Gorzelanny, LaRoche cut down Cardinals
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Tom Gannam, Associated Press photos
Starter Tom Gorzelanny pitched 8 1/3 innings yesterday, giving up one run and four hits against the Cardinals in St. Louis.
ST. LOUIS -- Strike one ...
Tom Gorzelanny went straight at the St. Louis Cardinals, recorded 21 first-pitch strikes against the 30 batters he faced, then wound up with 8 1/3 exquisite innings.
Strike two ...
Adam LaRoche dug himself an 0-2 hole, battled back to a full count, then drilled a three-run home run for his first significant hit of the season.
Strike three ...
Matt Capps was summoned to finish what Gorzelanny started, blew away his only two batters with high heat, then shook hands as the Pirates made off with a satisfying 6-1 punchout of the Cardinals yesterday at Busch Stadium.
Make that richly satisfying.
"That was a good one," catcher Ronny Paulino said. "There was a lot to like out there."
Where to start?
From a team standpoint, the Pirates' two-game sweep all but erased the sting of that 0-4 homestand. To boot, the sweep was their first in St. Louis since a four-game set July 3-6, 1997, and the back-to-back victories the first here since May 30-31, 2003.
That 6-2 road record is the winningest in Major League Baseball, which is not bad for a team that opened the 2006 season 1-13 away from PNC Park.
Still, this one might have been even more encouraging on an individual level.
Start with the starter.
Gorzelanny was drawing calls for his demotion after an erratic spring, but it is safe to say those have died down somewhat since he has gone 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA through three starts. Most impressive: Opponents are batting .208.
And he never was better in his fledgling career than yesterday, when he limited St. Louis to one run and four hits.
"He was tremendous," manager Jim Tracy said. "Again."
The key, as always for Gorzelanny, was working the outside of the plate to right-handed hitters. He painted the corner with first-pitch fastballs, then kept them guessing at the breaking stuff.
"Even when they hit the ball hard, they couldn't pull it," Paulino said. "It went right at our guys on the right side."
That made it stand out all the more that second baseman Jose Castillo, filling in for injured Freddy Sanchez, made three terrific plays. That included a leaping stab of a blistering liner by Albert Pujols that resulted in a first-inning double play.
"I was working on staying ahead of hitters and getting them to swing at good pitches," Gorzelanny said. "From there, the defense was the key. They played well."
Might Gorzelanny be surprising himself to some degree?
"Yeah, maybe a little bit," he said. "Everybody expects to do well, but it's exciting that I've gotten off to this start. I just want to keep building on it."
For the second day in a row, the Pirates' offense struck early and leaped to a 5-0 lead against St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright.
Chris Duffy walked on four pitches to open the game, then came all the way around when Jack Wilson's single to right field slipped under the glove of Preston Wilson. Xavier Nady's one-out shot up the middle drove in Wilson.
Wilson and Jason Bay singled after one out in the third. That brought up LaRoche, weighted down by a 1-for-22 drought.
Wainwright threw two quick strikes, and LaRoche stepped out. Refocused and showing some patience, he took the next three pitches to put the pressure back on the pitcher. He then fouled off two full-count fastballs.
That frustrated him further.
"I had a couple in there to hit, and I'm just not squaring 'em up right now," LaRoche said.
The next fastball was elevated, 90 mph and over the inner part of the plate. And LaRoche squared it up well enough to rope it just inside the right foul pole for his second home run and a 5-0 lead.
"He hit 32 home runs for a reason last year," Wainwright said. "I fell into a pattern, and he made me pay."
Even as the ball left his bat, LaRoche had doubts.
"As soon as I hit it, I thought to myself, 'That's foul.' I've had some pretty well-hit balls right at people lately, so that's what I figured."
And when it cleared?
"That was nice. And it was nice to get that for Gorzy."
With that, LaRoche's RBI total for the season went from two to five.
St. Louis finally nicked Gorzelanny for a run in the fifth on Gary Bennett's sacrifice fly, but the Pirates got it back in the seventh on Paulino's RBI double to deep center.
The sole suspense from there would surround Gorzelanny's bid to go the distance for the first time. He entered the ninth with an effective pitch count of 99 and quickly retired David Eckstein on a popup. But So Taguchi doubled, and Pujols walked on five pitches.
That was enough.
"We tried," Tracy said. "But you don't want to be a hitter too late there."
"I was a little upset with myself," Gorzelanny said. "But we still won the game, and that's all that really matters."
Capps recalled, upon emerging from the bullpen, wanting not only to close it out but also to preserve Gorzelanny's line.
"As well as Tom threw, he deserved to go out with one run," he said.
Capps backed the sentiment by getting Scott Rolen and Preston Wilson each to swing under high heat.Tom Gannam, Associated Press photos
Jack Wilson and Jason Bay congratulate Adam LaRoche on his three-run home run in the third inning.
Click photo for larger image.
Game: Pirates (LHP Paul Maholm 0-1, 5.40) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (RHP Claudio Vargas 0-0, 5.14), 8:05 p.m., Miller Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7)
Key matchup: Maholm has fared well against most of the Milwaukee lineup, with one exception: Bill Hall is 6 for 12 against him with a home run and four RBIs. Unlucky for Maholm, Hall has shaken off a slow start with a grand slam Monday and three hits last night in Cincinnati.
Of note: The Brewers, fresh off a 4-3 road trip, have gotten at least five innings from their starter in the first 13 games, the fourth time for that in franchise history.
Xavier Nady steals second under the Cardinals' Aaron Miles in the fifth inning yesterday in St. Louis.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published April 17, 2007 11:29 pm