The tone for what would become yet another lopsided and forgettable Interleague loss -- this being a 16-5 setback to the White Sox in front of 28,012 fans at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday night -- would be set early by Snell. It would be continued by an offense that had the wind knocked out of it after matching Chicago punch for punch early. And it wouldn't end until the Pittsburgh bullpen was hit hard as well.
"We were right there with them," Pirates manager John Russell said. "And then the wheels fell off."
It's been 11 series since the Bucs won the opening game of a series. And while they are 1-3 in Interleague play this season, the club carries a 2-11 road record against the American League over the past two years.
"It is big because it is in the meat of our season and we have had such non-success in that area," shortstop Jack Wilson said. "But at the same time, we've only played four Interleague games. It's still something we can change."
Before this one got out of hand, however, there was reason to believe Snell was ready to continue making progress. He came into the game on the heels of two solid starts.
However, Snell's three first-inning walks would be a harbinger of what was to follow -- a 105-pitch outing in which he allowed seven runs in four-plus innings.
"I didn't have my control," Snell said. "I stunk. You've just got to wear it sometimes."
What last year would have seemed so uncharacteristic of Snell suddenly has become all too typical. Walks, high pitch counts and early exits all have become more the norm than the exception.
"Tonight, again, too many misfires, getting behind in the count -- it just hurt him again," Russell said. "Something's off a little bit with him. We'll continue to work with him and get him back on track."
For just the second time in his career as a starter -- and the first since 2005 -- Snell did not strike out a hitter. For the fourth time this season, he allowed at least five walks. On Tuesday, the final total was six. And for the third time in his last five starts, Snell watched his pitch count escalate above the century mark in a game in five or fewer innings.
Snell was accurate in crediting part of his struggles to a notably patient White Sox offense. Countering against a team that has drawn the sixth-most walks in the American League this season, Snell was burned by that patience. He went to a three-ball count eight times. Six times it led to a walk, once to a sacrifice fly and once to a solo homer.
"They're very disciplined at the plate," he said. "They didn't swing at any bad pitches at all."
However, Snell, who had thrown 78 pitches by the end of the third, also was left to reflect on his own game plan gone awry.
"I don't think I was [aggressive enough]," said Snell (3-7). "I kind of [wimped] out on not using my fastball enough. It just felt like I could get nothing on the ball."
Through four innings, however the Pittsburgh offense kept the team in it.
After watching the White Sox score two in the first, a Pirates club that came into the game ranked third in the National League in runs scored, plated four in the second. A two-run double by Jason Michaels, a run-scoring single by Doug Mientkiewicz and a sacrifice fly from Nate McLouth off Chicago starter Javier Vazquez did the damage.
And even after Chicago used a three-run third to reclaim the lead, Pirates third baseman Jose Bautista knotted the score at 5 an inning later with a solo homer
The beginning of the end, though, came in the fifth, when Snell was unable to protect the tie. A misplayed fly ball by Michaels, who started with Jason Bay out sick, spotted the White Sox one run. A balk by Snell helped allow Chicago to push the lead to 7-5 on a sacrifice fly.
"It was a good game," Wilson said. "And then it just fell out of our hands."
With Snell out early, the Bucs bullpen didn't do much to keep the game in reach. Franquelis Osoria, who had allowed nine runs in his last 12 innings, served up three more to the White Sox, highlighted by a two-run homer by Joe Crede.
And it got worse for a wild Marino Salas, who gave up a two-run and a three-run blast in an inning in which he retired just one of the eight hitters he faced. By the time Chicago was done, Pittsburgh pitchers had given up four homers on the night. The Pirates matched a season high by allowing 19 hits and a season-high 19 runs. Now they have two more Interleague road games to try to salvage.
"Tomorrow is definitely a big game for us," Wilson said. "The only way to end it on a good note is to win the last two games."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.