In many ways, Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit was the guy most deserving to play conqueror Sunday afternoon.
Sure, there is the wave of young, talented players who have found their way into critical roles for the Pirates. And there are a few suddenly potent arms in a starting rotation that has been devoid of such talent in recent years.
But on this day, as the Pirates defeated the Houston Astros, 5-4, at PNC Park to reach the .500 mark for the deepest point in any season since 2005, it made the most sense the guy who has lived through the greatest amount of ups and downs, the longest-tenured player on the team, hit the winning home run.
And got a curtain call.
Game: Pirates vs. Dodgers, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
TV/radio: Root Sports, WPGB-FM 104.7.
Pitching:RHP Jeff Karstens (2-1, 4.05 ERA) vs. RHP Chad Billingsley (2-1, 3.92 ERA).
Key matchup: Karstens vs. PNC Park. Karstens has fared much better at home this season: His ERA is 2.25 in three games at PNC Park; on the road it is 6.75 in four games.
Hidden stat:Billingsley is 4-0 against the Pirates, striking out 26 in 262/3 innings against the club in eight appearances.
"He's just a baseball player who shows up and plays hard, and he's been through a lot here," second baseman Neil Walker said of Doumit. "He's the epitome of a leader."
When Doumit, who made his Pirates debut June 5, 2005, and was drafted by the club in 1999, turned around a Fernando Abad fastball in the eighth inning with Walker and Steve Pearce on base, he turned a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 victory.
The buzz in the crowd of 17,946 as Doumit strode into the dugout after the home run wasn't about the club trying to use him as a piece in some trade.
It wasn't about the more than $5 million he is being paid this season as a part-time player.
It wasn't about comments manager Clint Hurdle made on the team's most recent road trip about not being able to find Doumit more playing time.
As Doumit shuffled his way down into the dugout, the crowd simply stood and cheered.
So at their behest, Doumit came out for a curtain call, raising his arm in gratitude.
"It was cool," Doumit said of the moment. "It was a big win. I felt happy for the team. But it felt pretty special."
The win pushed the Pirates to a benchmark on the season. They are 17-17 with the Dodgers in town tonight through Thursday.
Doumit's Mother's Day homer into the left-field seats allowed the Pirates to reach the .500 mark at the deepest point in any season since June 11, 2005, when they were 30-30. The Pirates have also won five of their past seven games.
One more superlative, because they've been few and far between the past 18 seasons: The team earned its seventh series victory in a season just six weeks old. Last year, the Pirates won just 16 of 52 series in the trudge through the 105-loss schedule.
How does Hurdle think people should feel about the .500 record right now?
"I want people to feel what they need to feel," he said. "Because I can't control what everybody else feels. And if there are good feelings out there, so be it."
How do the players feel about the .500 record?
"Guys are excited to show up to the park and play," Doumit said. "Granted, it's a month-and-a-half in, but we've already surprised some people around the league and we're not even playing up to our capabilities yet."
That much showed in Sunday's game.
Take, for example, why Doumit even needed to hit a winning three-run homer in the eighth.
The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the first on a Pearce sacrifice fly, but were rolling into what had the look of a shutout victory from starter James McDonald.
Using an overwhelming curveball that buckled Houston sluggers Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee, McDonald pitched six innings of three-hit ball, striking out eight, which tied a career high. Aided by a Ronny Cedeno RBI single in the fourth, McDonald left with a 2-0 lead.
Then came that part about the Pirates not playing up to their capabilities.
In the seventh reliever Chris Resop failed to get a batter out and before the Pirates escaped the inning, Houston had a 3-2 lead. Another Astros run in the eighth made it 4-2.
Doumit's opportunity came in the bottom of the eighth.
It was that kind of moment that Hurdle and Doumit had talked about earlier in the season. Hurdle told Doumit that his chances might not come every day but that he always needed to be prepared.
Hurdle recalled one such conversation. "For it to play out the best, you need to show up, control what you can control and let things go where they may," he told Doumit.
Certainly, Doumit listened.
Colin Dunlap: firstname.lastname@example.org First Published May 9, 2011 4:00 AM