Bucs enjoy holiday fireworks

Bucs enjoy holiday fireworks

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates manager Jim Tracy must feel like his press conferences every fifth game are like déjà vu. Tracy sits behind the microphone, praises the job Ian Snell did on the mound and comments on how special the Pittsburgh right-hander has become.

Well, if that's the schedule every fifth game, Tracy was right on cue on Wednesday after Snell bounced back from a rocky start to lead the Pirates to a second straight win against first-place Brewers in front of 35,878 at PNC Park.

"To turn around and go through the next seven innings the way he did is another sign of the man this pitcher is becoming," Tracy said. "That's a phenomenal eight innings of pitching when you consider the way the first inning started."

That first inning was as ominous as the overcast afternoon, as the Brewers tagged the right-hander for three quick runs in the first. After the first two Milwaukee hitters reached on singles, Snell left a pitch belt-high to third baseman Ryan Braun that Braun sent over the center-field wall.

Despite needing twenty-nine pitches, Snell managed to escape the inning with no further damage. There would be no further damage all afternoon for that matter, as Snell locked in to finish out his seventh win of the season with seven more scoreless innings.

What was the secret?

"To tell you the truth, they were helping me out," said Snell, who allowed nine hits in his eight innings of work. "They were swinging at a lot of first pitches and came out swinging for the fences, and then hit lazy fly balls."

If Snell wasn't going to give himself enough credit for his final seven innings of work, Brewers manager Ned Yost would help him out.

"He's always been pretty tough on us," Yost said. "And he did a really nice job from that point on."

Snell utilized a slider that Braun later called "one of the better in this league" to keep the Brewers at bay, and set himself in position to pick up his first win since June 13. But while Tracy complimented Snell's entire eight-inning performance, he couldn't help but laud what he saw from his young starting pitcher in Snell's final inning of work.

Snell needed 17 pitches to get through the eighth, in what Tracy called "another gear" that he has seen from Snell late in games all season. Snell said there is no formula for his ability to reach in and consistently close out strong, attributing it simply to his sheer will.

"I've just got a lot of heart," said Snell, who pitched at least eight innings for the third time in seven starts. "Deep down in my heart, I don't think like I'm [trying to throw] hard, it just comes out."

The last thing that came out was a two-seam fastball on the outside corner to get Prince Fielder looking to end a nine-pitch at-bat and the inning.

The Pittsburgh offense made sure that Snell's first-inning hiccup wouldn't cost him a well-fought effort. Adam LaRoche and Ryan Doumit must have missed that city memo about the Independence Day fireworks beginning at dusk on Wednesday. The first baseman and right fielder both lit a spark in the Pirates offense with no-doubt, two-run homers to spark the Pirates' come-from-behind win.

LaRoche's sixth-inning home run proved to be the game-winner in what was a 3-3 game up until that point. Brewers starter Claudio Vargas walked Freddy Sanchez to start the inning, and then quickly fell behind LaRoche. Tracy gave LaRoche the green light on the 3-0 pitch from Vargas, and LaRoche thought he knew exactly what Vargas would throw at him.

"He was throwing a lot of [fastballs]," the Pirates first baseman said. "His slider wasn't working, so I had a pretty good idea it was coming."

He guessed right. He connected on the fastball and sent it into the right-center-field stands as Milwaukee center fielder Gabe Gross just turned around and watched. The home run was just another sign that LaRoche has started to find himself at the plate.

"This is what I expect of myself," said LaRoche, who is 13-for-28 with three home runs and eight RBIs in his last seven games. "Not the home runs, but being able to go out and compete and put balls in play."

The fact that he even trusted himself to swing at that 3-0 pitch is evidence that LaRoche is locked in offensively, just as he was last season when he went on a midseason tear with the Braves.

"I wouldn't have [swung at it] if I hadn't seen it the way I am," LaRoche said. "I wouldn't have risked it."

LaRoche's home run came two innings after Doumit sent a ball that landed three rows from the top of the right-field stands to tie the game.

But before the balls were flying over the outfield fence, Pirates center fielder Nate McLouth provided an early spark to begin to chip into Milwaukee's three-run lead. Since McLouth has seen more playing time in place of the injured Chris Duffy, the Pirates have taken advantage of his speed at the top of the lineup, evidenced again in the first on Wednesday when McLouth laced a ball into the North Side Notch.

McLouth left the batter's box, immediately thinking triple.

"You obviously have to be on third with something like that," he said afterward.

He slid into third just ahead of Geoff Jenkins' throw, and scored five pitches later on Jose Bautista's sacrifice fly.

"To start off and get at least some of that back was big," McLouth said.

The defense also played a big role securing the Pirates' win, their sixth in their last nine games. LaRoche's home run may have put the Pirates over the top, but it was a defensive play earlier in the sixth that shifted the momentum Pittsburgh's way. The Brewers were threatening with runners on the corners and only one out when Jenkins laced a line drive that second baseman Freddy Sanchez nabbed to start a tough 4-6-3 double play.

Snell emphatically pumped his fist as the inning came to an end, and then he stood along the third-base line to high-five Sanchez and shortstop Jack Wilson as they came off the field.

"The defense was great," Snell said. "They came out to play today."

So did Snell, who said that his feeling snubbed by National League All-Star manager Tony La Russa didn't give him any extra incentive to go out and impress on Wednesday. He already had all the motivation he needed.

"I didn't make it," he said. "I thought I deserved to make it, but I didn't. All I want to do is win and get this team to the playoffs."

Defeating the first-place Brewers for the second straight day is a good place to start.

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