It was a rare show of on-field fire from these Pirates, even if it flickered into a 5-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians last night at PNC Park.
"Great to be a part of it," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "Right up to the end."
Yeah, the end ...
The ninth inning was cresting into a classic in the mold of previous Pirates-Indians meetings: Freddy Sanchez had just walked to load the bases. Four runs already had crossed. The deficit was down to one. And LaRoche, who launched a ball into the Allegheny River to lead off that inning, was striding to the box with most of the crowd of 19,109 on its feet.
Before heading to first base, Sanchez spun around and emphatically clapped in LaRoche's direction.
"It was a big moment there, a big situation," Sanchez recalled. "I'm a real emotional player. Just trying to get everybody going, see if we could pull it out."
Such demonstrations have been rare for this team, but it seemed to set the intended tone.
"Yeah, I saw him," LaRoche said. "You know, I'd started thinking about five or six batters earlier, 'Man, I"d like another turn.' Well, I got it."
He certainly stretched it out, running the count full before fouling a pitch back off a big swing to draw a loud ooooooh from the seats.
Cleveland closer Kerry Wood, part of the worst bullpen in Major League Baseball, then came right after LaRoche with 95-mph heat, over the inside corner, and got a lazy flyout to right, drawing an equally loud aaaaaaw.
"Give him credit," LaRoche said. "He had his struggles earlier that inning, but all he did was paint on me."
That was a reference to Wood's locating on the corners, which he did with all but the first offering, a curveball down the middle taken for a strike.
• Game: Pirates vs. Cleveland Indians, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (7-5, 3.18) vs. RHP Carl Pavano (6-5, 5.73).
• Key matchup: The Pirates must be patient. Cleveland's pitchers have walked 292 batters, most in Major League Baseball, with 45 percent of that total coming from the bullpen.
• Of note: Duke has won his past four starts at PNC Park and, for the season at home, is 5-2 with a 2.77 ERA.
To be sure, it would be hard to blame LaRoche for laying off that one, given that the previous two batters, Nyjer Morgan and Sanchez, the freest of free swingers, had just drawn walks.
"Adam had a great at-bat," Sanchez said. "He laid off that two-strike slider in the dirt to get the full count. He got up there and battled."
The inning began with Matt Herges on the mound for Cleveland, and LaRoche greeted him with his 454-foot shot that bounced off the walkway beyond center field and into the river, the 26th such ball in stadium history.
RBI doubles by pinch-hitter Brandon Moss and Jack Wilson made it 5-3, and Andrew McCutchen's two-out RBI single -- bringing an 11-game hitting streak, longest in the majors for a rookie this season -- pulled the Pirates within one.
Thus, this game, despite its frenzied finish, ended up being defined more by the starters.
On the home side, Ian Snell lasted only 2 2/3 innings, charged with four runs and needing 70 pitches -- 50 in the third inning alone -- to get that far.
"They didn't hit the ball hard, I know that," Snell said. "Just softly hit balls that found the holes... You go along with the game plan, and the game plan failed. I didn't execute the pitches, and it just went south."
The Pirates' plan is put together by pitching coach Joe Kerrigan.
One constant in Snell's performance this summer -- he is now 2-8 with a 5.36 ERA -- has been inefficiency: He averages 17.5 pitches per inning, highest among all 96 starters in the majors qualified for the ERA title.
In this one, he fell behind nine of 15 batters, including full counts on five of his final six. In that interminable third inning, he got ahead of Grady Sizemore, 0-2, before running it to a full count and giving up a two-run triple.
"He has moments, some good innings," Russell said of Snell. "But he's having trouble piecing together, start to finish."
Right fielder Steve Pearce ran a "bad route" on Sizemore's ball, as Russell described it, but only Snell was to blame for what came next: He walked two batters, got a strikeout, got ahead of Jhonny Peralta with a 1-2 count, ran that one full, then gave up a two-run single.
Snell has an option remaining, so the Pirates could demote him to Class AAA Indianapolis. They have two candidates for a promotion: Tom Gorzelanny drew praise from management for his start Monday -- five innings, one run, seven strikeouts -- in Scranton. And Virgil Vasquez, 5-2 with a 4.18 ERA, was lifted after one inning last night in Lehigh Valley -- fully healthy -- because the Pirates want a starter ready if Charlie Morton's left hamstring will keep him from pitching Friday.
As for the visiting starter, Cleveland's David Huff joined the parade of pitchers with awful numbers to mow down the Pirates: He carried a 7.09 ERA into this one and had failed to pitch beyond the fifth inning in six of his first seven major league starts, but all he did was put up eight zeroes and scatter three singles and a double.
The Pirates have lost five in a row.