Outfielder's three hits, Duke's pitching end eight-game slide
May 13, 2009 8:00 AM
Matt Freed/ Post-Gazette
Brandon Moss makes a sliding catch against the Cardinals Khalil Greene in the eighth inning Tuesday night.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
That was what Brandon Moss, Adam LaRoche and pretty much everyone associated with the Pirates finally could take after a where-did-that-come-from 7-1 assault on the St. Louis Cardinals, one that emphatically ended an eight-game losing streak, last night before 11,718 at PNC Park.
Moss, lugging an 0-for-15 slump, broke the dam with his first home run since Sept. 2 and went 3 for 4 with two RBIs.
LaRoche, lugging a 1-for-30, shrugged off two early strikeouts for his sixth home run.
And the team as a whole had 11 hits to complement Zach Duke's eight fine innings, in which he limited St. Louis to a run and four hits.
• Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Ross Ohlendorf (3-3, 4.14) vs. RHP Joel Pineiro (4-2, 3.66)
• Key matchup: Skip Schumaker's seven plate appearances vs. Ohlendorf this season have netted a triple, three singles and a walk. The rest of St. Louis' hitters are batting .250 off him.
• Of note: The Pirates are 11-0 when they score six or more runs.
"It feels like spring training was the last time we shook hands," LaRoche said in a clubhouse where postgame music blared for the first time since May 2. "It was nice to meet at the mound for a change."
Change seemed to be in the air a few hours beforehand, with sunny skies defying whatever dark clouds had formed during all that losing, owner Bob Nutting and most of the team's brass took in batting practice. The tone being struck, by management and players, was unflinchingly optimistic.
"Sometimes, all it takes is coming back home and playing baseball on a beautiful evening in front of a supportive crowd," Nutting said. "We'll come out of this."
At the same time, Nutting, who in January said he expected the Pirates to show improvement over the 2008 edition that went 67-95, expressed displeasure with the losing streak.
"Like every fan and everyone in the organization, I'm deeply disappointed with what the last two weeks have looked like, just like we were all excited when we were 11-7. That said, I really believe that the process we have in place, the structure, the leadership, the organization is going to carry us through this dismal two-week stretch. We're going to come out stronger and, yes, we're going to stay the course we've set."
Manager John Russell, who had an extended on-field chat with Nutting during that batting practice, pointed to the lack of significant hits throughout the streak -- the Pirates scored only 21 runs in those eight games and batted .184 with runners in scoring position -- and, in a positive sense, did so again last night: They were 3 for 6 in the latter category.
"We thought we'd been swinging better, but we weren't getting guys home," Russell said. "Sometimes, one spark is all you need."
That spark, as Russell saw it, came from Duke's bat, not his arm: With two outs in the second and St. Louis ahead, 1-0, Duke lashed an RBI single into center.
"Then," Russell continued, "came the big hit we've really been missing."
That was Nyjer Morgan's two-run triple just beyond the reach of right fielder Ryan Ludwick, followed closely by Nate McLouth's RBI squibber through the right side.
A bing, a bang and a bleeder, and the Pirates had what must have felt like a week's worth of offense and a 4-1 lead.
"Felt like a relief," Morgan said.
Three more in the fifth chased St. Louis starter Todd Wellemeyer: LaRoche reached down to send a 3-1 fastball into the visitors' bullpen. Two batters later, with one aboard, Moss lifted a first-pitch fastball above the Clemente Wall to make it 7-1.
Moss' average rose only to the Mendoza Line at .200, but one could not tell that from his smile.
"It's been a really frustrating couple weeks for me," Moss said. "To find the barrel of the bat more times in one day than I did in all that time, yeah, that felt pretty good."
All through the New York series, he was fouling pitches back.
"The difference was keeping my head still, staying back, something we worked on today," Moss said of himself and hitting coach Don Long. "I was able to get on the inside fastball, something I haven't been able to do all year even though it's my pitch of choice."
Moss also made a sliding catch on a fly ball near the right-field line in the ninth.
"We know what Brandon's capable of," Russell said. "He just needs to relax."
LaRoche's slump came with a few solidly struck balls but few results.
"It was good to get one out there where they couldn't catch it," he said.
Duke improved to 4-3, his ERA at 2.52, this after shrugging off Albert Pujols' solo home run in the first -- one that struck high off the tall batter's eye beyond center field, among the most impressive shots in PNC Park history -- and limiting the Cardinals to one hit in their final 21 at-bats against him.
Duke has been charged with an earned run or less in five of his seven starts.
"The consistency has meant a lot to me," he said. "I want to give my team a chance every time I go out. I'm proud of that so far."
He might have gotten a second complete game -- his pitch count was at 104 -- but Russell had made up his mind he was going to get closer Matt Capps action after missing six games to a bruised elbow.
Capps loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth but rebounded to retire the next three batters without a run. That included two strikeouts, one a third strike that blazed by Jason LaRue at 95 mph and offered an encouraging early sign for the elbow.
"I wanted that," Capps said.
Had the Pirates lost their ninth in a row, they would have moved within one of their 15th double-digit losing streak in the franchise's 123 years, only the second since 1968.