ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates took the field at cold, damp Busch Stadium yesterday for a first pitch at quarter past noon, looking very much in need of a double-shot of espresso.
They had a pitcher, Ian Snell, had no fire to his fastball.
A wobbly outfield route by Xavier Nady that turned a single into a double.
A lagging relay by shortstop Chris Gomez that might have nailed a runner at the plate.
Fortunately, Doug Mientkiewicz reported to work with his standard Starbucks java in tow, and he ended up carrying the Pirates, with his passion and performance, to an 11-5 comeback against the St. Louis Cardinals.
- Box score
- Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field.
- TV, radio: WGN, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Tom Gorzelanny (3-3, 5.97) vs. RHP Sean Gallagher (0-0, 6.48).
- Key matchup: The Pirates will want to wear down Gallagher, making his second career start after pitching out of the bullpen. In the previous start Sunday, he lasted 4 1/3 innings vs. Arizona, giving up four runs, five hits and three walks.
- Of note: The Cubs, winners of six of their past seven, boast an offense that leads Major League Baseball in three key categories: 238 runs, .378 on-base percentage and 3.93 pitches seen per plate appearance, the latter a strong indicator of their selectiveness
Jason Bay's pinch-hit three run home run in the eighth broke a 5-5 tie, but ...
"Doug was the catalyst," manager John Russell said. "I know Bay had the big hit, but Doug was the one who picked us up early on, and he just kept going. Big hits. Big walks. Big plays. He was our MVP today."
Mientkiewicz lugged a .196 average into this rare start, but he reached base all five times up, including a hustling double in his first at-bat, two singles, two walks and three runs. He also turned in two excellent plays at third base, diving once each to his left and right.
And, as always, he could be seen intensely yapping throughout.
"When you lead by example, it goes way beyond words," Gomez said. "A guy who's just screaming and yelling but doesn't do the work and show the professionalism on the field ... that's the worst kind of leader. Doug shows the professionalism."
Mientkiewicz acknowledged that the team looked flat in falling behind, 5-1, through a steady drizzle of rain and general malaise.
"You know, I've had days like that as an everyday guy, where you're absolutely miserable, you're tired, the weather's lousy ... everything," he said. "It happens."
Not to Mientkiewicz, it appears.
"Well, I don't get to play every day now," he said. "This is the job of a bench guy. You give the team that jolt it needs sometimes. I call our guys on the bench the wedge-breakers. You know, those first guys down the field on kickoffs? You do all the dirty work but don't get the hype."
By game's end, Mientkiewicz's uniform was dirty enough that the Pirates might well have left it behind before departing for Chicago.
"I hope not," he said, fixing his tie.
An ineffective Snell -- five runs, 11 hits in just four innings -- dug a 5-1 deficit, the Pirates' lone score coming on Nate McLouth's 11th home run, tied for fourth in the National League.
Then, the rest of the team seemed to catch up with Mientkiewicz.
He ignited a three-run rally in the fifth with a single, and Ronny Paulino and Gomez followed with singles, the latter bringing a run. Two outs later, Jason Michaels added a two-run single to pull the Pirates within 5-4.
Mientkiewicz ignited the next rally, too, in the eighth by drawing a four-pitch walk off Jason Isringhausen. And, given Isringhausen's mammoth struggles of late -- earlier in the week, he actually asked St. Louis manager Tony La Russa to be removed as closer -- that surely was the last way he wanted to open that inning.
It soon showed.
Paulino singled, and Gomez tried to bunt the runners over but pushed it right back to the mound. Isringhausen tried to nail Mientkiewicz at third and would have, except that his throw sailed into left field to allow the tying run.
Bay was next.
He was rested for just the second time all season, and it was Russell's intent not to use him at all. But, once the game tightened in the fifth and the Pirates already had used much of their bench, Russell sent Bay indoors to begin stretching.
As a result, he was ready when Isringhausen's 1-2 fastball drifted over the heart of the plate, and he did exactly as he hoped by hitting a high, deep ball to left.
"All I'm thinking is a sacrifice fly to put us ahead," Bay recalled. "And that's what it felt like off the bat."
Funny, but it kept carrying through what now was a thick rain and cleared the fence.
It was 8-5, and Bay had his eighth home run, the first of his career as a pinch-hitter after being 1 for 11 in such situations.
"When I saw it go over, I was, like, 'Wow,' " Bay said.
All that, and not a spec of dirt on the uniform.
"Couldn't have picked a better off-day, I guess."
For Isringhausen, it was his sixth blown save in 17 tries, his ERA was at 8.00, and there was discussion afterward that the Cardinals could release him.
As La Russa put it, "Right now, he's problem No. 1."
"I'm out of answers, out of excuses," Isringhausen said. "We've just got to go to the next step, whatever that might be."
Three more runs came off Ron Villone in the ninth.
The Pirates' bullpen, in stark contrast, put up five zeroes after Snell's exit, including John Grabow getting the final two outs of the seventh after Sean Burnett walked two.
"Everybody's pitching in," Grabow said.
The Pirates took two of three from the Cardinals and have won eight of 10 to once again get within a game of .500 at 20-21.
And this, too: Six of those 20 victories, more than a quarter, now have come when they trailed after the sixth inning.
"We've been doing this all year," Russell said. "We know we're in the game until it's over."
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published May 16, 2008 4:00 AM