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Gorzelanny gets plenty of support

Gorzelanny gets plenty of support

PITTSBURGH -- Before Saturday's game, Pirates left fielder Jason Bay joked that he hoped the team would win, 10-1, so that he could fully enjoy the day off his manager had given him.

Well, his teammates may not have scored in double digits, but a 7-2 win over the Nationals in front of 26,959 at PNC Park did the trick. Bay got his day off and the Pirates won their second straight game with a six-run outburst in the second inning.

"That's what we've been missing all year," said Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche, one of the offensive catalysts of the evening. "We've been missing the big hit."

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They found them in bunches in the second inning Saturday.

Jack Wilson got the offensive wheels turning with a bases-loaded, two-run single that erased a one-run deficit. Freddy Sanchez came up later in the inning with the bases once again loaded and delivered a two-out, two-run single up the middle.

Sanchez, however, was fortunate that his at-bat lasted long enough to see that 0-2 pitch from Washington starter Jason Bergmann. Nationals catcher Brian Schneider had a chance to end the inning earlier in the at-bat, but he couldn't hang on to Sanchez's popup in foul territory. The ball was within Schneider's reach as he lunged over the railing in front of the Pirates dugout, but hit the inside of his glove and bounced out.

Three pitches later, Sanchez made Schneider and the Nationals pay.

"[We had] big hits tonight," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said, describing his offense's performance. "That's the thing that's great to see. When you look back at our season today -- and some of the great ballgames we've played and come up short -- that's been the missing element."

LaRoche followed with a two-run double to the right-center-field gap to run the score to 6-1 and out of reach of the reeling Nationals, who have now dropped five straight.

"I think mine looked the best," LaRoche joked afterward about his two-run hit.

Then he went back into a more serious mode.

"That's a hard blow [for the Nationals] to take," LaRoche continued. "I've been on both ends of it, and [when] you have that big of an inning ... it's hard not to lay down on the other side."

The sudden appearance of two-out clutch hitting that had eluded the Pirates much of the season was an encouraging sign for a club in the middle of a crucial 10-game homestand that will close out the first half of the season. But just as encouraging was the fact LaRoche played such a key role behind it.

Exactly one year ago to the day, LaRoche put up a two-hit game, which included a home run, to begin raising what at that point was a .237 average. From there, he went on to hit well over .300 for the rest of the year.

The Pirates first baseman has been mired in a similar slump to start this season, but he is showing the same signs he showed at this time last year, indicating that he has finally found his groove at the plate.

Does he feel as comfortable at the plate as he did when he began to get going for the Braves last season?

"Yeah," LaRoche said confidently. "It's just a different feeling. It's what I was talking about those first couple of months I was searching for, and now I don't know if it's my approach or my swing, but it feels like everything is fine and how it should be."

That "feeling" has been on and off for about a month now, LaRoche said. But he asserted it's been there every pitch for the past four or five days, and his production has backed up the statement.

A 3-for-5 game with a home run on Thursday was the first sign that LaRoche was coming around offensively. And a three-RBI night Saturday, which included a fifth-inning home run, only served as further proof.

"I'm ready for [that feeling] to stick around a little longer this time," LaRoche said.

And LaRoche isn't the only one convinced that he has turned the corner at the plate.

"He had very, very good at-bats tonight," Tracy said. "[He is] swinging the bat better. His outs are hard. Look at the runs he has produced; he's knocked in some big runs for us."

After the six-run second-inning outburst, Pirates starter Tom Gorzelanny took the ball and rolled right along as he has all year. The left-hander hadn't seen that much run support since mid-May, and it allowed him to settle in and pitch his game.

"You score six runs in an inning [and] it's going to make you feel real good about yourself," said Gorzelanny, who improved to 8-4 on the season with the win. "Especially about going out there, it kind of gives you a nice little comfort level, and you kind of just relax and just pitch normal."

The Pirates will gladly take a "normal" Gorzelanny start any day. He zeroed in on Washington's lineup after allowing a first-inning run, scattering three more hits the rest of the evening and finishing with a more-than-respectable 7 1/3-inning pitching line.

If teammate Ian Snell was making an All-Star statement with his win Friday, Gorzelanny answered with one just as convincing.

"I thought he was real free and easy tonight," Tracy said. "I've seen it several times, but tonight he looked very at ease with his delivery and the ball was coming out of his hand really well."

Though he struggled to make effective pitches inside for the first time this year, Gorzelanny limited the damage to just two Washington runs, which lowered the left-hander's already impressive ERA to 3.05. That ERA is eighth best in the league, for anyone counting.

With another win to his credit and a second straight series win in the bag for the Pirates, Gorzelanny headed home knowing that an announcement Sunday afternoon could be a fitting culmination for his stellar first-half performance. And just as Snell admitted one night earlier, Gorzelanny said he has been a little anxious awaiting the All-Star Game invitations.

"If I go, it's exciting and I'd love it," Gorzelanny said. "But if not, [it is] a nice little three-day [vacation]. It'd sure be an honor, and I'd love to go and represent the Pirates. Either way, I can go and have fun or stay at home and have fun. It's a win-win situation for me."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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