It had been long expected that the Pirates might make history this weekend, but who thought it would be something to relish?
Ross Ohlendorf, in the team's most riveting pitching performance in recent memory, struck out a career-high 11 last night at PNC Park, including the fanning of all three St. Louis batters on the minimum nine pitches in the seventh inning of ... well, OK, so it turned out a 2-1, 10-inning victory for the Cardinals.
As first baseman Steve Pearce would put it, "After what Ross did, it's amazing that we lost that game."
It probably was, given that Ohlendorf held St. Louis to one unearned run over eight innings, but Albert Pujols' pinch-hit home run off Matt Capps in the 10th extended the Pirates' losing streak to a season-high nine and pulled them within one loss of 82. Thus, the record 17th consecutive losing season can be clinched this afternoon.
• Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (7-8, 4.67) vs. RHP Joel Pineiro (14-9, 3.19).
• Key matchup: The Pirates' Luis Cruz has only 21 career hits but is 3 for 3 off Pineiro.
• Of note: Garrett Jones and St. Louis' Colby Rasmus rank Nos. 1 and 2 among National League rookies, with 18 and 14, respectively, but Rasmus has played in 65 more games.
Still, the highlight last night was the history made by Ohlendorf with his immaculate inning, as it is commonly called:
• It was only the 43rd in Major League Baseball history, 40 different pitchers having done it. The three to have done it twice: Sandy Koufax, Lefty Grove and Nolan Ryan.
• It was the second this year, the other by the New York Yankees' A.J. Burnett, June 20 against the Florida Marlins in Miami.
• And it was the second in the Pirates' 123 years, the other by reliever Jeff Robinson, Sept. 7, 1987, against the Cubs in Chicago.
Ohlendorf's was one part fantastic, two parts filthy ...
Khalil Greene swung through all three sliders he saw. The third hit the dirt, forcing catcher Ryan Doumit to throw to first.
Julio Lugo looked at a fastball and slider, then swung through a dirty slider. Again, Doumit had to throw to first.
Finally, Jason LaRue looked at a slider, swung through a slider and swung over another dirty curve. Doumit did the rest.
The crowd of 27,071 stood and roared, and Ohlendorf and Doumit discussed the feat shortly after reaching the dugout, but neither knew the scope of it until afterward.
"That's pretty cool," Ohlendorf said. "It actually crossed my mind after about the fifth pitch because I don't think I've ever done that. Ryan did a great job. I threw a lot of sliders that bounced tonight, and he did a great job of knocking them down."
"Nine pitches, three Ks? That's pretty special," Doumit said. "And the thing with Ross is, he's getting better every time out. He's starting to look like that guy you can really rely on to take the ball every fifth day."
No one would dispute it: Ohlendorf is 11-9 with a 3.97 ERA, but it should be underscored that he has a 2.70 ERA since the All-Star break, after which he and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan altered his delivery to throw more over-the-top and, in the process, restored the velocity that had been mostly missing since he was acquired from the Yankees last summer.
The confidence has made a clear comeback, too, judging by Ohlendorf pounding the zone for 77 strikes out of 103 pitches.
"I felt really good about how I was throwing," Ohlendorf said. "Probably my best all year."
The 11 strikeouts were the Pirates' most since Ian Snell did likewise April 3, 2007, in Houston.
"Ross was outstanding," manager John Russell said. "It's just a shame that the first balk called against him all year works against him."
That and more, actually.
Pearce blistered a ball in the fourth that looked to be a two-run double, but left fielder Rick Ankiel made a superb running catch. The Pirates settled for one run that inning.
"Unbelievable," Pearce said.
Ohlendorf's unearned run came in the sixth, when Skip Schumaker singled, took second on the balk, third on a flyout, then scored when third baseman Andy LaRoche muffed a difficult bouncer to his left. The score was 1-1.
"If I make that play -- and I should -- Ross wins this game," LaRoche said.
The Pirates left bases loaded in the ninth, part of an 0-for-6 output with runners in scoring position, and St. Louis manager Tony La Russa made them pay in the 10th.
La Russa acknowledged afterward that he rested his biggest bats, Pujols and Matt Holliday, in part to load up left-handers against Ohlendorf -- "This guy's been pitching very well, and you saw it again tonight," La Russa said -- but now Pujols would lead off the 10th against Capps.
Capps got ahead, 1-2, but the fastball that followed -- which was supposed to be down but stayed at belt level -- was belted by Pujols it into the visitors' bullpen for his 44th home run.
"If that pitch is down, it's a grounder to short," Capps said. "But it wasn't, and ... I'm not the first person Albert's done that to."
Paul Maholm will try to avoid being a historical footnote today.