The New York Mets have the best -- and most expensive -- bullpen in Major League Baseball, so a two-run lead in the eighth inning might have seemed excessive to most of the 11,812 at PNC Park last night.
Well, now ...
Pirates 8, Mets 5.
"Great win," manager John Russell called it. "We really battled."
"We just stayed with it, stayed with it ... and the tables turned," outfielder Nyjer Morgan said.
The Pirates trailed, 5-0, in the third, and 5-3 heading into the eighth. Then, depending on one's perspective, either the home team awoke or the Mets, whose $27.6 million bullpen had a 2.95 ERA that was lowest in the majors, uncharacteristically imploded.
Adam LaRoche opened with his second double, this off New York's second reliever, Pedro Feliciano. Eric Hinske grounded out, but the next six batters reached: Andy LaRoche with an RBI single off J.J. Putz, Jason Jaramillo with a single, Jack Wilson with an RBI single, pinch-hitter Delwyn Young with an RBI single, Morgan with an intentional walk and, with Brian Stokes pitching, Freddy Sanchez on an error by shortstop Wilson Valdez.
• Game: Pirates vs. New York Mets, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (5-4, 2.77) vs. LHP Johan Santana (7-2, 1.77).
• Key matchup: Hitters on both sides vs. the starters. Duke has held opponents to two or fewer runs in seven of his 10 starts, and the brilliant Santana leads the National League in ERA and with his 86 strikeouts.
• Of note: Nate McLouth's 32 RBIs lead the league's center fielders, and his nine home runs rank second to the 11 of Milwaukee's Mike Cameron.
The five-run inning was the Pirates' first output of five or more since May 19, just their second comeback in 23 occasions when trailing after the seventh, and it was a welcome sight after a painfully flat showing in the 2-1 loss to the Houston Astros the previous day.
"That's why they say it's contagious," Adam LaRoche said. "You get some guys hitting and, next thing you know, bases are loaded and everybody's getting hits."
Putz's 5.08 ERA is glaring among the Mets' relievers, with all the rest under 3.00. He gave up two runs Sunday to the Florida Marlins, too, making for six singles and two walks in his past eight batters.
New York manager Jerry Manuel was asked why Putz, known for a near-triple-digit fastball while recording 91 saves for the Seattle Mariners the past three years, has hovered in the 94-95 mph range this season.
"That's the report, high-90s velocity," Manuel replied. "I haven't seen it."
Manuel plans to wait until tomorrow before using Putz again and, even then, only in a "favorable" situation. Asked what that meant, he came back with laugh, "The 7, 8, 9 hitters. That's what he had tonight."
Young's hit off the bench was the latest in a string of cold clutch: He is 6 for 15 as a pinch-hitter with three RBIs, his overall average at .298.
"I love batting with guys on base," he said.
Matt Capps closed it out for his 11th save, thanks partly to Morgan's sensational diving catch of Luis Castillo's sinking liner to left for the first out. That followed scoreless relief by Sean Burnett, Steven Jackson in his major league debut and Tom Gorzelanny.
Starter Ian Snell was part of this, too, good and bad: The rally took him off the hook for a seventh loss that would have tied the Minnesota Twins' Francisco Liriano for most in the majors, but only after he was charged with five runs, six hits and five walks over six innings.
Snell's 5.64 ERA ranks 85th among the 93 pitchers qualified for the ERA title, and he has not won in eight starts, but there were two bright spots ...
One, he had a rally of his own by putting up zeroes in the fourth through sixth innings -- no hits, two walks -- after New York had nine of 17 batters reach safely to take that 5-0 lead.
"Ian's last three innings are what we're looking for," Russell said. "But he's working on some things."
One of those was Snell's other positive: He threw 41 of his 104 pitches inside or over the inner half of the plate, a stressing point in two side sessions with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan leading up to this start.
Snell said, without full explanation, that he fed off Morgan's energy to rebound.
"That's the way I've wanted to pitch all year, and the person who brought me out of that was you-know-who," Snell said, motioning across the way to Morgan. "He told me to keep battling, and he brought it out of me. Nyjer's one of those guys, he lights a fire under this whole team. I don't know where we'd be without him."
The Pirates have won two of three.