It had been long expected that the Pirates might make Major League Baseball history this weekend, but who thought it would be something to cherish?
Ross Ohlendorf, in the team's most riveting pitching performance in recent memory, struck out a career-high 11, including all three St. Louis batters he faced on the minimum nine pitches in the seventh inning of what would prove to be a 2-1, 10-inning victory for the Cardinals tonight at PNC Park.
Albert Pujols' pinch-hit home run off Matt Capps in the 10th extended the Pirates' losing streak to a season-high nine and pulled them within one loss of 82. Thus, the 17th consecutive losing season that will set a professional sports record can be clinched tomorrow afternoon.
Still, the highlight tonight, beyond any doubt, was the immaculate inning, as it is commonly called, that was the 43rd in major league history, the second in the Pirates' 123 years.
It was one part fantastic, two parts filthy ...
Khalil Greene saw two sliders and a curve, swinging through all three. The third hit the dirt, forcing catcher Ryan Doumit to throw to first.
Julio Lugo looked at a fastball and curve, then swung through a dirty slider. Again, Doumit had to throw to first.
Finally, Jason LaRue looked at a changeup, swung through a slider and swung over another dirty curve. Doumit did the rest.
The crowd of 27,071 stood and roared.
The only other pitcher in the Pirates' history to achieve the feat was reliever Jeff Robinson, Sept. 7, 1987, against the Cubs in Chicago. The only other pitcher to achieve it this year was the New York Yankees' A.J. Burnett, June 20 against the Florida Marlins in Miami.
And how about the rest of Ohlendorf's line?
He limited St. Louis' lineup -- still remarkably strong even with Pujols, Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa getting spelled -- to one unearned run over eight innings. He walked just one and, almost as impressive, pounded the zone with 77 strikes among his 103 pitches.
The strikeout total of 11 was the Pirates' highest by a margin of four -- the staff as a whole ranks last in the majors -- and the first since Ian Snell had the same total April 3, 2007, in Houston.
Overall, he is 11-9 with a 3.97 ERA, including a 2.70 ERA since the All-Star break.
The score was 1-1 through eight innings, and the Pirates had a good chance to end it in the ninth with bases loaded and two outs for Ronny Cedeno. His bouncer went high over the mound and looked like it might die in the tall PNC grass, but Lugo sweetly scooped it up and stepped on second to end the threat.
Apparently, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa had seen enough and sent Pujols to the plate to lead off the 10th. Capps got ahead, 1-2, and the fastball that followed was supposed to be down. Instead, it stayed at belt level, and Pujols, surely to the surprise of no one, belted it into the visitors' bullpen beyond center field for his 44th home run.
Paul Maholm will try to avoid being the historical footnote tomorrow.