"Total team effort."
That was reliever Tyler Yates' description of the Pirates' 5-2 flattening of the New York Mets yesterday at PNC Park. And, on an afternoon where Paul Maholm again pitched well, Adam LaRoche went deep, Sean Burnett won for the first time in four years, Steve Pearce broke open a tie with an eighth-inning RBI, and Jack Wilson kept pecking away, one of sports' most worn cliches seemed wholly appropriate.
In this case, it might have started with the mindset.
The standings glaringly illustrate the irrelevance of the rest of 2008, and the sagging offense during the four-game losing streak leading into this one had the feel of one of those familiar late-season swoons.
- Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (4-10, 5.91) vs. RHP Braden Looper (11-9, 4.07).
- Key matchup: As always, everyone vs. Albert Pujols. He went 13 for 39 on St. Louis' just-completed 6-4 trip, including three home runs. His lingering elbow trouble has flared, but there was no indication he will miss any of this series.
- Of note: Looper has given up just five earned runs over his past three starts, but the Cardinals went 1-2 in those. The reason? Just nine runs of support.
Except that, early in the morning, manager John Russell and always-vibrant bench coach Gary Varsho were smiling and speaking effusively of the effort still being given. And the clubhouse had a surprisingly similar air.
"We'll be fine," Varsho said, plainly.
He was right, though it took a while to unfold ...
Maholm zipped through seven innings, allowing two runs -- but in each case dodging further damage by stranding runners -- on five hits and three walks. He would end up with another no-decision, but his ERA, which peaked at 5.11 on May 25, dropped to 3.64 for 15th in the National League.
His most impressive dodging came in the sixth when, with a runner at third and one out, he went right after New York's two big left-handed bats, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, and got each to fish for a third-strike slider.
"I felt good with those two batters," Maholm said. "I just wish it happened with nobody on base."
Still, New York carried a 2-0 lead to that point, and the Pirates had a measly two in the hit column. Looked to be more of the same.
Except for one detail: Unlike Sunday against Johan Santana, the Pirates' hitters were patient and wore down John Maine with a pitch count of 96 to chase him after five innings. And that brought the Mets' wobbly bullpen into the equation.
It paid quick dividends in the sixth: Ryan Doumit welcomed Brian Stokes by working the count full and drilling a single. LaRoche then crushed Stokes' first-pitch fastball to the top of the seats above the Clemente Wall for his 16th home run, and the score was tied.
"We've worked with all our hitters on getting a good pitch to hit and being in a good position to hit it," Russell said.
The score stayed tied until an eighth inning that was pivotal in each half.
In the top, Yates got two quick outs but, in another possible sign he is wearing down after a busy first three months, loaded the bases on a hit and two walks.
Russell summoned Burnett for the left-handed Delgado, and Burnett took the daring route by opening with three consecutive fastballs. The reason: On Sunday, he threw all sliders to fan Santana.
"Thought they might be looking slider, at least right away," Burnett said.
Delgado popped up.
Burnett would earn his first victory since July 25, 2004, two surgeries and countless bus rides ago.
"Just a little," he replied.
In the bottom half, after an out, LaRoche and Jason Michaels singled, and Andy LaRoche walked. That brought up Pearce, who a week earlier sunk the same opponent with a bases-loaded, ninth-inning single at Shea Stadium to bring a 7-5 victory.
He did not wait long for the sequel, poking Duaner Sanchez's first pitch just past diving third baseman David Wright to put the Pirates ahead, 3-2.
"You get me up there in that situation, I'm hacking," Pearce said. "I know a walk is good there, but I've always felt comfortable with men on base. I want the hit."
It was Pearce's third winning RBI since his promotion, a number that has helped overshadow an overall .222 average and little power.
"He's coming along, taking more pitches, staying more under control," Russell said. "It's a nice boost for him to get those kinds of hits. You can't say he was patient going after the first pitch, but he liked what he saw."
Wilson, who had whispered a word of encouragement to Pearce just before his at-bat, was next and rifled a two-run double inside third for insurance.
His 2-for-4 day extended an 11-for-22 tear that has stood out like an oasis while most everyone else has struggled in the past week.
"Just feeling good," Wilson said.
John Grabow put down the ninth for his fourth save in as many chances since becoming de facto closer to open the month.
The Pirates avoided the four-game sweep and registered comeback victory No. 29, but still wound up with a 2-5 homestand.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com . First Published August 19, 2008 4:00 AM