Karstens, bullpen put league's top team on brink of being swept
April 22, 2009 12:00 PM
Nyjer Morgan tumbles over the railing in pursuit of a foul ball hit by the Marlins' Emilo Bonifacio in the first inning.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Pirates had a fairly lousy afternoon, learning of the loss of Ryan Doumit, but they had ample reason to upgrade those long faces after a 3-2 edging of the Florida Marlins last night before 9,917 at PNC Park ...
Freddy Sanchez homered, doubled and singled.
Jeff Karstens, who had lost six consecutive decisions dating to last season, pitched six solid innings -- one run, three hits -- for a victory.
The bullpen carried it from there, with Matt Capps recording his fourth save.
And the Pirates as a whole, now 8-6, moved two games above .500 for the first time under manager John Russell, first time under anyone since sweeping three in Houston to open the 2007 season.
"I don't know how many people outside this clubhouse believe, but I can tell you that the 25 in here do," Karstens said. "Look at what we're doing. All we do is go out just about every night and play clean baseball."
• Game: Pirates vs. Florida Marlins, 12:35 p.m., PNC Park.
• Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (2-0, 0.87) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (1-1, 6.60)
• Key matchup: Florida star Hanley Ramirez bats .385 -- 5 for 13 -- off Maholm, with two home runs, a double and a walk.
• Of note: The Pirates' four shutouts, most in franchise history to this early point in a season, are twice as many as any other team in Major League Baseball. They pitched seven shutouts all of last season and did not have their fourth until Aug. 1.
All this against a Florida team that came to Pittsburgh 11-1, best record in Major League Baseball, but will be trying to avoid a three-game sweep this afternoon.
The Marlins' Anibal Sanchez had a 1.64 ERA through two starts, but the Pirates tagged him from the outset, building a 3-1 lead through three innings on six hits: Adam LaRoche's two-out single in the first and Jason Jaramillo's double off the Clemente Wall in the second brought the first two RBIs, and Freddy Sanchez led off the third with a home run, his second, by tomahawking an eye-level, one-strike sinker into the left-field bleachers.
His 3-for-4 night raised his average to .367, and it drew praise from the opponents.
"He's a batting champion, an All-Star, a heck of a player," Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I don't there are very many guys who could cover the ball down and away and, all of a sudden, that ball is up in his eyes, and he's got enough range to hit it out of the ballpark."
"I tip my hat to this guy," Anibal Sanchez said, referring specifically to the home run. "That ball ... I don't know how he made his swing. I don't know how he made contact with that pitch."
Well, how did he hit it?
"I have no idea," Freddy Sanchez said. "I guess I should have laid off it. But I took a cut and ... I really don't know what happened."
Karstens found trouble early but settled to retire nine of his final 10 batters. He was sharper than his previous outing -- three runs in four innings -- but that was to be expected, as the previous outing followed a three-week layoff.
"I knew he was going to be better," Russell said. "He was more consistent, kept the ball down."
This despite operating with not much in his repertoire beyond the fastball and slider.
"There's still some stuff I've got to work on," Karstens said. "But I was able to get away with a few balls that went straight up and, hey, sometimes it's better to be lucky."
His previous victory was that flirtation with a perfect game Aug. 6 in Phoenix.
The Marlins injected some suspense with Cameron Maybin's eighth-inning solo home run off Tyler Yates that cut the Pirates' lead to 3-2.
It got hairier, too: John Grabow relieved and, after one out, gave up a single to Emilio Bonifacio and walk to Ronny Paulino. But he got Hanley Ramirez to pop up and, after falling behind, 3-0, struck out Ross Gload swinging over a biting changeup.
This after displaying visible frustration with several other pitches in the inning.
"It was cold and hard to get a grip," Grabow said. "You know what? It ended well. That's what matters."
It ended with Capps' scoreless ninth, delivered in style with shortstop Jack Wilson robbing Dan Uggla of a leadoff single with a diving stab to his left.
That was one sliver of what has been a glaring difference between these two teams in fundamentals, especially in the field, in each of these two games. Earlier, right fielder Brandon Moss made a diving catch to quash a Florida rally.
"We're fundamentally sound, doing all the right things, the little things," Wilson said. "And, as I've been telling some of our other guys, we're not playing over our heads right now. We're just playing the way we should."
Paul Maholm, the Pirates' best, will pitch for the sweep.