The Pirates' bullpen had to walk some perilous tightropes in the final three innings last night before nailing down another one-run victory.
Again, Matt Capps earned the save in a 4-3 win against Cincinnati, giving Ian Snell his second win, but Damaso Marte, Tyler Yates and John Grabow contributed mightily.
"We weren't quite as sharp out of the bullpen as we have been, but you can't say enough about how the bullpen responded," manager John Russell said.
Start with Marte in the seventh inning.
Snell had just yielded a one-out single to pesky Jeff Keppinger. With left-handed batting Ken Griffey Jr. up next, it was obvious Marte would get the call.
- Game: Cincinnati Reds vs. Pirates, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Johnny Cueto (1-0, 2.02) vs. LHP Tom Gorzelanny (0-1, 10.80).
- Key matchup: Pirates' left-handed batters against Cueto, who, in two starts, has held lefties hitless in 12 at-bats against him.
- Of note: Cueto, in 13 1/3 innings in those two starts, has walked none and struck out 18. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cueto, 22, is the only pitcher since 1900 to have that many strikeouts without issuing a walk in his first two career starts.
Russell, however, needed some time "to make sure Marte was fully heated up."
So he had Snell throw to first base once. Then, Russell took his time walking from the dugout. When Russell reached the mound, Snell immediately began handing him the ball. Russell didn't take it.
"I didn't know what he was doing," Snell said. "Usually, when the manager comes to the mound, you're out."
Russell, though, waited another couple of seconds before signaling for Marte, who'd limited Griffey Jr. to two hits in eight career at-bats against him.
This time, though, Griffey Jr. yanked a 2-1 pitch into right field for a single. Brandon Phillips also singled sharply to right, loading the bases.
That brought up left-handed batting Adam Dunn, who was 2 for 8 with four strikeouts against Marte. Moments later, those figures changed to 2 for 9 with five strikeouts.
Russell then brought in right-hander Yates, who retired Edwin Encarnacion on a harmless fly to left.
"The addition of 'Yatesie' makes our bullpen even tougher," Snell said. "He's another [one] coming out of there throwing hard."
Grabow took over in the eighth and worked out of a first-and-second, one-out jam. He retired Corey Patterson on a fielder's-choice bouncer to first base, then set down Keppinger on a fly to center on a 3-2 pitch.
Capps arrived, as usual, in the ninth.
Griffey Jr. opened with a single to right, but Phillips bounced into a double play and Dunn bounced to second.
"We feel very confident with Capps in the game," Russell said. "That was not an easy inning to pitch, but he has the makeup for it, the arm for it and the stuff for it."
The Pirates broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth.
Brian Bixler, who was 0 for 8 in his fledgling major-league career, got a one-out single when his hard ground ball went off a diving Phillips' glove.
"That was big," Russell said. "When you play a couple games and don't get that hit, it gets into the back of your mind -- 'When am I going to get it?' "
"I was just really eager to get it," Bixler said. "I saw [Phillips] dive. I didn't see the ball pop out of his glove."
Snell sacrificed Bixler to second. Then, Nate McLouth, who earlier extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a fifth-inning single, lined a run-scoring single into left-center field.
"He's a professional hitter," Russell said. "It's early in the season, but he's been very big for us."
So has Doug Mientkiewicz, who last night made his first career start at third base, a position he had played for just one inning in the major leagues. That was June 27, 2003 when he played for Minnesota.
There were a couple reasons why Mientkiewicz started last night.
One, regular third baseman Jose Bautista was 2 for 10 lifetime against Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo. Plus Bautista has a .179 batting average this season.
Factor in, too, that at game time Mientkiewicz was 5 for 6 lifetime against Arroyo.
"That's part of it," Russell said of his lineup decision. "[And] Jose has played a lot. We'll give him a little breather and let him regroup a little bit with his swing."
Mientkiewicz contributed to the Pirates' two-run second.
Xavier Nady opened with a single to left. Mientkiewicz's ground ball went under first baseman Joey Votto's glove for a two-base error.
Ronny Paulino, 5 for 8 lifetime against Arroyo, sent a single just inside first base, giving the Pirates an early lead.
The Reds tied the game in the fifth.
Votto led off with a single to right. After Javier Valentin flied to left, Arroyo failed to bunt safely on his first two strikes. He swung on a third strike and sent a ground ball to the right of Bixler, who had no play at first base. Bixler's throw zipped past second, permitting Votto to continue to third.
Patterson's fielder's-choice bouncer to second got Votto home. Keppinger's single to center on a 3-2 pitch tied the game, 2-2.
The Pirates regained the lead with a run in the bottom of the fifth. McLouth and Freddy Sanchez, in a 1-for-22 slide as he stepped in, singled. Nady's two-out single made it 3-2.
The Reds tied the game quickly in the sixth on Phillips' leadoff double and Votto's one-out single.
Paul Meyer can be reached at email@example.com . First Published April 13, 2008 4:00 AM