By the time Colorado pinch-hitter Seth Smith bounced an inside-the-park home run off the center-field wall in the eighth inning, sending All-Star Nate McLouth on a back-and-forth set of wind sprints as the ball made a 90-degree carom off the padded fence and took off down the warning track like it was bounding downhill from one of Colorado's mountain passes, the Rockies had an invulnerable look to them, ultimately prevailing, 5-2, over the Bucs.
Snell (3-8) had a rough start, giving up three runs in the first two innings. Willy Taveras bounced a triple off the right-center-field wall to open the first inning, and Matt Holliday brought him home with a two-run blast over the left-field fence.
The Rockies capitalized on a two-out walk to Taveras in the second inning. Taveras stole second, despite a throw from Ryan Doumit that appeared to just beat him to the bag. Taveras then stole third for his Major League-leading 41st steal, and he jogged home on an errant throw from Doumit.
"He struggled a little bit with command early," said Pirates manager John Russell of Snell's improved performance. "It looked like he got into a pretty nice rhythm, and he didn't lose velocity doing it, so that's a very good sign. He didn't get many breaks, but if he continues to throw like that, he'll be fine."
Snell's rhythm improved after the three-hit first inning. He allowed just three more hits in his remaining five innings. Snell claimed it was the best command he's had all year, surpassing a six-inning, one-run, 10-strikeout, no-walk masterpiece against the Marlins in his second start of the season.
"This was better, because in the Florida game I was taking velocity off," Snell explained. "In this game I was just going after them, just throwing hard."
Jose Bautista got the Bucs on the board with a solo shot down the left-field line -- his 11th of the season -- to lead off the third. The Pirates closed to within one run in the sixth, with a one-out single to left from Freddy Sanchez, a single to right from Doumit that moved Sanchez to third and a sacrifice fly to right from Jason Bay. When Adam LaRoche followed by collecting his first hit of the night, a single to shallow left, Rockies starter Glendon Rusch (3-3) was pulled and reliever Jason Grilli caught Jason Michaels looking to end the threat and the inning.
The Rockies got the run back in the bottom of the frame when Brad Hawpe hit a towering leadoff homer over the right-field scoreboard. Snell completed the inning before being pulled for a pinch-hitter in the seventh. He yielded four runs -- three earned -- on six hits and three walks while striking out five.
|"I'm just going to go out and throw the ball like I did today. That's all I'm going to say to myself. Just throw it as hard as you can, no matter where it is."|
|-- Pirates pitcher Ian Snell|
At 16 games under .500, the Rockies aren't often evoking memories of their 2007 pennant-winning campaign, but from his perspective on the pitcher's mound, Snell saw the seeds of another chase building for Colorado.
"I don't understand why their record's the way it is," Snell said. "They're a really good team. They've got some good leadership over there. They have a few key injuries. Once they get back healthy, they might go on another run like they did last year."
And speaking of a run -- just ask McLouth about the extra running the Rockies put him through in the late innings. Colorado added a bizarre insurance run in the seventh. Smith came in to pinch-hit, and he drilled the first offering from Tyler Yates off an angled fence in center field. The ball caromed off the fence and rolled at least 40 yards along the warning track to left-center with McLouth in hot pursuit as Smith legged out an inside-the-park home run.
"It hit some sort of cement or something in the corner there where right-center and center field meet, and it got a real bad bounce," McLouth explained. "Right when it hit, I knew there was nothing you could do. It was hit in a really bad spot."
Smith was even more winded than McLouth, losing steam as he turned for home while the ball kept bounding toward left like a runaway train.
"I saw Willy [Taveras] give me the 'stand' sign about halfway home, and I was like, 'Whew,' Smith said. "There's no telling what my body would do if I tried to slide at that point."
McLouth had a small measure of redemption in the eighth inning, robbing Garrett Atkins of a hit that easily may have gone for extra bases. Atkins led off the inning with a low liner to left-center, and McLouth ran a near perpendicular path to the ball, diving and making the kind of highlight-reel grab that quickly is becoming commonplace for the All-Star.
"I happened to get a good jump on it," McLouth said. "It was one of those situations where they already had a lead, and hopefully that helped keep them from tacking on. It didn't matter in the end."
Russell credited the Rockies for a strong pitching performance -- no walks and 3 1/3 innings of hitless relief -- but he remained confident that his team's lumber would not slumber for long.
"These guys have battled offensively all year, so we should get out of this," Russell said. "Right now we're not getting much going at all. We're not getting the hits that we need. We just have to keep fighting."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.