Snell goes the distance vs. Rangers
Right-hander tosses first career complete game
PITTSBURGH -- Ian Snell took the mound on Wednesday night to make a statement.
A statement to the fans, who had criticized him, calling for him to be yanked from the rotation last season when things weren't going so well.
A statement to his family, who prayed with him every night that the success he had found in the Minors would translate into success at the big-league level and that he could fend off the criticisms circulating around him.
And a statement to himself, proving that adversity does reap reward when approached with an attitude to conquer it.
That statement came in the form of a complete game, his first in the big leagues, as the Pirates cruised to an 8-1 win over the Rangers in front of 16,110 at PNC Park on Wednesday night.
"People have their opinions and they were getting on me," Snell said. "I just like to prove people wrong."
He made his point.
Snell left the Rangers baffled by his curveball. And he left his manager shaking his head, looking as if he appeared honored to watch his 25-year-old right-hander grow from a pitcher lacking mental fortitude when he left the Minors to one that has been excelling since he showed up at Spring Training in February.
"You can't say enough about the job our starting pitcher did tonight," manager Jim Tracy said. "He was absolutely terrific."
Snell made it look easy. He needed only 105 pitches -- 69 of which he threw for strikes -- and allowed only seven hits on the night.
And though he said he never approached the seventh and eighth innings with a mindset to go the distance, that's not to say Snell didn't sneak a glance to the bullpen in left-center field periodically as the game drew toward the ninth. And the minute he saw John Grabow get up and start throwing, Snell made sure he made himself clear.
"I said, 'What is going on?" Snell recalled. "I told [pitching coach Jim Colborn], 'Don't take me out.'"
Neither Colborn nor Tracy ever had any intention to lift Snell.
"What I was very intrigued with tonight was he had no interest in coming out of the game," Tracy said. "When you don't create trouble and you have a pitch count where he had it, he was bound and determined he was going to finish the game. You love to see that."
Snell finished it with a weak Adam Melhuse ground ball to first that capped off a seven-strikeout effort and earned him his sixth win and flung the monkey off his back.
"It's a great feeling, the first one," said Snell, who has allowed only three earned runs in his last three starts. "I was tired of hearing people say [I] can't go more than seven innings. So there you go."
As Snell reflected over the first complete game of his career, he took some time to reflect on what he's gone through to become the pitcher that took the mound on Wednesday night.
"Like last year, I went through a whole bunch of ups and downs and people were like, 'Get him out of here. Get him out of here.' And that was bothering me and everybody was like, 'Relax,'" Snell said. "I relaxed and won 14 games last year."
At this point last season, questions were being asked about Snell meriting the chance to stay in the starting rotation. He had a 4.71 ERA and pitched five outings where he allowed four or more runs. In only half of his starts did the right-hander stay in long enough to finish the sixth.
Now, the only question is whether Snell is the ace of the staff. Nine innings with no earned runs shot his ERA down to 2.63, fifth-best in the National League, and now below team leader Tom Gorzelanny.
Snell has won six games so far this season, though with the way he has pitched, the win total deserves to be higher. Snell has pitched at least six innings in all but two starts and has 11 quality starts, which trails only Padres pitcher Jake Peavy, who has 12.
The Rangers' only real offensive threat came in the sixth, when they put one across the plate on a Jose Bautista error and then had two on with one out.
But Snell, who already had an eight-run lead by that point, wasn't about to characterize it as trouble.
"That was no jam," Snell said, smiling. "That was a fun moment. That's what you live for right there. It gets your energy level up."
The 5-4-3 double play that followed did just that.
While the Rangers couldn't handle Snell's three-pitch attack, the Pirates teed off against Texas starter Robinson Tejeda, who epitomized the struggles the Texas pitching staff has endured all season.
Every starter in the Pirates lineup reached base at least once on the evening, and all but two had at least one hit.
Bautista led the offense with another dazzling night at the plate, following a two extra-base hit game on Tuesday night with a three-hit game on Wednesday. He came only a home run shy of hitting for the cycle after his two-run triple in the fifth put him on base for the fourth time in the game.
But even he was singing the praises of his pitcher on this night.
"You can't really ask for more than that. He dominated a team and did what he was supposed to do," Bautista said. "It was great to have him on the mound working fast and getting people out. It gets the dynamic of the game going our way."
It was a night for Snell to make a statement. And he hopes the rest of the league and the city was watching closely because he's going to come back for more.
"I'm going to continue being successful because that's all I know how to do," said Snell.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.