LaRoche, McLouth cap long night by upending Houston, 4-3
July 9, 2008 10:00 AM
Pirates' Ian Snell gets taken out of the game by manager John Russell in the fourth inning Tuesday night.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ian Snell had quite the outburst in the Pirates' 4-3 victory against the Houston Astros this morning at PNC Park, visibly frustrated by an early exit in his first start off the disabled list.
But all was forgiven by the time it ended.
Something to do with the game having been delayed twice by rain and concluding at 1:10 a.m.?
Sure, time heals all wounds, but this more likely had to do with the decisive three-run rally in the eighth inning, including an Adam LaRoche home run and Nate McLouth's two-run single.
"It was great to see how everyone pulled together," Snell said, smiling at his stall afterward. "Just about everyone in here had a big part in this."
Snell's demeanor afterward represented a 180-degree swing from his reaction to being pulled by manager John Russell in the fourth inning: Once Russell took the ball, Snell could be seen barking, even swearing, as he came off the field. In the dugout, he twice threw his glove.
Game: Pirates vs. Houston Astros, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP John Van Benschoten (1-2, 10.64) vs. RHP Brian Moehler (4-4, 4.13).
Key matchup:Adam LaRoche is 6 for 14 with two doubles vs. Moehler, with no strikeouts and two walks.
Of note: According to Stats Inc., Van Benschoten's career ERA of 9.04 is the highest in Major League Baseball's modern history -- since 1900 -- for any pitcher with 16 or more career starts.
Everyone else sat still, but not for long.
When Snell returned after briefly heading into the dugout tunnel with a bat, utilityman Doug Mientkiewicz confronted him at the top of the tunnel steps and, thanks to Mientkiewicz wearing an FSN Pittsburgh microphone, this portion of the dialogue was broadcast:
"Understand that he is protecting you," Mientkiewicz told Snell, referring to Russell. "You can't throw 120 pitches coming off the DL. You understand that! We want your arm to feel good again and again and again, and that is how it starts, right there. All right."
With that, Mientkiewicz patted Snell on the stomach and got a responsive nod from Snell, who took a seat on the bench, just before a potent storm brought a two-hour, 39-minute delay.
Snell, who had not pitched since June 22 because of elbow pain, was pulled with Houston ahead, 1-0, but he had run up a gaudy pitch count of 88 through his 3 2/3 innings, and his final three batters each reached base: Hunter Pence homered to deep center with the help of the mounting wind, Ty Wigginton singled sharply, and Brad Ausmus drew a full-count walk.
Russell had made known beforehand that the coaching staff would "pay close attention" to Snell once he reached 70-80 pitches for signs of fatigue. And he stuck by that.
"He had a high pitch count, walked Ausmus, and I was told it was going to start pouring any second," Russell said.
Russell said he was aware Snell was displeased at coming out.
"That's Ian. It's nice to see that out of him, that he wants to compete. He feels really good."
Asked if he had any issues with Snell's conduct coming off the mound, he replied, "I didn't see it. I was on the mound."
Snell shrugged it off.
"Yeah, I was upset," he said. "You've got to show some kind of emotion. You can't just go off stone-faced. I was a little upset with myself. I shouldn't have walked the guys I walked."
"No, I didn't want to come out. My competitive nature came into me, and I was [ticked]. I wanted to go five in my first game off. But they're looking out for my best interests. I'm thankful for that. Mientkiewicz had to sit me down and talk to me because I was still fuming."
And how did he react?
"Better than I might have two years ago."
"I just tried to calm him down a little bit," Mientkiewicz said. "For some reason, he listens to me. A little bit."
Snell came out firing in this one, as promised, throwing 20 consecutive fastballs to open the first inning, and his velocity reached up to 94-95 mph regularly for the first time since early April. But he struck out only one, walked three and fell behind 10 of his 17 batters.
"I think it's going to be like that from now on," Snell said of the early heat. "Going to breaking pitches as soon as possible is just not working for me. I need to show everybody I'm coming after them. I did. I felt good. I just ended up throwing too many pitches."
Houston pulled ahead 3-0, in the fifth on Carlos Lee's two-run home run off T.J. Beam, with the Pirates countering in the bottom half on McLouth's solo shot, his 17th and second in as many nights.
After the second delay, this of 28 minutes, play resumed just after midnight, and the Pirates were grateful it did ...
In the eighth, with the Astros' quality setup man Doug Brocail pitching, LaRoche capped a 3-for-4 night with a solo shot above the Clemente Wall, his 10th, to pull the Pirates within 3-2.
"Fastball, a little up," LaRoche said.
Bases were loaded after that, when Jose Bautista was hit by a pitch, Mientkiewicz singled and Jack Wilson, who had a fine defensive game, walked.
McLouth, after fouling off two full-count fastballs, drilled his two-run liner into right to put the Pirates ahead.
"I had a good idea he was going to keep coming with fastballs in that situation," McLouth said.
Damaso Marte pitched a quiet ninth for his third save, second in as many nights.
Other bright spots for the home side: Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez each had two hits. Sanchez, who had been in a 2-for-20 slump, took extra batting practice before the game and, in a rare sight, during the first rain delay.
By the time it was over, no more than a tiny fraction -- perhaps 300 -- of the original paid crowd of 17,867 was in attendance.
The Pirates tonight will go for their third sweep of the season, the first since May 6-8 against the San Francisco Giants.