Pirates' Capps fends off boos, baserunners

His 20th save backs pitching of Morton, Grabow to blank Giants, 2-0


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Who remembers the saves?

Matt Capps took the mound for the ninth inning of the Pirates' 2-0 silencing of San Francisco last night at PNC Park and, after two singles led it off, many in the capacity crowd of 37,023 booed.

Loudly.

"Yeah, I heard them," Capps would say later. "And I can't blame them. My job is to finish every game I pitch and, a week ago, I blew a four-run lead."

That, of course, was the excruciating 8-7 loss last Saturday in Philadelphia, one in which Capps, though not in a statistical save situation, blew the biggest lead of his career.


Today

Game: Pirates vs. San Francisco Giants, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (8-8, 3.29) vs. RHP Matt Cain (10-2, 2.38).

Key matchup: Duke will face the pitcher he replaced on the National League's All-Star roster. Cain had to skip the game because of a line drive to the elbow last weekend.

Of note: Cain's numbers in four starts against the Pirates -- 0-2, 5.63 ERA, .320 opponents' batting average -- are his worst against any National League opponent.


This time, Charlie Morton's seven solid innings, a perfect eighth by John Grabow and the customary pittance of offense led to Capps being entrusted with a two-run lead.

First batter, John Bowker, floated a ball just over second baseman Freddy Sanchez's head.

Next, Pablo Sandoval dropped one into shallow center.

"I was like, 'What's going on?' " Capps recalled.

He had been trying to get the free-swinging Giants to chase offspeed stuff early in counts, but that evidently was not working. So, he turned back to the favored fastball and got Nate Schierholtz to ground out to first.

Trouble was, the runners advanced, and now a single could tie.

Time to get clever again.

Travis Ishikawa saw a curveball and two sliders -- sliders from Capps? -- before blazing 94-mph high heat past his bat for the second out.

The crowd's mood swung as much as the game, and many stood and cheered in anticipation of the end.

That came when Juan Uribe rolled over a first-pitch slider -- another slider? -- to third baseman Andy LaRoche.

To Capps, from the sound of it, that happened in slow motion.

"I saw Uribe swing and thought it was going to go foul," Capps said. "Then, I saw Andy standing there waiting on it, and it was a pretty good feeling."

Not fully, just yet.

"Andy made the throw, I saw Adam catch it, Uribe about 4 feet from the bag ... and I just kind of let go there."

Capps pumped both fists and fairly bounced over to LaRoche, where the team congratulated him amid a thunderous ovation.

Philadelphia, anyone?

"Hey, it's part of the job," Capps said. "It's probably going to take everyone 14 or 15 more saves for everyone to forget those runs there. And that's fine. You know what? They'll forget it long before I forget it."

About those sliders: Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, as part of a plan to expand Capps' effectiveness against left-handed batters -- they bat .328 against him -- spent much of the past two afternoons teaching him a new grip on the pitch, one Capps has used liberally while putting up zeroes Friday and last night.

"I kind of like it," he said.

To be sure, Capps has had his shortcomings: His 5.81 ERA is the bullpen's worst, and he has only 23 strikeouts against 13 walks. But the saves are still there: This was his 20th in 22 chances, his 14th in a row. Nine closers in the National League have that many saves, and only four of those have better success rates.

Manager John Russell was adamant after Philadelphia that he was right to stick by his closer, and he reiterated that last night.

"Matt's done a very good job for us," Russell said. "He's had a couple bumpy outings, but it happens. The ninth inning's tough to pitch."

And did Russell hesitate in the slightest after the two singles last night?

"Not at all. He's the guy we're going to go to every time."

"Heck, yeah," Grabow said on the same topic. "I can tell you that not one person in this clubhouse lost confidence in our closer."

Morton limited the Giants to three singles and two walks, striking out six, and improved to 2-2 since joining the Pirates.

Neither his stuff nor location was sharp early, and it took a 1-2-3 string of defensive gems in the first -- Andy LaRoche's diving stab, Andrew McCutchen's sprinting catch back to the fence in center and Delwyn Young's diving catch in right -- to give him a chance to settle.

"That was huge, getting three unbelievable plays like that behind me," Morton said. "The whole game could have turned out different."

Morton asked Kerrigan to go deeper but was turned down because of his pitch count at 90 and the game's two brief rain delays that made for a sporadic tempo.

"I liked what I saw," Russell said. "This guy wants to be out there."

The Pirates pecked at San Francisco's Barry Zito for a run in the first on Ryan Doumit's sacrifice fly, another in the seventh when Andy LaRoche battled through an eight-pitch at-bat for a two-out RBI single into center.

Today, the Pirates will go for just their third series sweep all season, as well as another possible trifecta: The Giants have yet to score an earned run in this series while mustering just one extra-base hit.

That cannot possibly due entirely to the pitching.

"You're looking for quality at-bats," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. "Right now, we're cold."


Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog . Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . First Published July 19, 2009 4:15 AM


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