ST. LOUIS -- Tom Gorzelanny wasn't spectacular last night against the Cardinals, but he was much better than he has been.
That's at least a sign of progress and gives the hope that he is on the road back to becoming an effective starting pitcher.
More important, his ability to settle down after a shaky first three innings enabled the Pirates to remain close enough to come from behind and win the game, 5-4, before a crowd of 42,129 at Busch Stadium.
Gorzelanny ended up going six innings, allowing seven hits, four runs (all earned) and a balk and a no decision, which is still a far cry from where he needs to be. But given how bad he has been, it represented a big improvement.
Consider that Gorzelanny entered the game 4-5 with a 7.38 ERA and he was coming off one of the worst starts of his career -- he went two-thirds of an inning and allowed six runs in a 9-1 loss to the Reds in his previous start.
He said it was the kind of game that he needed for a boost to his confidence, but he knows he still has a way to go.
"It was big, I needed that performance today, I felt it was positive but not exactly what I wanted," he said. "I need to continue to work hard to get back to where I need to be, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.
- Game: Pirates vs. Houston Astros, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Phil Dumatrait (2-2, 3.52) vs. LHP Wandy Rodriguez (1-1, 2.89).
- Key matchup: Houston's hitters vs. their own shadows. The Astros have lost a season-high five in a row and, in that span, have scored a total of six runs while batting .181.
- Of note: The Pirates' pitchers have allowed 10.4 hits per game, most in Major League Baseball.
"I thought my location was good the whole game, I felt very strong, it was unfortunate and a little unlucky that some of those balls found holes and dropped. But I'll take it today, though I am not satisfied.
"It is something to build on, you need to build on everything positive you do and I just want to be confident."
The hero of the night was Jason Michaels, whose pinch-hit grand slam in the seventh tied the score as the Pirates trailed, 4-0, after three.
"I knew that we'd definitely would be needing a pinch-hitter and I just happened to be the one who got called," Michaels said. "I just wanted to go up and try to keep it simple, put myself in a good count and get a good swing at the ball. [Wainwright] had thrown real well so I knew walking guys wasn't going to shake him so I went up looking to hit a good pitch and it happened to be the first one I saw."
Things started off poorly for Gorzelanny, however, as Joe Mather singled and scored on a double of the left-center field wall by Albert Pujols. Two batters later, Pujols scored on a single by Ryan Ludwick and the Cardinals led, 2-0.
The Cardinals added two more runs in the bottom of the third but after that, Gorzelanny settled in and he retired the side in order in the fourth and the fifth innings and faced only four batters in the sixth.
But the Pirates couldn't get anything going against Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright and it seemed as if he would be in command from start to finish.
Then in the seventh the Pirates finally got to Wainwright as Jason Bay hit a ground-rule double and Xavier Nady walked to set up first and second with one out. Adam LaRoche then flew out but Jose Bautista drew a walk to load the bases and set the table for Michaels heroics.
Michaels promptly hit the first pitcher he saw over the left-field wall for the tying grand slam. It was Michaels' third career grand slam and the Pirates' first pinch-hit grand slam since Craig Wilson hit one July 17, 2003, against Milwaukee.
The Pirates were not done, though, as Nate McLouth led off the eighth with a single then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jack Wilson. Jason Bay then hit a single to score McLouth with the go-ahead run and the Pirates never looked back.
"The character of this team is tremendous," Bay said. "And I think it is something we've lacked in years past, we'd come back in games the last couple of years and too many times we'd come close and not be able to close them out and we kept battling and put ourselves in position to win."
Paul Zeise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1720. First Published June 3, 2008 4:45 AM