What does it take to get a home crowd to boo a guy hurling a no --hitter into the fifth inning?
How about seven walks?
Or a gnawing feeling that the whole affair is a few ticks away from implosion?
Whatever it was, the 9,544 on hand at PNC Park last night had it right: Tom Gorzelanny's highly unconventional no-hitter fizzled one out into the fifth, when he walked the bases loaded and gave up three runs en route to the Pirates' 6-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Which raises another, more pressing question: What happened to the pitcher who led the staff with 14 victories a year ago?
Gorzelanny is 1-3 with an 8.46 ERA, and the career-high seven walks last night -- most by any Pirates pitcher since Oliver Perez's seven June 23, 2006 -- gave him 22 in 22 1/3 innings. All of last season, he walked only 68.
- Box scores
- Game: Pirates vs. Philadelphia Phillies, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, radio: FSN, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (0-1, 4.37) vs. RHP Adam Eaton (0-0, 4.74).
- Key matchup: No one in Major League Baseball has more RBIs than Philadelphia's Pat Burrell, at 25. He also has a .355 average and has reached base in 21 consecutive games.
- Of note: The Pirates are the only team against which Phillies slugger Ryan Howard never has homered. His totals include a .111 average -- 7 for 63 -- with 31 strikeouts. And he likely will not get the chance to improve upon those tonight. Manager Charlie Manuel plans to give him a second consecutive game off because of his .176 start, but he should return tomorrow.
"This guy's proven he can win, that he can be very effective," manager John Russell said. "We just need to get him back to feeling comfortable again."
That never seemed imminent in this one.
"I couldn't find the zone," Gorzelanny said. "I kept getting behind guys, and... I don't know to explain it right now. I can't find the zone."
Not entirely accurate.
In keeping the Cardinals hitless through 4 1/3, he did walk four, but he also made pinpoint pitches to freeze Ryan Ludwick and Troy Glaus for strikeouts. He also twice stranded runners in scoring position, doing so in the fourth despite opening with two walks.
"I felt like I made some strides. I wasn't missing badly," Gorzelanny said. "But I still was missing enough to fall behind."
That would happen to 16 of 23 batters, precisely, and it cost him in the fateful fifth.
The Pirates had a 1-0 lead on Adam LaRoche's RBI double in the fourth, but Gorzelanny walked mound opponent Joel Pineiro with one out in the fifth, and the groans from the seats began.
When Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker were walked, too, the groans turned to boos.
And, when Brian Barton's single brought two runs and Albert Pujols' single another, the volume turned up.
Two outs later, Gorzelanny was done and, once he reached the dugout, angrily punched the back of the bench, then threw a cup of water.
He and pitching coach Jeff Andrews had focused between starts on sharpening his changeup, his out pitch to right-handed batters, as well as having what Russell described as "life down in the zone." That meant batters should have been caught hacking -- or looking -- at some lower pitches.
Nothing of the kind happened. Gorzelanny missed out and away on changeups, down on fastballs.
"He just never really found any kind of release point or rhythm," Russell said. "He showed some stuff when he got out of jams with guys on base, but it all just eventually caught up with him."
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa explained that the Cardinals struggled, too, with Gorzelanny's wildness for a while.
"It's difficult wildness," he said. "He's all over the place, but he's throwing enough strikes and has enough movement that it's tough to center him."
La Russa added he does not expect that to remain the case.
"I know he's been struggling with his control, but he's a terrific-looking pitcher. Right now, he's not locating it like he will later."
Gorzelanny tried to grasp for positives but with little success.
"I think it feels better than it has been, but it's not doing what I want, and I'm not happy with what's going on," he said. "I feel like it's that close. I'm just going to keep working on it."
Phil Dumatrait pitched the next two innings and allowed St. Louis two runs on six hits, bringing yet another sign that he might be the one -- and not Rule 5 draft pick Evan Meek - living on the fringe in the Pirates' bullpen: Dumatrait has given up 20 hits and 12 walks in 16 2/3 innings of relief, numbers that dwarf his 4.32 ERA in importance to a reliever.
Offensively, the Pirates mustered only a run and four hits during Pineiro's no-sweat seven innings. This despite Pineiro entering with an 8.10 ERA and zero strikeouts in his first two starts. He had six in this one.
"He threw a great game," Russell said. "If you command the inside part of the plate like he did, then work your breaking stuff to the outside, you're going to have success. He wasn't missing."
Certainly not with his first pitch: The Pirates took a called first strike 11 times.
"When I got ahead, I had better pitches to finish them off," Pineiro said.
A larger factor in St. Louis splitting the two game set was Pujols reaching base five times -- two hits, two walks and a hit batsman -- to raise his outrageous on-base percentage to .525, by far the best in Major League Baseball.
The one positive on the home front: Xavier Nady's hitting streak was extended to a career-high 12 with a ninth-inning single.
And another negative: Brian Bixler's double-clutch in the third inning brought the Pirates' 25th error, their eighth by shortstops not named Jack Wilson.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com.