Pitching, hitting, defense ... Pirates flashing it all
Starter Paul Maholm earned his third win of the season after giving up 4 runs on 8 hits through 6 innings against the Marlins yesterday at PNC Park.
Adam LaRoche, hitting .304 on the season, recorded three doubles yesterday.
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"This is fun."
Those three words from veteran reliever John Grabow, perhaps better than any summaries or statistics, illustrate why the Pirates seemed to appreciate so genuinely their 7-4 victory against Florida yesterday at PNC Park, one that brought a three-game sweep.
It was not so much that the Marlins had come to Pittsburgh with an 11-1 record, best in Major League Baseball, and left town thoroughly defeated.
It was not even that the Pirates had raised their record to 9-6, their first time at three games above .500 since winning the first three of 2007, the latest in any season they have been at this level since May 3, 2002, when they were 15-12, and the best start since 10-5 that same year.
No, it was about the how.
It was how well they have pitched, hit and caught the ball, not just in this series but all through the very early going.
"It's just plain good baseball," Grabow said. "We're going out there and doing everything right. That's the part that feels good, that's fun."
- Game: Pirates vs. San Diego Padres, 10:05 p.m., Petco Park.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (1-2, 4.24) vs. RHP Kevin Correia (0-1, 4.09)
On this day, the pitching of Paul Maholm was atypically below par -- four runs and eight hits over six innings -- but the bullpen combination of Jesse Chavez, Sean Burnett, Grabow and Matt Capps, with his fifth save, put up three zeroes to finish it off.
The offense came mostly from Adam LaRoche, 4 for 5 with three doubles, but Nyjer Morgan set up the tiebreaking rally by delivering the go-ahead RBI single in the sixth and, that same inning, using his speed to generate an insurance run.
The men on the basepaths succeeded in all three steal attempts, making the team 6 for 6 in the series, and displayed sound aggressiveness in other ways.
And the defense made all the plays it should have, which is more than the sloppy Marlins could manage.
Add it all up ...
"We feel good. We really do. It's a step in the right direction," LaRoche said. "That can change quickly, though. We can get content with it, or we can move forward and take advantage of it. If we keep playing like this, we're going to be pretty good."
The opponent apparently would not argue the point.
"They played better the whole series," Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "They ran the bases, got some key hits, and they pitched really well."
"If their pitching can do what they did to us -- and I don't mean the starters, but the bullpen, too -- they've got a good chance," Marlins right fielder Cody Ross said. "They're just good all-around."
The Pirates' staff ERA is 3.07, second-lowest in the majors, with the Seattle Mariners at 2.94. That is due largely to getting 10 quality starts in the first 15 games, but the bullpen has pitched in a 3.23 ERA, a 7-1 record when leading after six innings, and Capps being perfect in save chances.
The offense rates well, too: 10th in runs with 70, 13th with a .268 average, first in doubles with 37. Perhaps most significant is that their most productive hitters have been the two atop the order: Morgan and Freddy Sanchez are batting a combined .341, the fourth-best such figure of any 1-2 punch in the majors.
The Pirates' fielding ranks 11th with a .986 percentage, but defensive statistics weigh only errors, not fundamentals such as cutoffs, relays and the like, nor the degree of difficulty of a given play. This defense has been plenty adept -- sometimes better than that -- in every area. Maybe the best gauge of that: The Pirates' pitchers, terrific as they have been, have struck out only 77 batters, second-fewest in the majors, a clear sign they are relying on the gloves behind them.
"There are a lot of things we're doing well right now, and it's nice to see," manager John Russell said. "A lot of hard work has gone into this, on the part of the players and the coaching staff, and you can see it paying off."
It was another cold afternoon at the ballpark, with a first-pitch temperature of 42 degrees and only 10,655 on hand, but the Pirates showed early they would stay hot by leaping to a 3-0 lead on LaRoche's RBI book-rule double in the first, then Nate McLouth's RBI single and Andy LaRoche's sacrifice fly in the third.
Maholm was perfect through three but began to run up deep counts and found mostly trouble from there, allowing Florida to tie the score at 4-4 in the sixth on two-out RBI hits by Ronny Paulino and Ross.
"I felt great early, then made some stupid pitches," Maholm said. "The offense and bullpen picked me up."
In precisely that order ...
Pinch-hitter Delwyn Young led off the bottom of that sixth inning by ripping a double to the track in center, and Morgan followed with an RBI liner into left. Morgan took second on the throw home, stole third and, when Paulino's throw bounced into left field, he sprinted home.
The Pirates were back up, 6-4.
"It felt like the game changed right there," Morgan said.
A six-game road trip begins tomorrow in San Diego, and no doubt the plane to West Coast will be carrying more confidence than the Pirates' charters are accustomed.
"We're for real, man, and we believe," Morgan said. "You know that, right? We're the truth."
First Published April 23, 2009 12:00 am