Sure, there was luck.
Anytime an opposing outfielder flubs a fly ball for what should have been the final out, hey, nothing shy of a treasure of good fortune has been unearthed.
Ask the Pirates about their 6-5, 11-inning triumph over the Chicago Cubs yesterday at PNC Park, an outcome sealed by Jason Bay's second walkoff RBI single in less than 24 hours, and they do not exactly sound apologetic.Rally kingsThe Pirates have the third-most come-from-behind victories in Major League Baseball, according to the Elias Sports Bureau:
Not even with Chicago's Alfonso Soriano having lost Nate McLouth's high fly in the sun with two outs in the ninth, resulting in an RBI double that tied the score at 5-5.
"You know what the difference is?" Bay said. "In years past, and I don't mean this as any slight to anyone, we'd tie that game but we wouldn't finish it off. Well, not this one. And not the last one, either."
He was referring to the 5-4, 14-inning victory Saturday night, an amazingly similar game in which the Pirates also scored in the bottom of the ninth to tie, followed by Bay ending it with a single.
"This would be very uncharacteristic of the teams I've been on in the past here," he continued. "But we've been doing this all year, and maybe it's because of that, like a cause-and-effect, that the road has been paved. We know how to do it now. It's a lot different than when you're trying, but you don't know how."
The numbers back Bay in the larger scope, too: The Pirates now have come from behind in 14 of their 24 wins, third-most in Major League Baseball, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. There also have been seven occasions when they have either tied the score in the ninth inning or won outright.
Starter Paul Maholm became the latest to credit manager John Russell on that front.
"I think we've always played hard," Maholm said. "Now, it's just that we're more confident, especially late in the game, to get the job done. And that comes from J.R. He's told us from opening day to play hard until the final out, and guys have taken that to heart."
The final out on this day appeared to be off McLouth's bat.
With the Cubs ahead, 5-4, the Pirates had pinch-runner Brian Bixler at first, and Carlos Marmol had two outs and a 2-2 count on McLouth when he skied a ball to left. Soriano backpedaled, got it under it and ... at the last second, he used his left arm to shield his eyes, and the ball clanked off the heel of his glove.
Bixler scored easily, as the crowd of 29,415 celebrated, with some in the bleachers adding taunts for Soriano.
"It's very tough when you don't see the ball," Soriano said. "I saw it clearly when it got off the bat but, when the ball was coming down, it got in the sun. I lost it."
The Pirates expressed some sympathy: Their regular batting practices for night games at PNC Park begin at 4:30 p.m., and no one likes shagging flies in left because of the sun.
"It gets wicked," McLouth said.
Soriano was aware.
"I tried to prepare for it in BP the other day, to be ready," he said. "But there was nothing I could do."
- Game: Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:10 p.m., Great American Ball Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (2-3, 4.84) vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (2-5, 5.56).
Because Maholm lasted eight serviceable innings -- five runs, eight hits, seven strikeouts -- the Pirates had the luxury of using their freshest arms, Franquelis Osoria and Damaso Marte, in relief. Osoria put up zeroes in the ninth and 10th, Marte the 11th.
Chris Gomez opened the bottom of the 11th with an infield single off Jon Lieber, and Bixler bunted him to second. One out later, McLouth was intentionally walked to get to Bay.
He fouled off one fastball, then pulled the next into the left-field corner to end it and earn yet another helmet-pounding from his teammates. And this after playing six years in the majors without a walkoff hit.
"Two in a career doesn't make me Mr. Walkoff, but back-to-back is pretty neat," Bay said.
Other contributors abounded: Luis Rivas homered twice off Chicago starter Ted Lilly, and Xavier Nady hit his eighth, all solo shots. Adam LaRoche doubled twice and made two hard slides to score a run. McLouth reached base four times and made a superb diving catch in the sixth.
The key, some said, was Maholm going as deep as he did, even with a season-high pitch count of 121.
"We just had a long game, so I told J.R. I wanted to go a little longer than normal," Maholm said. "Luckily, I kept my pitch count down early."
"That really saved us," Russell said.
The Pirates pulled within two games of .500 at 24-26 by taking two of three from the first-place Cubs, who had been 8-1 against them.
All of which might have contributed to the palpably enthusiastic feeling on the home side.
"Put it this way," McLouth said. "I think we felt pretty good about ourselves before. But now, taking two like this, and especially from the Cubs ... it feels good. It really does. I can't tell you what that atmosphere is like in our dugout right now."
It was quite the opposite on the other side for a change.
"Let's forget what happened and go about our business," Chicago manager Lou Piniella said. "That's all I've got to say about the last two days."
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com. First Published May 26, 2008 4:00 AM