Morris puts bite on Diamondbacks for fine finale

His seven strong innings, LaRoche's three RBIs pace Pirates, 5-1

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Matt Morris was muttering to himself last week in San Diego about having "one more start, just one more start," one in which he was determined to end his 2007 on an upbeat note.

He mentioned, too, that all he was lacking was belief in his best stuff.

Right on both counts.

Morris rebounded from a miserable 10.80 ERA month by rifling through the Arizona batting order for seven sterling innings in the Pirates' 5-1 victory last night before 16,289 at PNC Park: He allowed one run on six hits - one for extra bases - and struck out seven.

And, on the other count, he came right at the Diamondbacks with pinpoint command - zero walks - of a full repertoire that included an unusually lively fastball, a biting changeup and and his patented curveball.

"I just got back to thinking about results, instead of worrying about what's going on mechanically," Morris said. "I just went out there and made pitches. It was my last game, and I was going to leave it all out there."

"A great way for Matt to finish up," manager Jim Tracy said.

"He had great command, especially early in the game," catcher Ronny Paulino said. "But then, it rained ..."

There was that factor, too: A 10-minute storm delayed the game 59 minutes in the second inning, largely because the grounds crew failed to cover the infield until after the rain had subsided. The infield dirt needed to be replaced.

Morris bided his time by pacing in the dugout, using the humidity to keep his arm warm.

"The delay put a little wrench in things," he said. "But I was able to stay loose."

"It didn't take him long to get back to where he started," Paulino said.

Arizona manager Bob Melvin said Morris surprised his hitters, to some extent, by pounding the zone with early fastballs.

"There were a lot more heaters than we're used to seeing from him," Melvin said.

  • Game: Pirates (RHP John Van Benschoten 0-6, 9.73) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (RHP Brandon Webb 17-10, 3.02), 12:35 p.m., PNC Park.
  • Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7)
  • Key matchup: Van Benschoten must get through the early going. Opponents are batting .368 against him -- 21 for 57 with nine walks -- in his first 30 pitches of a game.
  • Of note: Webb might take the Cy Young again: He ranks second in the National League in victories, fourth in ERA, third with 192 strikeouts, first with 229 innings and first with four complete games.

That closed the book on Morris, the highest-paid player in franchise history with a salary of $9.5 million, at 10-11 with a 4.89 ERA, including 3-4 in 11 starts since former general manager Dave Littlefield acquired him from the San Francisco Giants.

"It's a good way to end," Morris said. "I wish I was able to carry this a little further, but it's a positive."

Morris was supported, too, by fine outfield catches from Nyjer Morgan and Nate McLouth and a 15-hit offensive output.

Adam LaRoche's two-run double in the third put the Pirates ahead, 2-0. Morgan's run-scoring single in the fourth and Xavier Nady's home run on Livan Hernandez's first pitch of the fifth - his 20th of the year, high above the Clemente Wall - made it 4-0.

Arizona's lone run off Morris came in the sixth on Conor Jackson's two-out double.

"One of the few times I shook off Paulino," Morris said. "I learned my lesson."

LaRoche nullified that with another run-scoring double that raised his team-leading RBI total to 87. His average, among the worst in the game through April and May, is at a season-high .275.

Salomon Torres and Matt Capps put up zeroes in the final two innings.

The Pirates' victory was their 68th, surpassing the 67 they recorded each of the previous two seasons.


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