To look at Adam LaRoche, one never could imagine he had nearly lived out a baseball player's fantasy.
It was LaRoche who took exception a month ago when New York's Carlos Beltran called it "embarrassing" that his Mets were swept by the Pirates, publicly declaring that Beltran had "zero class."
And it was LaRoche, in the teams' first meeting since then, who belted a two-run, tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning yesterday at PNC Park.
Alas, the Mets prevailed, 9-8, in the 10th.
"Wish it was a three-run shot," LaRoche said in a hushed tone at his locker. "Wasn't enough."
Not in this dogfight that included two rain delays, three lead changes, five players hit by pitches, several outward displays of emotion, and more turning points than a kaleidoscope.
Start with the ninth...
With the Pirates down, 8-6, pinch-hitter Freddy Sanchez led off against New York closer Francisco Rodriguez with an infield single capped by a headfirst slide, one that ignited the crowd of 14,321.
"I felt it was the best way to get there faster, not worrying about the timing of my foot," Sanchez said.
• Game: Pirates vs. Florida Marlins, 6:10 p.m., Land Shark Stadium.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Charlie Morton (0-1, 4.09) vs. RHP Chris Volstad (5-7, 4.63).
• Season series: Pirates, 3-0.
• Key matchup: Florida's brilliant shortstop, Hanley Ramirez, has a franchise-best RBI streak of 10 games, during which he has 24 RBIs and is batting .475.
• Of note: The Pirates are 13-8 against the East Division, the best such record of any team outside that division. That includes the three-game sweep of Florida April 20-22, when the Marlins came to Pittsburgh 11-1.
It would pay: After taking a ball, LaRoche tore into a Rodriguez changeup and launched a no-doubter into the center-field seats for his team-high 12th home run and a tied score.
"I don't usually try to hit home runs, but I was trying there," LaRoche said.
After two outs, Robinzon Diaz and Ramon Vazquez singled to put men at the corners for resurgent Brandon Moss. He hit a laser, but right at second baseman Luis Castillo.
"You believe that?" LaRoche said. "Just a few inches."
The difference in the 10th would be more like several feet...p>
Pirates closer Matt Capps got two quick outs, then hit Fernando Tatis. Tatis stole second, and Ryan Church lined a single into shallow center.
Should have been a fairly routine out at the plate, except that Andrew McCutchen's throw sailed so high that it cleared not only Diaz but also Capps backing up, off the limestone wall behind the plate. Tatis scored, and the Mets were on top again, 9-8.
"I just rushed it, and the ball slipped," McCutchen said. "I had a lot of time."
The Pirates instruct their outfielders in such situations to make one-hop throws.
"That's what I wanted to do," he said.
Capps blamed himself for throwing a third consecutive changeup to Church, one with little movement.
"Never should have thrown that pitch," he said.
Next, it was up to New York's Rodriguez, one of baseball's best, to retake the mound after a rare lapse on a lot of levels: He had been 21 of 23 in saves, had allowed one home run all year and had held left-handers to a .135 average, until LaRoche took him deep.
Small wonder Rodriguez approached his manager, Jerry Manuel, between innings to seek a second chance.
"I'm the kind of guy, if I make a mess, I clean it up," Rodriguez said.
He did, with a 1-2-3 10th.
The game was a rainout makeup from June 3, which should have been part of a four-game set. The Pirates took all three that were played, prompting Beltran's remarks about being embarrassed and how the Mets are "better than that team," then LaRoche's equally pointed retort.
Beltran, an All-Star center fielder, is out with a knee injury, or LaRoche's home run might have sailed over his head.
Asked yesterday if the Pirates might have gained respect from the Mets while finishing 3-4 against them, including a victory against ace Johan Santana, LaRoche replied, "Oh, no doubt. You talk to that whole team, and I don't think any of them think we're a joke. Maybe one or two. For the most part, those guys know it's not going to be easy against us, regardless of who they've got on the mound. I think we've proven that. And they don't lay down, either."
Paul Maholm's inconsistent summer continued with what might have been his worst start, six runs and 11 hits over 4 1/3 innings.
The Pirates' offense had given him a 5-0 lead by chasing Tim Redding in the third.
"I gave it up," Maholm said. "On my part, that's pretty pathetic."
He was fresh off an encouraging victory against Kansas City in which he held the Royals to two runs over seven innings, largely because he rediscovered his sinker.
"I didn't have anything. Everything was up and over the middle."
Newly recalled outfielder Garrett Jones nearly hit for the cycle, going 3 for 5 with a double, triple and solo home run in the seventh that pulled the Pirates within 8-6. In his third at-bat, he lined out to pitcher Brian Stokes, and that easily could have brought his missing single.
"What can you do?" Jones said. "He made a good play."
Russell strongly indicated Jones will see more playing time on the nine-game road trip that begins tonight in Miami.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com.