Whatever fate would befall the Pirates last night at PNC Park, manager John Russell promised a few hours beforehand, it would not be from a lack of effort.
As he told reporters at his daily news gathering, "I suspect these guys will come out with a new attitude, a little bit more fire."
Try an inferno.
Adam LaRoche's two home runs included a grand slam, Ryan Doumit's two-run shot broke a tie in an eight-run seventh inning, every starting position player had at least one hit, and the Pirates outlasted -- and, yes, outhustled -- the Los Angeles Dodgers for a 15-8 annihilation that had the crowd of 11,833 cheering throughout.
- Game: Pirates vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 12:35 p.m., PNC Park
- Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (9-8, 3.68) vs. LHP Clayton Kershaw (4-5, 4.41).
- Key matchup: Kershaw, a 20-year-old drafted three slots behind the Pirates' Brad Lincoln in the first round of 2006, currently is the youngest player in Major League Baseball and has 88 strikeouts in his first 96 innings.
- Of note: Of the National League's 46 pitchers qualified for the ERA title, Maholm ranks 18th, Zach Duke 41st and Ian Snell 46th.
It was all quite the turnaround, to say the least.
The previous night, utilityman Doug Mientkiewicz called his team's showing in a lackadaisical 6-2 loss "embarrassing" and wondered aloud why so many teammates had bolted the clubhouse so quickly afterward.
This time, the mood shifted 180 degrees after a season-high scoring output in which, incredibly, 14 of the 15 runs came after two outs and, more incredibly, the final 12 came with two outs and no one aboard.
"I thought it was great," Russell replied when asked a second consecutive night about the effort. "They bounced back. These guys have been through a lot this year, and they've always shown the resiliency to do that."
Of the team's spirit, he added, "It was big. Guys were into it."
It was difficult to discern how much Mientkiewicz's callout influenced the process. By several accounts, players read and discussed the comments, but there was no special meeting, no extra workout, nothing out of the ordinary save a few extra questions for Russell.
He responded mostly by pointing to Mientkiewicz's fiery nature.
"Dougie's an emotional guy," Russell said. "He takes things to heart, and I don't fault Doug for being passionate about the game. If you catch him in a moment after the game where he's still hot, the frustration will come out."
Russell added that he rejects the notion -- one Mientkiewicz did not specifically state -- that the Pirates have given up on the season.
"As far as seeing the club quit, as far as throwing the towel in, no, I don't see that. When you play games like that one, from the outside looking in, it's kind of easy to point that finger. But these guys have really fought."
Leadoff man Nyjer Morgan set the Pirates' pace -- or changed it, perhaps -- with a hustling double to open the game, and the offense was on its way.
LaRoche's first home run off Chad Billingsley led off the fourth and pulled the Pirates within 4-3.
In the fifth, all after two outs, they got two singles and -- in a positive sign for a previously impatient lineup -- Doumit worked a walk after an 0-2 count to load the bases. LaRoche was next, and he crushed Billingsley's one-strike fastball into the center-field landscaping for his third career grand slam and a sudden 7-4 lead.
LaRoche's home run total is at 22, second-highest total of his career, and his five RBIs raised his September total to 21, second-highest in the National League.
"I feel good right now," LaRoche said. "Really good."
The Dodgers scored off Zach Duke -- five-plus innings, five runs, 11 hits -- in the sixth, then one each off T.J. Beam and John Grabow to tie, 7-7, through seven.
But the Pirates erupted for that eight-run seventh that was their most productive inning of the season and, again, all after two outs.
Nate McLouth walked off fresh reliever Scott Elbert, and Doumit lasered a 2-1 fastball into the bleachers for his 14th home run and a 9-7 lead.
"Didn't think about it," Doumit said. "Just hit it."
Next came six consecutive hits, including Andy LaRoche's two-run single, Mientkiewicz's pinch-hit triple for another run, Jason Michaels' RBI single and two misplays by the Los Angeles defense that served to sharpen this role reversal.
After Mientkiewicz slid into third, he leaped to his feet and smacked his hands together, drawing one of the evening's loudest roars.
He did not do interviews after this one -- "I didn't do anything. Talk to everyone else" -- but his upbeat demeanor in the clubhouse spoke volumes.
"He's the guy," Doumit said from the stall next to Mientkiewicz's. "He leads with his words and by example. He loves the game. He's passionate about it. He wants to win. He knows the right way to go about his business. And guys know that. Guys follow that."
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at email@example.com. First Published September 18, 2008 4:00 AM