MIAMI -- Ian Snell strode off the Dolphin Stadium mound, fresh off a 95-mph fastball to fan Florida's Robert Andino.
Chin up, chest out and eyes flaring.
As if he were looking for a fight.
"He was mad," first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz recalled.
Nate McLouth had three more hits, Xavier Nady another home run and the Pirates' bench spelled their struggling heart of the order in what became a 9-2 rout of the Marlins. But the key, as expressed universally in the visiting clubhouse, was that Snell struck out 10 over six no-nonsense innings while conceding two runs -- one earned -- four hits and no walks.
- Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Tom Gorzelanny (0-1, 4.50 ERA) vs. LHP Ted Lilly (0-1, 7.71).
- Key matchup: As always in the eyes of the public, it is Aramis Ramirez vs. the team that sold him off in the name of financial solvency in 2003: He has batted .300 vs. the Pirates, with 18 home runs and 47 RBIs in 65 games.
- Of note: The Pirates are 2-5 in home openers at PNC Park, including losses in the past three. And get this: In the past 14 years, they are 2-12 and never have scored more than three runs.
"He was pretty much in control the whole time," Pirates manager John Russell said. "That's the kind of start you're looking for after a couple losses."
And the key within that, as always given Snell's perpetual need for a chip on the shoulder, was that something clearly had him ticked off.
So, what was it?
Fellow starter Paul Maholm thought he knew: "I had nine strikeouts in the last game, and he told me he would do one better."
Catcher Ryan Doumit weighed in, too: "I went out there for the third inning because he was throwing his fastballs at 88-89 miles an hour, and I'm like, 'Dude, are you hurt? Do you know how good you are?' He tells me his necklace broke. So, I just said, 'Throw the ball hard.' The next pitch was 95."
Mientkiewicz thought it was because, just before Andino batted in that fifth inning, Alfredo Amezaga's two-out RBI single pulled Florida within 4-1: "He didn't like the pitch to Amezaga at all."
Snell, predictably, had his own explanation: He apparently did not appreciate the demeanor of some Florida hitters when the Marlins took the first two games of the series on dramatic home runs.
"I saw how they were walking around against our pitchers when they got hits, showing our pitchers up," he said. "So, today, I just felt like I wanted to get them out in a big way. I just wanted them to know we're serious this year. We're not to be played around with."
Always something, right?
The double-digit strikeout total was Snell's sixth, and he was just shy of his single-game high of 11, achieved April 3, 2007, in Houston. But the aspects he seemed to relish most were, one, an "excellent job" of game-calling by Doumit and, two, getting the 'W' for the team.
"We lost the past two games and, for me, it feels like I have to go out and perform. I did my thing, and my teammates did the rest."
No one could dispute the importance of the timing: The Pirates will carry a 3-3 record into their home opener today, but that masks what could have been a calamitous road trip given their many shortcomings at the plate, in the field and on the basepaths.
Still, for one day, all seemed satisfactory as far as fundamentals, with one error on a bad hop that skipped by shortstop Luis Rivas, and two runners finally succeeding in stretching singles into doubles.
And the offense, with struggling Jason Bay and Adam LaRoche given the day off, was deep and diversified: McLouth had two doubles, a single and two RBIs out of the No. 3 hole. Nady, bumped up to No. 5, had two hits and a two-run home run -- his third -- that raised his RBI total to a team-high nine. The bench chipped in plenty, too, with leadoff man Nyjer Morgan scoring both times he reached base, Mientkiewicz reaching three times and Chris Gomez rapping three hits.
"You need all 25 guys," Mientkiewicz said. "If Bay and LaRoche are struggling, that's what we're there for. You can't expect them or Nate to get it done every night."
Actually, expectations for McLouth might be growing to that level: His early average is at .429, and he has six of the Pirates' 20 extra-base hits.
"I feel really comfortable right now, and it's mostly, I think, just from being out there every day," McLouth said.
The Pirates chased Florida's 21-year-old starter, Rick VandenHurk, with a four-run third inning.
After Morgan was hit by a pitch, Rivas bounced into what looked to be a 6-4-3 double play, but Hanley Ramirez failed to corral the last hop and was charged with an error. McLouth's double brought one run, Doumit's single another. One out later, Mientkiewicz and Jose Bautista drew walks for a third run, and VandenHurk was out.
Gomez's sacrifice fly made it 4-0.
VandenHurk was optioned to the minor leagues immediately after the game.
The Pirates' lead was 4-2 entering the seventh, and they got one that inning when McLouth doubled and came around on a groundout and passed ball, and four more in the eighth: Rivas' RBI double, McLouth's RBI bloop and Nady's blast over the tall scoreboard in left-center made it 9-2.
Next time Snell starts, pitching coach Jeff Andrews already has mapped out his pregame pep talk with the Pirates' most recent player signed to a long-term contract.
"Overpaid," Andrews said with a grin.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published April 7, 2008 4:00 AM