Gene Collier: Travis Snider turns the tide



The Pirates reliably include in their helpful daily press notes a short index of dates under the heading, "THE LAST TIME ..."

The purpose is to assist those of us who maybe haven't committed the totality of Pirates history to memory, as broadcaster Lanny Frattare once did, to recall the most recent occurrence of unusual Pirates events. For example, had you forgotten the last time the Pirates hit a leadoff inside-the-park homer, you simply turn to "THE LAST TIME ..." and you see that it was April 20, 2012, against St. Louis, and that it was by Alex Presley.

And you go, "Thank you; thank you very much."

I mention this because until the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday night, the first inning in 29 in which they enjoyed an actual lead, I was afraid the Pirates might have to expand their LAST TIME box to include THE LAST TIME the Pirates won a game.

Of course, there's no need for that this morning, not after a 3-2 victory that ended a seven-game losing streak and triggered references to the baseball gods inside the winning locker room.

An avowed atheist when it comes to the baseball gods, I do believe in the less familiar if more tangible gospel of the National League East, especially the passage that goes, "The Uptons taketh (as they did Tuesday night), and the Uptons giveth away."

Justin and B.J. Upton, who combined to drive in six runs in the 11-3 Braves romp 24 hours earlier, were in left and center field, respectively, when Starling Marte lifted a lazy fly to medium left center with one out and Jordy Mercer on first in the ninth.

With the score tied, 2-2,it was hard to tell which they were approaching more tentatively, these brothers, the baseball or each other. Justin finally got there, but only in time to have Marte's easy fly clang off his glove for the error that put runners at second and third.

One pitch later, Gaby Sanchez won it with a fly ball to center, which was caught when it no longer mattered.

But all that was merely how it ended.

What made it all possible, and what energized a lethargic offense to escape a 2-0 deficit in the eighth was a brilliant at-bat by the rampaging Travis Snider.

"I don't know if knowing-what-to-expect is how I'd put it; it's just that [Alex Wood] was throwing a lot of off speed," Snider said after first Pirates win in eight days.

"He was able to get me off balance in my first at-bat on the slider and curveball and was getting ahead with that pitch a lot."

Snider grounded out in the second and ripped a single in the fifth, and by the time he walked up there in the eighth, he'd seen all of Wood's repertoire.

"The second pitch was probably the best pitch to hit of the at-bat," Snider said. "When a guy's on a roll like he was and with two strikes, you're just trying to battle and put the ball in play. I was just able to get the barrel on it."

Very few people had even bothered to question why Snider has been playing and Gregory Polanco has not, but the eighth inning fully illustrated Clint Hurdle's logic on that point.

Wood nursed a 2-0 lead through seven, but walked Sanchez to begin the eighth, unforgiveable any time but particularly to start an inning. Snider then laced that 0-2 pitch to right, where it landed near the chalk line and hopped into the short fence that parallels the chalk.

That double puffed Snider's hitting streak to 11 games and lifted his average since the All-Star break to .349. It also sent Sanchez to third, where he scored on Chris Stewart's RBI groundout.

The tying run scored thanks exclusively to Braves reliever Jordan Walden, who, in the course of throwing ball four to Neil Walker, bounced it comically past catcher Evan Gattis. Hurdle then sent Polanco up to hit for Tony Watson, and Polanco returned to the dugout after three pitches. He is 1 for his past 27.

"He worked hard to put himself in a good position for the opportunities that have come up," Hurdle said in the aftermath. "We've had some injuries. We're breaking in a young new player [Polanco] and [Snider's] able to go to left, go to right.

"First two at-bats tonight he sees 13 pitches, then the guy hands him a breaking ball that he handles.

"He throws a guy out at home. He gives us good quality at-bats."

No one anticipated when Polanco arrived that Snider would take his job by late August, just as no one anticipated that Josh Harrison would do the same to Pedro Alvarez, but any baseball season is a wild ride.

I wonder when was THE LAST TIME the Pirates overcame a six-game deficit with 35 to play to win a divisional title.

They wouldn't put that in the notes, would they?

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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