ST. LOUIS -- Ian Snell often can be seen carrying one of those new hi-tech, do-it-all phones, the kind sophisticated enough one can watch television on it.
Two nights ago, while riding in a taxi through the downtown here, he flicked on coverage of the Milwaukee Brewers' brilliant CC Sabathia throwing strikes, and he became fixed on that little screen. He headed into a shopping mall, but kept checking and seeing strike after strike after ...
"I couldn't take my eyes off CC," Snell recalled. "And you know what? The more I watched, the more I knew what I had to do."
And so, he took the mound last night and tore through St. Louis for seven scoreless innings and eight strikeouts to carry the Pirates to a 4-1 victory last night at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals' damage was limited to four hits and a walk.
Snell was up to 96 mph, seldom below 95 with the fastball.
"Some of our guys were saying that's how hard he used to throw years ago in the minors," St. Louis third baseman Troy Glaus after whiffing twice.
"Outstanding," Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit said. "All of it."
Above all, though, there was the CC factor ...
Snell has been guilty of starting out hitters with breaking pitches, then coming in hard. If the breaking pitches missed, of course, those fastballs would get grooved and, as a result, pounded more often than not.
- Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Jason Davis (1-2, 1.80) vs. RHP Todd Wellemeyer (10-4, 3.79).
- Key matchup: Wellemeyer has held the Pirates to a .213 average in five career starts, including this against their standard top four: Nate McLouth 2 for 13, Freddy Sanchez 2 for 15, Ryan Doumit 2 for 8, Adam LaRoche 4 for 18.
- Of note: Seven pitchers now have recorded saves for the Pirates -- Matt Capps, Damaso Marte, John Grabow, Craig Hansen, Romulo Sanchez, Tyler Yates and T.J. Beam last night -- the most since 1996, when there were eight.
"Watching CC, he used his fastball command to set up the slider, rather than vice versa," Snell said. "Well, I put my fastball where I wanted, and everything else happened."
Best example came in the fourth, when Snell struck out the side against St. Louis' 3-4-5 hitters -- Albert Pujols, Glaus and Ryan Ludwick, all lunging for third-strike sliders. The ones to Glaus and Ludwick were so dynamic they wound up in the dirt and required a Doumit throw to first to complete the play.
"Best game Ian's thrown all year," manager John Russell said.
Better than that 10-strikeout gem April 6 in Miami?
"Absolutely. His velocity was better than that game, and he was making good hitters look uncomfortable, which is a great sign. It was by far his best start. He's been building toward this and, hopefully, he can maintain some of it."
Russell paused and added with a smile, "He even pitched inside a little bit."
Snell's win was just his third in 22 starts and his record inched up to just 5-10, but, as Russell indicated, this has been building for a while. The velocity, in particular, started to show up again after he took two weeks off in July to rest a flaring elbow.
"It's just slowly getting healthy, slowly getting back to myself," Snell said. "It feels good to have my velocity back and not getting scared away from hitters. I challenged all of them tonight, no matter who it was. I think I threw more fastballs than I had all year."
Despite Snell's showing, the victory hardly came easily.
Doumit's RBI double in the first inning accounted for all the Pirates would have to show for Braden Looper's seven innings, and they came up empty in the eighth off Kyle McClellan, too.
In the bottom of the latter, St. Louis had a man on first and two outs for Pujols, and Russell replaced Sean Burnett with Denny Bautista for what would become an electrifying at-bat.
Bautista got ahead, 1-2, and Pujols fouled off the next four, once swinging as if he wanted to send the ball over the nearby Gateway Arch. But Bautista kept pounding strikes.
"It was fun, going against a great hitter like that," Bautista said.
It was no fun, though, when Pujols eventually screamed a ball to the gap in right-center. Nyjer Morgan went fell-bore toward it, and it was clear he could get there. But it was just as clear Steve Pearce was coming hard from the other direction.
With the crowd of 39,502 roaring as it thought the Cardinals had just tied or taken the lead, it likely was not easy to call off Pearce.
"I really screamed," Morgan said.
And made the catch.
"A tense time in our dugout," Russell said.
Right after the sigh, the Pirates added three in the ninth, thanks largely to some abysmal defense by St. Louis' usually terrific catcher, Yadier Molina.
Doumit and Adam LaRoche opened with singles, Doumit's hit his third of the evening. Jason Michaels tried to bunt them over, but Molina went for the lead runner and failed.
Bases were loaded for Andy LaRoche, who bounced to second baseman Felipe Lopez with a drawn-in infield. Lopez threw home in plenty of time for the force, but Molina dropped let the ball skip off his glove, and it was 2-0.
Pearce walked, and it was 3-0.
Next, Luis Rivas flied out to center, but Michaels did not try to score from third until an errant throw by Joe Mather. Once Michaels broke, St. Louis still had a shot to get him with McClellan backing up nicely. But Molina wandered away from the plate, McClellan held the ball, and it was 4-0.
For the Cardinals, always prideful of fundamentals under Tony La Russa, it had to be quite the embarrassment.
The Pirates have won back-to-back games for the first time since Aug. 6-8.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published August 20, 2008 4:00 AM