Adam LaRoche opened the fourth with a double, then took third -- somewhat daringly -- on a flyout to shallow right. He sprinted home on Miller's wild pitch, and it was 2-0.
The next inning, with McLouth and Craig Monroe aboard, LaRoche singled into left-center. Third base coach Tony Beasley never hesitated in waving home Monroe -- who had started out at first -- and he coasted home when left fielder Jeremy Hermida lollipopped his relay to the infield. The lead was 4-0.
Miller failed to escape that inning, charged with four runs, five hits, four walks and two wild pitches over 4 2/3, with an agonizing pitch count of 100. One explanation might be that he was in pain: He was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained oblique immediately after the game.
"Essentially, the way I threw put us out of this game,'' Miller said.
The Pirates' lead doubled with four more off Logan Kensing in the sixth, highlighted by McLouth's blast, which traveled 433 feet, bounced off the concourse beyond right-center field and into the Allegheny River. It was the 24th ball to reach the river, the 23rd on a bounce.
Andy LaRoche's string of gems began by barehanding a bunt and nailing speedy Emilio Bonifacio in the third, a backhand spear on John Baker in the sixth and, perhaps best of all, a diving stab to start a 5-4-3 double play in the seventh.
He also went 1 for 4.
"I'm feeling a lot more relaxed, more confident out there," LaRoche said.
"A really good night," Russell said of LaRoche.
Not many were there to see it: The paid attendance of 8,790 was the sixth-smallest in PNC Park history, the smallest having been 8,201 from the April, 25, 2007. Actual turnstile count was roughly 4,500.