Ian Snell found his groove, and Nate McLouth found the Allegheny River with a mammoth home run.
And yet, just beneath the high-profile performances of those two in an 8-4 rollover of the Colorado Rockies last night at PNC Park, the underlying theme might have been this: The Pirates have found themselves a catcher.
All Ryan Doumit achieved at the plate was two singles, a double, a walk, two runs and two RBIs, raising his average to .333, which is 17 points higher than any other catcher in Major League Baseball. The Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer is at .316.
- Game: Pirates vs. Colorado Rockies, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Yoslan Herrera (1-1, 9.75) vs. LHP Glendon Rusch (4-3, 5.74).
- Key matchup: Herrera will have to bury the horror of his previous outing July 19 against the Rockies in Denver, where he was shelled for seven runs in 1 2/3 innings. Eight of his 46 pitches resulted in hits, and 22 others were balls.
- Of note: Nate McLouth has yet to make an error in center field, in 250 chances.
Behind the plate, in addition to calling Snell's best start in two months -- seven innings, four runs -- Doumit tagged out Troy Tulowitzki on a second-inning relay from the outfield and threw out one of two runners trying to steal.
On the basepaths, too, he had a fine hook-slide into home to score on a fifth-inning sacrifice fly and even a rare stolen base in the eighth.
"I think he gets overlooked, but this is someone who's becoming a complete player," left fielder Jason Bay said afterward of Doumit. "That's what they've envisioned for a while, and it's happening."
"To be honest, I didn't even realize he had done all that tonight. Hitting right behind him, I see it all the time."
Doumit spoke afterward, too, but it was through huffs and puffs after a 10-minute workout in the fitness room, which might best illustrate why he is having this breakout season at age 27 after so many injuries, so many disappointments: Challenged by everyone from general manager Neal Huntington on down over the offseason, he not only heeded the call to work harder; he exceeded it. He lost 15 pounds and reported to spring training in physical condition that was rivaled only by his upbeat attitude.
Thus, even with three weeks of this season lost to a broken thumb and concussion, Doumit's production has been as steady as any player in the game, as the monthly split shows: .356 in April, .333 in May, .333 in June and .315 so far in July.
And get this: Of the 60 games he has started, he has had at least one hit in all but 11.
As for this one, might it have been the most complete of his career?
"I don't know. Good question," Doumit said. "I'm certainly going to sleep well tonight."
He then immediately changed the subject to the team, as has become common.
"It's a good win We had a lot of guys play well, and it was about time to give these guys some payback."
Colorado swept all four meetings in Denver two weeks ago, but it was about time for a victory of any kind, much less a 25th by comeback: The Pirates had been 0-3 since trading Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte.
Snell had a sluggish start, with the Rockies leaping to a 3-0 lead through two innings on six hits, including Matt Holliday's two-run home run. From there, though, he retired 10 in a row and would allow one run, two hits and a walk in his final five innings.
In all, he struck out eight, walked one and had a pitch count of 103, the latter impressive in light of the early hardship.
"He settled in and threw very well," manager John Russell said, "especially with his fastball command."
The fastball was clocked at 90 mph early but wound up at 95 mph. The breaking stuff began to break, as well. Somehow, he also found a way to channel strikes with a poise and ease not seen in a painfully long time.
Did he get stronger?
"I don't know," Snell said. "I wasn't really even paying attention. I was just focused on throwing strikes."
This was Snell's longest outing since May 9, most strikeouts since June 6 and first win since June 11. And, even though it stands isolated in that span, it might have served as a reminder for why teams do not easily give up on such a dynamic arm.
"Obviously, we all knew he could pitch," Russell said. "We've seen it in pieces, and he put it together tonight. Hopefully, it's a turning point."
Snell credited his teammates, especially fellow starters Paul Maholm and Zach Duke.
"They're sticking by me in this whole mess I'm going through," Snell said.
The Rockies recalled 35-year-old Valerio De Los Santos for his first appearance in the majors since Aug. 11, 2005, and the rust showed in six walks through four-plus innings. But it was not until the fifth that the Pirates made him pay.
Chris Gomez and McLouth walked, and De Los Santos was replaced by Jason Grilli, who immediately walked Jack Wilson. Doumit whipped a double into the right-field corner for two runs.
Bay reached on an error, Doug Mientkiewicz's single tied the score, and Pearce's sacrifice fly put the Pirates ahead, 4-3.
They greeted Luis Vizcaino just as rudely in the sixth: McLouth tore into a one-ball fastball and sent his 22nd home run out of the stadium, off the grass embankment by the river's edge -- an estimated 448 feet -- and into the water.
It was the 23rd in PNC Park history to reach the water, the first this year, all but one on a bounce. It was McLouth's second, his other coming Sept. 10, 2007.
Wilson and Doumit singled next and, after an out, another Mientkiewicz RBI single and another Pearce sacrifice fly made it 7-3.
Denny Bautista finished it off for Snell in style, with two perfect innings and four strikeouts. It was not a save situation, but it might have served as an audition for the vacant closer's job.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published July 29, 2008 4:00 AM