Rare home runs, rarer victory for Snell in beating Twins, 8-2
June 18, 2009 12:30 PM
Jim Mone/Associated Press
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, right, is congratulated by third base coach Tony Beasely, left, after hitting a two-run home run off Minnesota Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano in the third inning of last night's game in Minneapolis.
Jim Mone/Associated Press
Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez, center, catches a shallow pop fly off the bat of Twins infielder Brendan Harris under the watch of center fielder Andrew McCutchen, left, and right fielder Delwyn Young, right, in the first inning last night's game.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
MINNEAPOLIS -- However John Russell and his staff might have mapped out a plan for the Pirates to beat the Minnesota Twins, as they did by a convincing 8-2 count last night at the Metrodome, it could not have looked like this:
1. Have your starter, Ian Snell in this case, run up an excruciating pitch count early.
2. Have your offense be almost entirely dependent on home runs, even though the team ranks last in Major League Baseball in that category.
3. Have your defense commit two large, late gaffes with the game on the line.
But there it was ...
Ian Snell shrugged off a two-run, 41-pitch third inning to last six innings with no other damage. That brought his first victory since April 18, raising his record to 2-7.
Game: Pirates vs. Minnesota Twins, 1:10 p.m., Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (7-4, 3.10) vs. RHP Nick Blackburn (5-2, 3.31).
Key matchup: Duke vs. the Homer-dome, especially given that he has allowed five home runs in his past two starts after allowing just four in his first 11 starts.
Of note: Nyjer Morgan's .350 average in day games -- 27 for 77 in 20 games -- ranks sixth in the National League. One problem: How will anyone inside know it is daytime?
Andrew McCutchen slugged an impressive first career home run, and Andy and Adam LaRoche went deep, too, the first brothers to do so in a game for the Pirates since Hall of Famers Paul and Lloyd Waner on Sept. 15, 1938. For the team, that brought just the second output of three home runs all season, the other coming April 11 in Cincinnati.
And John Grabow overcame mistakes by left fielder Nyjer Morgan and catcher Robinzon Diaz to leave those bases loaded in the seventh and protect a two-run lead.
"Full moon, I guess," Russell said.
That was hard to tell from inside the big dome, but the strangeness was unmistakable from the outset ...
Snell labored through 70 pitches through three innings, during which he allowed four hits and three walks, then breezed through the next three innings by retiring nine of 10 batters on just 32 pitches.
"I was nibbling a little, and we weren't getting the calls on the corners," Snell said, referring to home plate umpire Lance Barksdale.
After the third inning, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan had, by all accounts, a rather pointed message for Snell.
"He told me to man up, start pounding the zone," Snell recalled. "Just trust my stuff."
Funny how that works.
"Yep," Kerrigan said.
"Ian wasn't as efficent as we'd like, but he battled," Russell said. "It was good to get him a win."
That process began in the third, when Jack Wilson's single was followed by McCutchen's two-run blast, high and deep to left-center off Francisco Liriano's 2-2 fastball. Most impressive, McCutchen was able to drive the pitch that direction even though it went hard over the outside corner, exactly as intended.
He looked as if belonged circling the bases, too.
"Aw, I wasn't really thinking about smiling," McCutchen said. "I was glad we got some runs on the board early. But yeah, it felt really good. Maybe I'll think about it when I get home."
McCutchen, batting .339 with nine RBIs in 13 games since his highly anticipated promotion, has a six-game hitting streak.
Minnesota tied in the bottom half on Joe Crede's two-run double, Snell sweating through those 41 pitches, two hits and two walks before quelling things with a swinging strikeout of Delmon Young.
The Pirates made that matter in the fourth, Adam LaRoche leading off with a double and, after two outs, Andy belting a 1-0 fastball into the fourth row beyond left field for a 4-2 lead.
The previous night, Young robbed him at that same wall. This time, he watched it sail.
"Got a little more on it," Andy LaRoche said.
It was his third home run, remarkably tying him for third on the team in that category, with Adam having nine, Freddy Sanchez five. The team total is 40, better only than the San Francisco Giants' 37.
Grabow relieved Snell for the seventh, with that 4-2 lead, and gave up a one-out single by Brendan Harris that turned into two bases when Morgan threw to third without looking to see that Harris had stopped at first. Diaz's passed ball allowed Harris to third, and Grabow walked sluggers Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to load the bases.
Grabow and Diaz each found quick redemption ...
With the crowd of 30,058 on its feet, Grabow set up Jason Kubel with three consecutive sliders before whipping a high fastball past his fists for strike three. That is not a common sequence for Grabow against left-handers, and he credited Diaz.
"Great call," Grabow said. "You don't want to let Kubel get his hands extended, so Robby wanted to set him up, then jam him."
The inning ended with a comebacker from Joe Crede.
With one out in the eighth, Adam LaRoche sent Sean Henn's 2-0 fastball beyond the fence in center to extend the lead to 5-2.
The LaRoches never shared a team before being with the Pirates, and they seemed to take exceptional delight in homering together.
"I wouldn't compare us to those Hall of Famers, but it's neat," Andy said.
"It's pretty special, the kind of thing we've been waiting for a long time," Adam said. "Hopefully, we can do it a couple more times."
The Waner brothers homered together three times for the Pirates.