LOS ANGELES -- One of these days, Nate McLouth is going to come back and touch Terra Firma.
Not quite yet, apparently.
He stepped to the box with two outs in the ninth inning, his team down a run, two aboard and one of the game's elite closers, Los Angeles' Takashi Saito, on the mound.
Three-run home run.
Thirteen-game hitting streak, at least one hit in every game.
And, after closer Matt Capps zipped through the bottom half for his fourth save, the Pirates had what might have been their most uplifting victory of the young season, 6-4, last night at Dodger Stadium.
- Game: Pirates vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 10:10 p.m., Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Matt Morris (0-1, 5.25) vs. LHP Hong-Chih Kuo (0-0, 0.00).
- Key matchup: Kuo, who has had four elbow surgeries, vs. fatigue. Los Angeles manager Joe Torre has inserted Kuo into the rotation to replace Esteban Loaiza, but Kuo, because his most recent surgery was last year, will be limited to 70-80 pitches. Individually, Jose Bautista is 4 for 5 vs. Kuo.
- Of note: All players from both teams will wear No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. Before the game, the Dodgers, Robinson's franchise, will honor his legacy.
He was insisting, as he has for days now, that all is quite normal in his world, despite his .383 average, his team-high 14 RBIs out of the leadoff spot, and even after this dramatic shot.
"Oh, yeah, I'm still the same," McLouth said. "I know it sounds cliched, but I'm just taking things pitch by pitch."
Here, pitch by pitch, was how the Pirates extended their winning streak to four -- one shy of their 2007 high -- and won at these hallowed grounds for just the fifth time in the past 19 meetings ...
Los Angeles had built a 4-3 lead with two runs off Zach Duke in the sixth, and three relievers made that stand up until Saito, who was 39 of 43 in save opportunities as a Cy Young Award candidate last year, entered for the ninth.
Jose Bautista's one-out single provided the glimmer. Luis Rivas struck out for the second out, and up came pinch-hitter Adam LaRoche, too sick once again to start but well enough to hit a couple of moon shots in batting practice and convince manager John Russell he was available. He singled up the middle.
McLouth came up looking for first-pitch heat, but he got a slow Saito curve instead and steered clear, emblematic of the patience that has been so pivotal to his start.
The heat came with the next pitch, 93 mph, up and over the inner part of the plate. And McLouth did exactly what anyone who has been watching him these two weeks would expect: He crushed it high into the right-field pavilion for his second home run, one that put the Pirates ahead, 6-4.
"I just wanted to wait for my pitch," McLouth said. "I'm guessing he made a mistake."
No need to guess.
"It's a pity," Saito said. "I'm disappointed. I threw the pitch the batter was waiting for."
LaRoche recalled feeling a good vibe standing at first base, but not that good.
"I thought Nate would come through and tie it," LaRoche said. "Honestly, though, even as hot as he is, I wasn't expecting him to go deep there. How about that? How about this kid? I am telling you, it could not happen to a better guy than Nate McLouth. I love it."
So, obviously, does Russell.
"Nate's our catalyst," he said. "He just keeps coming up with big hits."
Russell had much else to appreciate in this one ...
Bautista snapped an 0-for-10 slide with a two-run home run in the second off a Hiroki Kuroda slider, and Xavier Nady's RBI double in the sixth accounted for the Pirates' 3-2 lead to that point.
Starter Zach Duke gave up two runs in the bottom half to allow Los Angeles to leapfrog, but he exited with a passable line of four runs, three earned, through his six innings. This despite, per his admission, having little beyond his sinker that was fully effective.
"I had to battle," Duke said. "But I wanted to give our team a chance, and I feel like I did that."
John Grabow and Tyler Yates followed with scoreless seventh and eighth innings, the bullpen's best having been summoned by Russell despite the Pirates trailing, 4-3.
A show of confidence?
"We were close," Russell explained. "I felt like we were having good at-bats all night, with a lot of patience, and that we were going to give ourselves a chance at some point."
That patience trait was evident in the ninth, when Saito was taxed for 28 pitches. Although Saito insisted "my condition was not a problem," the final pitch to McLouth might suggest otherwise.
"Anytime you can get a closer into the 25-pitch range, you're pushing him," Russell said.
The mood in the clubhouse was similar to McLouth's: Satisfied but not exactly celebratory.
"I've been saying all along that this team plays with a lot of pride, a lot of heart, that we're going to fight to the last pitch," Yates said. "How many times have we done this now?"
"Really, it's a win," McLouth said, clearly downplaying the outcome with every wave of reporters that asked questions at his stall. "It doesn't really matter how you win or who does it. We had a lot of guys who played a great game, and it all came together. It's nice."
Well, leave it to injured shortstop Jack Wilson, never one to shrug off excitement, to come up with this ...
"New nickname," Wilson said. "Mighty Mouse McLouth."
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published April 15, 2008 5:15 AM