Why make real history when the Pirates could simply turn to "The Legend?"
Garrett Jones' RBI single in the ninth inning capped a two-run rally that overturned the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-5, yesterday at PNC Park, in addition to ending a nine-game losing streak and -- for a day, anyway -- staving off the clinching of the record 17th consecutive losing season.
"It's going to happen," starter Paul Maholm said of the record. "But every day we fight it off is good."
No one could question that the Pirates fought, given how they responded to the top of the ninth, when St. Louis' Rick Ankiel broke a 4-4 tie by blistering Jesse Chavez's fastball for a home run. It appeared to be the third consecutive late home run that would carry the first-place Cardinals, and they whooped it up in the dugout.
Hey, why not?
• Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 12:35 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: WGN, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Daniel McCutchen (0-0, 4.50) vs. LHP Ted Lilly (10-8, 3.17).
• Season series: Cubs, 8-3.
• Key matchup: McCutchen vs. the veteran Chicago lineup. In his major league debut last week in Cincinnati, he was charged with three runs over six innings, running up a pitch count of 102.
• Of note: The richly inconsistent Cubs have not won more than two in a row since a five-game winning streak July 22-27.
Ryan Franklin, owner of 37 saves in 39 chances and a 1.37 ERA, each figure the best in the National League, would face the bottom of the Pirates' order to protect the lead.
Seemed pretty safe, except ...
"We've fought all year," manager John Russell said. "It would have been very easy to get down after all that's happened in this stretch. Wins and losses? No, we don't like where we are. But the city of Pittsburgh should be proud of the way this team plays."
Jason Jaramillo, who earlier committed an epic throwing gaffe, singled for a third consecutive at-bat to get it started.
After a hard bunt by Andy LaRoche forced out Jaramillo, Andrew McCutchen and pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit lined singles, the latter tying the score at 5-5 and chasing Franklin.
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa summoned left-hander Trever Miller, which did not exactly represent a dropoff: Miller had a 1.66 ERA and a stirring .108 opponents' batting average -- 9 for 83 -- against left-handed batters. And Jones was batting 120 points lower against lefties.
After taking two pitches off the plate, Jones saw a fastball over the outer corner and drove it with serious force in the same direction, into the North Side Notch and well out of reach of the converging outfielders.
McCutchen trotted home, the crowd of 19,274 leaped and roared and, in a feat that rivaled any on the afternoon, Doumit turned back toward Jones on the basepaths and enthusiastically hoisted all 6 feet 4, 230 pounds of him onto the right shoulder.
For a moment, anyway.
"I had him halfway up, and I'm like, 'What am I doing? Dude's huge!' " Doumit said. "But hey, I did it."
"I tried to jump a little to help him out," Jones said, grinning.
Jones' remarkable rookie average is at .308 after a 2-for-5 output, and he hit Miller for a second consecutive game, having singled off him Saturday night.
"I got to see him, and he's very deceptive, has a very good slider," Jones said. "I'm going up there just trying to stay short, take a nice short swing and hit a line drive. It worked out."
For the team, too, as he and others stressed.
"It was a great game for all of us," Jones said. "We pitched well. I thought we hit the ball well, too, just didn't get any luck. But we never gave up."
"It's a really nice win," Doumit said. "To get off the schneid feels good, and to do it against a team like the Cardinals feels really good. These guys have beaten us so many times like that."
La Russa mentioned that, too, in describing St. Louis' final 10-5 season edge misleading.
"We had a dramatic home run, they came back and had great at-bats against Ryan," La Russa said. "I just tip my cap to the Pirates. Our record against them has been misleading because there were a lot of games that could have gone either way."
The closing rally was not the only one, either: Ronny Cedeno's two-run single and Jaramillo's follow-up RBI single brought a 4-4 tie in the sixth.
Maholm was charged with those four runs and six hits over six innings, striking out seven and looking mostly sharp. Joel Hanrahan, getting stronger with each appearance, followed with two scoreless innings.
The result also washed away one rather comical episode in the St. Louis first: With Julio Lugo at third and Albert Pujols at the plate just having taken a ball, Jaramillo tossed the ball well over Maholm's head into the infield grass. Lugo sprinted home.