For once, it was the Pirates picking up Nate McLouth.
Their offensive "catalyst," as manager John Russell calls him, saw his 19-game hitting streak snapped -- 0 for 2 with two walks -- and was caught stealing by a catcher for the first time in his career.
Should have made for quite the lousy evening.
But, after the latter, his teammates came through with four consecutive two-out hits in the sixth inning to bring a 3-2 edging of the Florida Marlins last night at PNC Park, one that ended an especially ugly six-game losing streak.
"Awesome," McLouth said. "Everybody did the job, one after the other."
- Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (2-1, 4.07) vs. RHP Todd Wellemeyer (2-0, 3.24).
- Key matchup: Always when these teams meet, it is Snell vs. Albert Pujols. The game's best hitter is 9 for 16 off him, with four home runs and two doubles.
- Of note: The surprising Cardinals have drawn 103 walks, most in Major League Baseball. And they have done plenty of damage late in games, scoring 42 percent of their runs in the seventh and beyond.
On the mound, too: Paul Maholm gave the Pirates their first strong start in a week, John Grabow continued his dominance out of the bullpen, and Matt Capps finished it off.
But back to that pivotal sixth ...
The Pirates hacked through five innings against Florida starter Ricky Nolasco -- 0-2 with a 5.28 ERA -- and made him throw just 55 pitches while mustering a hit and a walk and trailing, 1-0.
As often has been the case, McLouth bucked the trend.
He drew a four-pitch walk with one out to open the sixth and, eager to become the tying run, tried to steal with Freddy Sanchez at the plate. He appeared to beat catcher Matt Treanor's throw to Dan Uggla, too, but second base umpire Scott Barry called McLouth out. And that call was repeated even when the ball quickly popped out of Uggla's glove.
With the crowd of 10,158 standing and booing, Russell made a rare emergence from the dugout to argue, to no avail.
"He said the tag already was applied," Russell said.
McLouth was visibly steamed, on the field and, later, in the dugout.
"I have to dance around that question," he would say afterward when asked about it.
It was officially McLouth's fifth caught stealing in 41 tries, but the other four were by the pitcher.
And, as baseball fate would have it, Sanchez and Jason Bay followed up with singles. The crowd, reminded that McLouth could have scored, booed Barry even louder, while McLouth continued fussing and pacing.
But Ryan Doumit dropped an RBI double into left-center, staying neatly with a Nolasco fastball, and Xavier Nady followed with a two-run softy into shallow left to put the Pirates ahead, 3-1. His came after seeing seven pitches.
"We had some really good at-bats," Russell said. "After Nate was called out, we could have rolled over."
"I got a lot happier as the inning went along," McLouth said, grinning.
There would be more tension ...
Tyler Yates gave up Jorge Cantu's solo home run to open the seventh, and it was 3-2. Then, after two outs, he put men at the corners for Hanley Ramirez.
Ramirez's squibber rolled up the third-base line and looked to be an RBI single, but Doug Mientkiewicz -- still new to the hot corner after a decade across the diamond -- charged, barehanded and fired to first for the out.
This time, it was the Marlins' turn to argue, as first base umpire Mike Winters appeared to miss this call as badly as his partner in the previous inning. Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez was heated enough to get ejected.
"Hanley beat the throw," Gonzalez said.
The Pirates, of course, were pleased with this outcome.
"Great play," Russell said.
Damaso Marte made a mess of the eighth, allowing two singles while getting one out. But Grabow, fiercely clinging to that 0.00 ERA, struck out Cantu swinging over a devastating, cutting changeup, then used the same pitch to coax a flyout from Cody Ross.
"He's been to our bullpen what Nate has to our offense," Russell said of Grabow.
"That's my out pitch," Grabow said. "Right now, it's working, and I'm riding it."
Capps gave up a leadoff single, but went 1-2-3 from there despite not having his best stuff, and his fifth save -- first chance in a week -- was in the books.
So was Maholm's first victory, thanks to six innings in which he limited Florida to a run and four hits while fanning six. He got behind most batters, but he remained aggressive and showed sharp command of his fastball.
"Exactly the kind of start we needed," Russell said.
"I think it was important for all of us," Maholm said. "You see the way we battled back, scoring those runs with two outs, and that says a lot for these guys. We're going to play like that all year."
McLouth's hitting streak ended in the eighth with a flyout to right, after which the crowd gave him a standing ovation as he trotted back to the dugout.
He was the only player in Major League Baseball with a hit in all of his team's games, and his streak was the Pirates' longest since Jason Kendall's 20-gamer in 2004.
"It was a good run, and I'll try to start another one," McLouth said.
Others in the clubhouse appeared to feel more strongly about it.
"As a baseball player, you respect when another baseball player does something like what Nate did," Doumit said. "It is an absolutely remarkable accomplishment for someone in the major leagues to have a 19-game hitting streak. But you know what? It's no surprise to me. Get used to seeing it from him. He's that kind of hitter."
In the meantime, Nady's hitting streak now is at 10.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published April 23, 2008 4:00 AM