This time, when an opponent went after the head of the Pirates' best player, they responded.
And then some.
Andrew McCutchen was hit in the back of the neck by a fastball from Cincinnati's Mike Leake -- McCutchen was diagnosed with a bruise and should miss no more than a game or two -- and his teammates followed up not only by retaliating against Leake but also by fending off the Reds' late rally, 7-6, Tuesday night at PNC Park.
Neil Walker had three hits and a career-high four RBIs, newcomer Chris Snyder came up with a clutch two-run single, starter Paul Maholm hit Leake and pitched into the seventh, ever-present Evan Meek toughed out two innings, and Joel Hanrahan recorded his first save in Octavio Dotel's absence.
Game: Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds, 12:35 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP Jeff Karstens (2-6, 4.42) vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (10-2, 3.32).
Key matchup: Cueto is 8-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 11 meetings with the Pirates, including 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA this year. He pitched a one-hit shutout May 11 at PNC.
Of note: In the Pirates' first three home games that have started at 12:35 p.m., they have been outscored by a combined 35-2. The scores: 10-2, 20-0 and 5-0 .
"All in all, it's a nice win for everybody," Walker said. "But your main concern is Cutch. We're all just glad he's OK."
With two runners aboard after Snyder's big hit, Leake sent a 1-2 fastball at McCutchen's head with enough velocity -- 90 mph -- that McCutchen had enough time only to turn away. It struck him just below the helmet, primarily on the neck muscles, and he dropped to the batter's box.
The crowd of 13,623 -- which included McCutchen's parents, Lorenzo and Petrina -- was silenced as McCutchen lay on his back, mostly still and appearing woozy, for about three minutes.
"It was scary," Pirates manager John Russell said.
McCutchen was ushered off the field by athletic trainers Brad Henderson and Mike Sandoval. In the clubhouse, X-rays showed no fracture and tests indicated no concussion symptoms.
"He got lucky that it hit him in the neck and not the head," Russell said. "We'll see how he is tomorrow. He's in good spirits. I think we might have gotten away with him not being down for long, if at all."
The prognosis was that McCutchen's neck will be sore today, so, with the series concluding on a matinee, the Pirates might opt to have him sit out one game. But Russell would not rule out his playing.
Given that Leake already had allowed the Pirates to take a 2-0 lead in the inning, that two runners were aboard and that Cincinnati is battling for first place, the chance that Leake threw intentionally at McCutchen would appear small.
But the Pirates undoubtedly had two other issues collectively in mind:
1. Two batters earlier, Leake had thrown high and tight to Ronny Cedeno.
2. The memory still stings for many in the organization of the May 1 game in Los Angeles, where the Pirates -- specifically Zach Duke -- failed to retaliate after the Dodgers' Ramon Ortiz twice threw high and tight to McCutchen. Ortiz batted two innings later, as if sent to the box by Los Angeles manager Joe Torre to take his punishment per baseball protocol, and Duke struck him out on four pitches nowhere near the batter, three of them curveballs.
"I dropped the ball," Duke said that night.
It did not happen this time.
Delwyn Young took McCutchen's place at first base, and the Pirates immediately began to exact revenge: Jose Tabata lashed an RBI single to left, and Walker cleared the loaded bases with a liner halfway up the Clemente Wall to make it 6-0.
A good feeling, in light of what had just taken place?
"Oh, yeah, definitely," Walker said. "That wasn't going through my mind when I stepped in the box. I was just hoping to hit a ball hard. But the way it worked out like that was really good. And I was glad to see Cutch is OK."
The six runs that inning were one more run than the Pirates' total from the previous five games.
Then, more direct revenge: Leake batted in the next inning and, with many in the crowd jeering Leake, Maholm followed a just-for-show outside curve by plunking Leake with a fastball -- fittingly, also 90 mph -- near the left knee. Leake simply took his base, and there was no further incident.
Maholm, following another aspect of that baseball protocol, had little to say when asked if he was doing his job.
"I've got nothing for you," he said.
How did Maholm feel when he saw McCutchen hit?
"You hope he's OK. You never like to see that. Getting hit is one thing. Getting hit up there, it's a scary deal. It's no fun to watch."
Russell and others on the Pirates' side appeared to feel Leake just misfired.
"I think the ball got away from him," Russell said. "You never want to see a ball up around the head. It's a scary thing."
Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker described Leake as being "shook up" after it happened, and Leake allowed that it was on his mind.
"I'm not saying I wasn't thinking about it," Leake said. "I was trying not to, and to go after the next hitter. I threw some pitches I shouldn't have thrown."
Maholm would give up four runs in his six-plus innings, improving to 7-9.
The Pirates' heavy reliance on Meek -- this was his team-high 49th appearance -- showed in the eighth, as he gave up two runs to allow Cincinnati within 7-6. Meek's pitch count was a season-high 50 and, to boot, he had to run the bases after his first major-league hit the previous inning.
"Fifty pitches was kind of a struggle," Meek said. "I'm used to going about 25, but I wanted to get that final out and hold the score at 7-6."
That was Miguel Cairo's popup to end the eighth with two aboard.
Russell's explanation of using Meek: "Obviously, we went longer than we wanted. He gutted it out. You don't like to do that very often, but he wanted the ball."
Hanrahan, the first to be summoned out of the Hanrahan-Meek closer duo, recorded his first save since May 24, 2009, while with the Washington Nationals, by sticking a superb slider to freeze Chris Heisey.
"I was a little nervous, I'm not going to lie," Hanrahan said. "It's been a while since I've been in that save situation. For some reason, that ninth inning is just a little bit different."
The Pirates broke a five-game losing streak.