Pirates run their way out of eight-game slide
Ross Ohlendorf pitched into the seventh inning en route to his 10th win of the season last night in Denver.
Ryan Doumit watches the flight of his second-inning double last night against the Rockies in Coors Field.
Colorado's Todd Helton reels from an inside pitch by Ross Ohlendorf in the fourth inning last night at Coors Field in Denver.
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DENVER -- The meeting was nothing terribly out of the ordinary, but the result was.
Not long before the first pitch at Coors Field last night, Gary Varsho, the Pirates' vocal bench coach, urged the team's position players to spot, then seize every opportunity on the basepaths.
Go first to third.
Run, run, run to get the offense cycling again.
As catcher Ryan Doumit put it, "We're not some big power-hitting team, so we've got to make things happen."
And so they did in all kinds of ways, stealing five bases -- most in any game in four years -- while rapping 11 hits, drawing nine walks, advancing on two wild pitches, capitalizing on three errant throws and, by far most important, finally, finally winning a game, 7-3, against the Colorado Rockies.
• Game: Pirates vs. Colorado Rockies, 8:40 p.m., Coors Field.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Kevin Hart (3-1, 2.94) vs. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (9-9, 3.65).
• Key matchup: Andy LaRoche is 4 for 9 with a walk off Jimenez.
• Of note: The Pirates' 18-40 road record is second-worst in Major League Baseball. Only the Washington Nationals are worse, at 14-40.
PG audio: Pirates pitcher Ross Ohlendorf, on rediscovering peak fastball velocity
The Pirates' eight-game losing streak ended, and the credit was easily spread: Ross Ohlendorf pitched six-plus solid innings to become the team's first 10-game winner in two years. Andrew McCutchen stole three of those bases after reaching on a double and three walks. Garrett Jones doubled twice. Lastings Milledge doubled and made a leaping catch at the left-field fence to save a run.
"The guys battled after we just had a tough stretch, a lot of tough losses, the kind that can bring you down," manager John Russell said of the 2-8 homestand in which five late leads were blown. "But you can see the focus and intensity are still there. We took some steps in the right direction."
The fastest of those steps were taken, as usual, by McCutchen, whose absence from the steals column had been conspicuous: He had just nine in his first 58 games, none since July 19, and he had attempted one between then and last night.
Russell had given him the green light all along, so what gave?
"Nothing, really," McCutchen said. "We got some offense going, and we just took what they gave us."
"Good things happen when he's on the bases," Russell said. "Once he gets more comfortable, hopefully, he'll steal a few more."
The other steals were by Doumit and Jones, and the total was the Pirates' highest since July 26, 2005, when they had five against the Florida Marlins.
But the steals hardly were the only areas in which they took advantage of uncharacteristically shaky Colorado, Major League Baseball's best team over the past two months.
For one, Rockies manager Jim Tracy replaced injured Aaron Cook with 21-year-old right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, promoted from Class AA three weeks ago and making his first career start. Tracy could have used veteran Josh Fogg but saved him as a fallback.
Too late to flip that order.
Chacin lasted 2 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on one hit, six walks, a run-scoring wild pitch, a steal and a throwing error by catcher Chris Iannetta that allowed two runners to advance.
"He was wound up a little too much," Tracy said of Chacin.
Fogg was summoned with two aboard in the third, and Delwyn Young lifted a triple off the center-field wall to clear them. Ronny Cedeno's squibber single scored Young, and the Pirates were up, 5-1.
On that play, second baseman Clint Barmes threw that ball away, too, though it did go down as one of the Rockies' errors because the runners stayed put.
"There was no energy out there," Barmes said of his team. "If we're going to make the playoffs, we'd better wake up and start playing again. It's the big leagues, and anything can happen. It doesn't matter who we play. I'm not going to take anything away from the Pirates. They played well and took advantage."
Ohlendorf's fastball was in rare form, regularly reaching 95 mph on the radar -- pretty much where advertised upon his arrival last summer but seldom seen since -- in limiting the Rockies to solo home runs by Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.
This made three consecutive strong starts since Ohlendorf, now 10-8 with a 4.30 ERA, worked with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan to throw more overhead.
"I think I've been building on finding my rhythm with it," Ohlendorf said. "Today's the best my fastball has been all year, both with velocity and location."
"By far," Doumit echoed on that topic. "And it wasn't just him. Every guy we put out there was bringing it."
That list would expand to Jose Ascanio, Jesse Chavez, Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan, all pitching in the 95-mph range. Colorado had double-digit hit totals in its previous four games, 22 runs in the previous two, but ended up with nine hits last night.
Ohlendorf and Meek had apparently minor injuries.
Ohlendorf was hit in the upper left chest by a Troy Tulowitzki bouncer in the sixth but was well enough not only to finish that inning but also, in a surprise, go out for the seventh after his pitch count had reached 103.
Meek exited after his only batter in the ninth, experiencing pain in his left oblique. He described it as not feeling "too serious," as would a pull or tear in that region. He said discomfort had been building there for a couple days week but that it tensed up at once after his last pitch.
First Published August 12, 2009 12:05 am