Listen to catcher Ryan Doumit, minutes after the Pirates' emotional, exceptional 5-3 victory against the Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday afternoon at PNC Park ...
"We let 'em know we weren't going to be pushed around in our own house," Doumit said, loud enough for nearby teammates to take notice. "Especially by Randy Johnson."
Now, when was the last time anyone associated with the Pittsburgh Baseball Club went public with anything like that?
- Game: Pirates vs. Washington Nationals, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (4-5, 4.48) vs. RHP Tim Redding (6-3, 4.15).
- Key matchup: The Pirates need to nick Redding early. When they met May 4 in Washington, Redding was perfect through three and allowed one run -- an Adam LaRoche home run -- in 6 1/3 innings of the Nationals' 5-2 victory.
- Of note: The opponent had scored first in seven consecutive games before the Pirates struck first yesterday vs. Arizona. They are 21-10 when they score first, 10-23 when they do not.
Better question: When was the last time the franchise showed a competitive streak comparable to the one this edition has displayed all season?
On this day alone, these Pirates stared down and wore down the legendary Johnson, emptied their bench and bullpen when Doug Mientkiewicz and Johnson had a verbal spat, pleaded their cases passionately with the umpires, slid and dived as if it were a playoff game and, most important by far, performed at a level that made all of that energy pay off.
And this despite temperatures that touched 92 degrees.
Zach Duke pitched six-plus quality innings, the bullpen followed with typical efficiency, and backup infielder Luis Rivas paced a patient if not powerful offense -- seven singles, five walks -- by reaching base three times.
As third baseman Jose Bautista put it, "This got a little heated, but we're not out to fight anybody, and we're not out to take anybody's head off. We're trying to win ballgames, and that's what we did."
Still, the Mientkiewicz-Johnson spat, which marked the Pirates' first bench-clearing incident in three years, surely played its part ...
Mientkiewicz led off the third and, after a 1-1 fastball backed him off the plate, he stepped out. He stepped back in but, as Johnson entered his motion, he raised his arm for a timeout and stepped out again.
The two began jawing at each other and, when Johnson left the mound to approach Mientkiewicz, the benches and bullpens emptied. Doumit was first on the scene, thrusting himself between his catching counterpart, Miguel Montero, and Mientkiewicz. But there would be little more than mingling and mild barking from there, and it quickly dissipated.
"It's really not the storyline," Johnson said. "It didn't bother me at all. If it would have, he'd probably be in a stretcher, and I'd probably be out of the game."
It was difficult to tell if he was joking.
PG audio: Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit on protecting 'our house'
PG audio: Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson on losing to the Pirates and a bench-clearing scrum during Monday's game
PG audio: Pirates first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, on his teammates clearing the bench and bullpen
Mientkiewicz explained that he wanted to be extra cautious in getting set, given that he gets few at-bats as a reserve.
"He's intense, I'm intense, and it probably didn't help that it was 1,000 degrees out there," Mientkiewicz said.
Mientkiewicz wound up walking, and it looked as if Johnson was rattled when he failed to glove Bautista's comebacker for an error. Montero botched Duke's bunt attempt, and bases were loaded. Rivas drew a walk, and it was 1-0.
The Big Unit rattled?
Even at age 44, with a few miles lost on the fastball, it was jarring.
"Did he lose his composure?" Pirates manager John Russell said. "Maybe, but it's not like we did a lot of damage."
Good point: Johnson put down the next three hitters.
Still, the Pirates kept chipping ...
Jason Michaels worked a 10-pitch walk with one out in the fourth and eventually scored on Bautista's sacrifice fly.
Jack Wilson opened the fifth with a walk, stole second and, two outs later, scored on Xavier Nady's single.
Mientkiewicz opened the sixth with another walk and later scored on Rivas' single, and it was 4-1.
Rivas, spelling Freddy Sanchez and batting leadoff for the first time, finished with two singles and a walk in four plate appearances, and had two RBIs.
"It felt great to contribute," Rivas said.
That was it for Johnson, whose line wound up at five runs in 5 2/3 innings after Wilson greeted reliever Juan Cruz with an RBI single to make it 5-1.
Johnson's pitch count, as the Pirates intended, was an unwieldy 106.
"That's Randy Johnson, a guy who's going to the Hall of Fame," Michaels said. "It's a hot day. Let's work the count."
Meanwhile, Duke continued to be the Pirates' most consistent starter. Thanks in large part to a cutting fastball diving under right-handed bats, he limited Arizona to three hits through six innings before back-to-back doubles in the seventh chased him.
He is 4-4 and has pitched six or more innings in 10 of his 13 starts.
"He was out there facing one of the better left-handers in the game and matched him up pretty well," Russell said.
How did Duke handle all the fuss?
"It's easy to get distracted," he said. "I needed to stay focused on my next pitch."
Arizona had pulled within 5-3 and had bases loaded with two outs in the eighth against Tyler Yates. But Yates came at Montero with five fastballs -- 97, 96, 97, 96 and 95 mph -- and got him to swing through the last of those for strike three.
"Changeups are for other guys," Yates said, smiling.
Matt Capps' 1-2-3 ninth kept him perfect in save opportunities, 15 for 15, and allowed the 10,717 on hand to head for air conditioning.
Viewpoints differed about the role emotion played in the outcome, with Michaels calling the Mientkiewicz-Johnson matter "really not that big a deal" and others concurring. But what did seem to resonate universally was how the Pirates responded to it, as well as how they played all through an airtight, four-game series split with a first-place opponent.
"These guys don't change their focus," Russell said. "We had two tough losses, and we came back and won two big games."
Doumit, who quickly is becoming as big a part of this team off the field as on it, did not downplay any aspect of this one.
"This was a big game," he said. "We're playing the Diamondbacks, a first-place team. We're facing Randy Johnson. We know it's going to be a dogfight. And, after something like that incident happens, yeah, we took it a little personally. And the guys went out and rose to the occasion."
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published June 10, 2008 4:00 AM