Paulino's walkoff single extends Pirates' good feeling
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It is only two wins.
It is, to be sure, no big deal in any context, much less one that follows 90 games of virtually uninterrupted misery.
And yet, to see these Pirates overcome adversity rather than succumb to it, to see them string together large hits and little plays that loom large, to see them mob Ronny Paulino on the PNC Park grass after his bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth inning sunk the Washington Nationals, 7-6 ...
"It's one of those games where you look our team and think to yourself, 'This is what we're capable of doing,' " shortstop Jack Wilson said. "We're doing all the things that help you win games."
It actually has been two of those games now, each coming after an All-Star break that appears -- for now, anyway -- to have exorcised much of what had ailed the Pirates.
Including, perhaps, the memory of the one defeat that cut the deepest wound of all.
That came, of course, June 19 on the same field against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, and all that was needed was a fly ball. Instead, there would be three strikeouts and an extra-inning loss.
This time, with the score 6-6, Jason Bay led off with a five-pitch walk off Washington reliever Roy Corcoran, and Sean Casey softly singled through the right side for men on first and second.
Pinch-hitter Jose Hernandez put down a bunt single toward the shortstop area to load the bases, capitalizing on a gaffe by the Nationals. Corcoran was supposed to cover the area to the left of the mound to compensate for third baseman Ryan Zimmerman backpedaling to his bag, but Corcoran froze.
"Give Jose credit," manager Jim Tracy said. "He put it where he was supposed to."
After Jose Bautista struck out, Paulino dug a 1-2 hole, then fouled off two pitches. Washington catcher Brian Schneider lined up for an outside fastball, but Corcoran's offering stayed over the plate, and Paulino sliced it to the gap in right-center for a drive that would have been extra bases even if the outfield were not drawn in.
Tracy could not help but cite flashbacks of that Arizona outcome, one so grisly it drew criticism from owner Kevin McClatchy.
"Obviously, we had that situation before this year," Tracy said. "And once again, just like our last game, we showed further growth in having the presence of mind to realize the situations we visited in the first half."
He paused in addressing reporters in his office.
"We've done a lot of positive things in these two days, you guys. Look at the execution. Look at the awareness of the situations. I didn't see any panic out there, just a recognition that we've been there before."
Ian Snell toiled from the first pitch, which Alfonso Soriano smashed into the center-field landscaping, and lasted five laborious innings in which he walked six and allowed six hits. But, like Zach Duke the previous night, he minimized the damage and exited with the Pirates down, 4-3.
They dashed ahead in the sixth.
Joe Randa's RBI double tied the score and, after taking third on a groundout, he sprinted home on Wilson's spontaneous two-out bunt for the 5-4 lead.
Spotting Zimmerman well back at third base, Wilson waited until the last moment to square up for reliever Kevin Gryboski's pitch, then deadened the ball to the point there was no play on it.
"I peeked down there before I got into the box to see where he was," Wilson said of Zimmerman. "I thought I'd try it once."
Washington evened the score in the seventh on Alex Escobar's RBI single, then took the lead the next inning on an apparent lapse by Bautista.
With Jose Vidro at second, Zimmerman zipped a ball to center field for a single that looked certain to bring home Vidro.
At least, that is how Bautista saw it while ranging well to his left.
"I'm going so far over, there's no way I can throw the guy out across my body," he said.
But Vidro hesitated between second and third, magnifying a casual pickup by Bautista. By the time Bautista saw he had a chance at Vidro, his throw to Wilson and the relay to the plate were way late.
That brought a rain of boos from the crowd of 32,626, but Tracy absolved Bautista.
"He didn't nonchalant it," Tracy said. "Jose's not that type of player. He had no way of knowing Vidro would freeze."
"It was really just a misunderstanding," Bautista said.
No matter. Randa doubled again to start the Pirates' eighth, took third on Nate McLouth's bunt and scored on Wilson's shallow sacrifice fly to center because Luis Matos' throw was far off target.
Randa is batting .391 since coming off the disabled list June 13, having lost his job to Freddy Sanchez while injured.
"I'm not the type to feel sorry for myself," Randa said. "I've picked my head up and supported Freddy in every situation that Trace has put me in. I'm just trying to go up there and have good at-bats."
The Pirates' back-to-back victories were their first since June 9-11, when they took three in a row at San Francisco.
Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Teammates chase down Ronny Paulino, left, after he delivered the winning single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning last night at PNC Park.
First Published July 16, 2006 12:00 am