Ron Cook: LaRoche will have his day
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HOUSTON -- There's no truth to the rumor that Adam LaRoche turned to a little light reading yesterday afternoon to take his mind off his horrendous debut with the Pirates Monday night.
The Pat Tillman Story hardly qualifies as a feel-good, pick-me-up, you know?
LaRoche isn't a glutton for punishment. He wasn't looking to add to his pain from his 0-for-5, four-strikeout night in the Pirates' 4-2, 10-inning, season-opening win against the Houston Astros when he picked up the magazine article on Tillman, the NFL star-turned-Army Ranger who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004. He merely was captivated and moved by the tragic tale like so many others have been.
"Wow!" LaRoche said.
A few hours later, the Pirates were involved in a much happier story of their own. They came back to win again despite another quiet night by LaRoche, beating the Astros, 3-2, thanks to clutch, two-out, run-scoring singles by Ronny Paulino and Xavier Nady in the eighth inning. Don't look now but your favorite team is 2-0 and tied for first place in the National League Central.
There's no need to point out there still are 160 games to go.
Enjoy this while it lasts.
LaRoche is, despite his troubles at the plate.
"It's just awesome to watch these guys battle like that," he gushed.
It's also enough to make you wonder:
How much better will the Pirates be when LaRoche starts to hit?
And he will hit.
"If not, I won't be around here long. It will be a very short stay," LaRoche said.
The man grinned.
It's OK to smile -- even to laugh -- when your team is unbeaten.
So what if you're 0 for 8 with five strikeouts?
It's not as if LaRoche doesn't have a track record.
"It was tougher early in my career when I struggled like this," LaRoche said. "You start asking yourself, 'Are these guys a lot better than me?'
"That's just not the case now. I know that no matter what happens, I belong here. I can succeed here."
LaRoche hit 32 home runs for the Atlanta Braves last season. He also struck out 128 times. The point is clear: Any hitter is going to have a lot of good and bad at-bats during the long season.
It's nice to think LaRoche got two days' worth of bad ones out of the way early.
"It just seems like when it rains for me, it pours," he said. "When I have a bad game, I really have a bad one ...
"The good news is I can only go up from here. If I do anything, it's going to look good."
LaRoche's rough start would be little more than a footnote if not for all of the excitement that his offseason trade to the Pirates generated. It's hard to remember a more-anticipated debut by a Pirates' player. Barry Bonds' in 1986, perhaps?
That goes a long way to explaining LaRoche's rotten performance in the opener. "I probably was a little out of my element trying to do a little too much," he said. "I probably was a little too excited."
LaRoche saw 16 pitches Monday night, all but two for strikes. He put only one in play -- a weak fly ball to left field in his first at-bat. He fouled off two pitches, looked at four called strikes and swung and missed seven times, flailing more than once at off-speed pitches outside and in the dirt.
The bottom line?
"My pitch selection was pathetic," LaRoche said.
It was marginally better last night. LaRoche took a called third strike in the first inning, flew out to right in the fourth with two runners on, worked a walk in the sixth and smoked a line drive right at center fielder Chris Burke with two on in the eighth.
Paulino and Nady bailed out LaRoche with their big hits last night.
Nate McLouth, Nady and Jason Bay saved him with their home runs Monday night.
LaRoche's turn is coming.
The guess here is that first LaRoche hit is coming soon.
The first LaRoche home run.
Maybe even tonight against the Astros as the Pirates go for what would be an unbelievable sweep.
"Tell 'em back in Pittsburgh not to give up on me yet," LaRoche said, grinning again. "Give me another day or two."
At least another day or two.
First Published April 4, 2007 12:00 am