Early barrage beats Padres, 7-4, for 4-2 trip, 11-8 road record
May 5, 2011 8:00 AM
Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press
The Pirates' Ryan Doumit launches a grand slam in the third inning Wednesday at Petco Park.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
SAN DIEGO -- Doubts can creep into an athlete's mind when a team tries, unsuccessfully, to trade him.
And be sure the Pirates' Ryan Doumit has had such doubts, wondering if he still is seen as an everyday player, waiting to see if he will be playing elsewhere or if, somehow, he can regain regular duty with his current team.
Of this, though, there was no doubt: Doumit's powerfully struck grand slam propelled the Pirates past the San Diego Padres, 7-4, Wednesday at Petco Park.
How powerfully struck?
Unconfirmed reports had it registering on the Navy's off-shore missile radar.
"It was a backspin laser beam," outfielder Garrett Jones called it.
"Frozen rope," second baseman Neil Walker said.
"That's as impressive a home run as I've seen here," outfielder Xavier Paul said. "To do that in this park, to the deepest part, that takes a big, strong man."
It started with some small ball in the second when Walker walked, advanced on a Doumit walk, stole third and scored on a groundout.
But the bats broke out for six runs in the third, thanks in part to miserable defense by San Diego.
Game: Pirates vs. Houston Astros, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: Root Sports, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (1-4, 4.14) vs. LHP Wandy Rodriguez (1-3, 4.26).
Andrew McCutchen led off with a single, and Paul and Matt Diaz each reached on an error, the first on a wide throw to second by catcher Nick Hundley, the next when third baseman Chase Headley failed to scoop up a sharp grounder, and bases were loaded. Walker lashed a two-run single into center, and Steve Pearce walked to load the bases anew.
That brought up Doumit, batting right-handed -- long his weaker side -- against the left-hander Clayton Richard. He worked the count full before annihilating a 91-mph fastball into the seats beyond left-center, which at Petco means beyond the 401-foot mark, and the Pirates led, 7-0.
The ball was struck with such force that it never appeared to go more than 30-40 feet off the ground, and Doumit still flicked his bat and began a home run trot right away.
Did he know?
"I knew I hit it pretty well," Doumit said. "At worst, I thought it would be a double."
Oh, come on.
"OK, yeah, I hit the [stuffing] out of it."
With that came a smile, and those have been sparse this year.
Doumit, the Pirates' most tenured player, went 2 for 3 with a walk but is off to a .259 start, the home run was only his second, and his RBI total jumped from five to nine. His playing time is down to once every three days after management aggressively shopped him for a trade in the offseason. No match was found, probably because of his $5.1 million salary.
Ask Doumit about the challenge of staying sharp, and he will reply with typical candor.
"It's tough," he said. "But what can you do about it? You go out there when your name is called, try to be as prepared as you can."
It does not sound like a change is imminent. Doumit can play right field and first base, in addition to catching, but manager Clint Hurdle offered a four word answer when asked if he was considering other ways to get Doumit into the lineup: "No, not right now."
There was much else for the Pirates to relish about this one:
• The road record improved to 11-8, most wins in the majors, a radical reversal from the 17-64 disaster in 2010.
• The 4-2 trip through Denver and San Diego brought two more road series victories for a total of five, one more than in 2010.
• Starter Kevin Correia's six-plus solid innings -- two runs, five hits -- raised his record to a National League-best 5-2, including road marks of 5-0 and a 1.56 ERA. He became the first Pirates pitcher to win his first five road starts since Don Robinson won his first seven in 1982.
"I thought I actually pitched well in my two starts at PNC, and I'm sure this will even out," Correia said.
As for the broader road reversal ...
"Lessons needed to be taken from the whuppin' they took last year," Hurdle said. "And I do think players were able to self-evaluate why it happened. We talked about changing our mentality on the road, the structure of our workouts, and they took it to heart. Above all, though, is playing better baseball."
The question now: Can the Pirates pack up any of this winning and bring it back to PNC Park, where they are 4-8 with a .199 team batting average?
"Sure, we can," Hurdle said, smiling. "We're going to win games at home. We had a good road trip, we'll all enjoy the day off -- well deserved -- and we'll tighten up things at home."