John Russell, not exactly the storm-off-the-field-with-first-base type, has kept mostly an even keel through his initial two months as the Pirates' manager.
Mention a problem, and he shoots back a proposed solution.
Talk about a losing streak, and he talks about ways to end it.
"It rubs off, too," center fielder Nate McLouth said. "Believe me."
And so it played out last night at PNC Park, hours after Russell spoke calmly of seeking better starting pitching, of hoping his offense would break out, of what a bright spot his bullpen has been, even of liking how his clubhouse was handling its three-game losing streak, that all of the above coalesced into an 8-4 crunching of Milwaukee.
- Box score
- Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (2-2, 4.23) vs. RHP Carlos Zambrano (6-1, 2.45).
- Key matchup: The Pirates are 1-8 vs. the Cubs this year, but the lone victory came with this pitching matchup Saturday in Chicago by a 7-6 count. Zambrano lasted only four-plus innings and was charged with five runs, seven hits and three walks.
- Of note: The Cubs, fresh off losing two of three to Houston, have outscored opponents, 265-191, a 74-run margin that is greatest in Major League Baseball.
Tom Gorzelanny was serviceable in limiting the Brewers to two runs over five-plus innings despite a still-unsightly eight hits and four walks.
McLouth had a career-high four of the lineup's 13 hits, and Jason Bay and Xavier Nady each went deep.
And the relievers cleaned up the final four innings.
Gone was the losing streak, along with several other same-old-Pirates scenarios such as the chance of falling into sole possession of the Central Division cellar and, yes, the ominous prospect of stumbling into a weekend series against the nemesis Chicago Cubs, who are 8-1 against them.
Afterward, by all indications, it was no big deal.
Just as has been the case after any of those come-from-behind victories.
Third baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who has known Russell longer than any of the Pirates, predicted early in spring training that this team would take on his personality, and signs are mounting to that effect.
"You will never see him panic, and you'll never see him yelling," Mientkiewicz said. "He'll be mad at us sometimes, but you won't see it. That wouldn't help anybody."
"We feed off his calm, and you saw it again tonight," reliever Tyler Yates said. "When your manager starts freaking out in the dugout, the team is going to reflect that. He doesn't do that. He's showing us that he believes that we're going to fight to the end, and we have. We haven't always won, but we've backed his confidence."
Rewind the tape, and listen to Russell at his pregame media gathering ...
"I like where we're at," he said. "Obviously, I'd be happier with some more wins. But I think what we've been through to this point really sets up our season. We've had to deal with injuries, like Jack Wilson and Ryan Doumit. We've struggled with starting pitching, too. But we're still right there. If we can piece things together, it will be interesting to see what happens."
He added that he has appreciated what he considers a vibrant, upbeat attitude among the players.
"That's why you're starting to hear guys frustrated when they lose. We believe we can win."
And afterward, when asked about facing the Cubs, again, it was no sweat ...
"They play us well. We need to pitch, hit and play good defense and not make mistakes. We'll do the best we can."
Corey Hart homered to open the Milwaukee fourth, but the Pirates countered with four in the bottom half: McLouth's one-out single was followed by Bay's 11th home run -- fourth in the past seven games -- off a Dave Bush slider into the bullpen beyond center field. Two-out RBI singles by Raul Chavez and Gorzelanny made it 4-0.
The latter visibly frustrated Bush, and with good reason: Gorzelanny had been hitless in 22 at-bats dating to last year.
"I'm just glad I got my hit for the year," he said.
Gorzelanny helped his cause in another way in the Brewers' next at-bat: With runners at the corners and one out, he fielded a comebacker from J.J. Hardy and, even though he saw the runner from third bolt for home, never hesitated in wheeling and executing a 1-6-3 double play.
"I thought about home, but it looked like Hardy was a little slow out of the box," Gorzelanny said.
McLouth opened the Pirates' fifth with a single and a steal. When Bay grounded to third, McLouth waited until the throw across the diamond to try for the extra base. Prince Fielder's low throw skipped into the seats, and it was 5-2.
Nady, the next man up, powered a Bush slider into the center-field seats for his seventh home run, second in as many nights.
Gorzelanny was pulled without retiring a batter in the sixth, so the praise for his pitching was less effusive than for the ancillary stuff. Still, it was seen as an upgrade over the seven runs he allowed the Cubs last Friday at Wrigley Field.
"I thought he threw OK," Russell said. "He's starting to make progress. He got a few ground balls, did some good things with his changeup and had some weak fly balls. He still needs consistency."
"I definitely had to fight through a lot," Gorzelanny said. "But I'm getting there."
In the seventh, Chris Gomez's two-out, two-run single added insurance to put the Pirates ahead, 8-3.
Gomez, now batting .307, is 12 for 34 this month.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published May 23, 2008 4:00 AM