ST. LOUIS -- It appeared as if the Pirates' starting pitching was coming together.
The team had received strong efforts from its starting pitching in three consecutive games and yesterday's starter Ian Snell said he was confident and ready to return to his old form.
The form that earned him a contract extension and the designation as the team's ace coming into the season.
But Snell lasted only four innings, gave up six runs (all earned) and eight hits as the Pirates fell to the Cardinals, 7-4, before a sellout crowd of 43,462 at Busch Stadium. Snell's toughest inning was the bottom of the second when he gave up five runs on five hits and a walk.
Despite those numbers, however, Pirates manager John Russell seemed somewhat pleased with the way Snell (2-5) threw the ball and said he is indeed rounding into form.
- Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Tom Gorzelanny (4-5, 7.38) vs. RHP Adam Wainwright (5-2, 2.86).
- Key matchup: Gorzelanny's battle will be setting aside lasting two-thirds of an inning Wednesday in Cincinnati. Strangely, he has been able to do that: In his first three starts of less than three innings, he bounced back to hold his opponent to three runs or less.
- Of note: The Pirates are seeking their first winning June since 1992, when they were 15-12. One potential edge: Nineteen of the next 26 games will be at PNC Park, where they are 15-11.
"I thought if you take away the five-run inning, he pitched OK," Russell said. "His fastball had a lot of zip on it, his slider was working. I mean, they got five runs in the inning and they never got the ball past the outfield. I thought it was a better game as far as his stuff, I just thought it was unfortunate they found some holes, but other than that I thought he threw the ball very well, he just has to avoid the big inning."
Snell also said he pitched better than the statistics would indicate and said he was frustrated because he fell victim to some bad luck -- both in the fact that many of the pitches he threw the Cardinals hit and also that he believed umpire Todd Tichenor squeezed the strike zone.
"I made good pitches, they just put the ball in play and good things happened for them so you have to tip your hat to them," Snell said. "I don't think I did bad. I don't think I was great, but I think I did good enough that I could have stayed in the game, but I guess not. ... I should have had [St. Louis starter Bradon] Looper struck out, but it was hard, and it was hard for Looper because he was throwing good pitches, too. We were both battling with the umpire, back and forth, and neither one of us were getting calls. Even [Albert] Pujols told me when I got to first base the one time that I struck him out looking, so it was hard today for both sides."
The Pirates (26-30) fell 9 1/2 games out of first place in the National League Central Division and 1 1/2 games behind Cincinnati (28-29) for fifth place. Tonight they will play the final game of the four-game series, looking to earn at least a split.
Snell started strong -- he got the first three Cardinals (34-24) out in order in the bottom of the first -- but things fell apart rather quickly after Cardinals clean-up hitter Troy Glaus singled to lead off the bottom of the second.
Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel then drew a walk and Yadier Molina singled to load the bases and the next two hitters, Adam Kennedy and Looper, hit RBI singles. Snell finally got an out when Cesar Izturis hit a grounder to first, but even that ball enabled Molina to score the third run of the inning and moved Kennedy and Looper to second and third.
Skip Schumaker continued the inning with a two-run single.
Snell escaped any further damage by striking out Ryan Ludwick and Pujols to end the inning. But he found trouble again in the fourth when Looper singled and advanced to third on a ground out and a wild pitch and scored the Cardinals' sixth run on a double by Schumaker.
Snell was lifted after he walked Pujols to open the fifth. It was a tough day by almost any measure, but Snell insisted he did enough positive things to signal that he wasn't about to get down on himself and he doesn't feel like he needs to "bounce back."
Snell, like Russell, believes he has his fastball back and his stuff is good enough to get batters out and win a lot of games -- he just needs some of his fortunes to change.
"I feel good, I feel great, I am happy to be here still," Snell said. "I am just going to do my best and that is all I can do. I mean you can't ask for too much from a person, just do your best, go out there every fifth day and stay healthy and that is what I have been doing."
One positive thing was the continued hot hitting of third baseman Jose Bautista, who was 3 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs. That comes on the heels of Saturday's game in which he was 4 for 5 with an RBI. He is 9 for 13 in the past four games.
Paul Zeise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1720 First Published June 2, 2008 4:00 AM