Matt Capps was pumping his fist emphatically after a double play ended the Pirates' 3-1 edging of the Washington Nationals last night at PNC Park, and he had plenty of cause.
As he put it minutes afterward, "I'd much rather be feeling the way I am now than how I did after the last one."
The Pirates' closer went from being the goat Tuesday to being hailed for pitching a rare fourth consecutive day and finishing a good-enough overall effort for the team, one in which Ian Snell's solid six-plus innings brought his first victory since April 12 and torrid Ryan Doumit rattled off three more hits.
But there was more to Capps' 16th save than what met the eye ...
- Box scores
- Game: Pirates vs. Washington Nationals, 12:35 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Tom Gorzelanny (4-5, 6.83) vs. RHP Jason Bergmann (1-3, 5.23).
- Key matchup: Bergmann is an enigma. He averages a strikeout per inning - 42 in 43 innings - but he also has given up 10 home runs and has won just once, a seven-inning blanking of the New York Mets May 15.
- Of note: The Pirates' catchers for the season - Ryan Doumit, Raul Chavez and Ronny Paulino - are batting a combined .289 with nine home runs and 40 RBIs. The average ranks fourth in the National League for the position, the other two categories third.
Baseball people often pontificate that the best way to know if someone is cut out to be a closer is to watch how he reacts to a blown save. And not just after it happens, but the next day, too.
Capps' first step of recovery after giving up Lastings Milledge's two-run blast Tuesday was pure Pittsburgh.
"Stopped at the bar after the game and had three beers instead of two," he said, grinning. "Other than that, once I got home, that was it."
Well, not quite. His phone rang about 10 a.m. yesterday. It was his father, calling from Georgia.
"My dad wanted to tell me they took a poll at our house to see who still loved me and who still liked me. I got one vote for the love, and that was from my dog."
Capps told that story in the afternoon. Later, after batting practice, he approached manager John Russell to tell him he wanted to pitch if needed, even though it would mean pitching four days in a row, something he had done just once - July 14-17, 2006 - with the Pirates.
"Give me the ball," Capps recalled telling him.
So, Russell agreed.
Washington had been nibbling away at the Pirates' Damaso Marte and Tyler Yates through the seventh and eighth innings but mustered only one run - charged to Snell in the seventh - to pull within 3-1.
Capps entered to a warm ovation from the crowd of 15,439, but he promptly walked pinch-hitter Ryan Langerhans on eight pitches, which was ominous all-around: Tying run at the plate, and the top of the order coming up. That included Milledge, batting third.
"Yeah, I thought about that right after the walk," Capps said.
But Cristian Guzman lined out to right, and Elijah Dukes bounced into a 5-4-3 double play.
"That's what he's made of," Russell said of Capps. "And that's also the kind of guy he is. I'm sure he's going to want to pitch tomorrow."
The Pirates leaped on Washington starter John Lannan for three hits to open the first inning, a Nate McLouth double, a Freddy Sanchez single and Jason Bay's RBI double.
In the fifth, Doumit somehow put enough power into a 2-2 curveball on the outside corner and sent it beyond the North Side Notch, deepest part of the park, something no right-handed batter should be able to do.
It was his eighth home run, third in as many days and third of the year from the right side. He also has seven hits in the past two games after a 1-for-12 emergence off the disabled list.
"He's really swinging well right now," Russell said.
That was not much offense, a 2-0 lead, but Snell propped it up.
Following pitching coach Jeff Andrews' instructions to stay aggressive with his fastball, he went right at Washington's lineup - half of which is out with injury - and allowed little solid contact. That included a jam with two outs in the sixth: Runners were at second and third for Ronnie Belliard, who earlier lashed a double. Snell attacked Belliard with a hard fastball, a slider in the dirt to keep him guessing and another hard fastball to get a popup.
Snell was out after giving up a double and walk to open the seventh, but he finished with his best line in a month and, yes, finally raised that record to 3-6.
"It feels good, but it's not really about anything personal," Snell said. "I like the way our baseball team is playing right now, and I want to see it continue."
Xavier Nady's bases-loaded floater into right field in the seventh raised the Pirates' lead to 3-1 and brought his team-best 48th RBI.
The one downer was another miserable evening for Adam LaRoche: He went 0 for 4 and stranded seven runners, including four in scoring position. He struck out twice with those runners in scoring position, raising his total in that category to 28, most in Major League Baseball.
One of those outs came on a screamer to left-center, caught by a diving Milledge, but the numbers do not lie: LaRoche's average is down to .213, and he is 7 for his past 51.
"I wouldn't say he's going backward, but he's scuffling a little," Russell said. "He's trying to get that really big hit, and he's pressing."
"Sometimes, everything feels great. Other times, I'm just not hitting it the way I want," LaRoche said. "But I'm fine. I'll be fine."
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published June 12, 2008 4:00 AM