Snell walks away with head held high
Despite dropping opener, Bucs feeling good about their righty
PITTSBURGH -- Yes, not everything went so smoothly for the Pirates on Tuesday night.
They dropped their 18th one-run game of the season, this one to the Mets, 5-4, in front of 25,277 fans at PNC Park. They saw Salomon Torres' struggles continue to mount. And they watched their inability to make a challenging defensive play cost them the lead.
But those "keys" to the game don't define the storyline.
Instead, in a season that is ultimately one about the future, the Pirates watched a significant piece of that future shine, and in the process, Ian Snell took another step forward. A huge one.
And despite the loss, that is the story.
"If he continues to move forward with that, you may see him continue to take another step from the point in the first half where we thought he was very, very good," manager Jim Tracy said, lauding Snell's performance. "He may get to the point where he becomes very, very special."
Snell's final line -- seven innings, three runs and eight hits -- may not jump off the page. But underneath those numbers, there were evident signs of a pitcher continuing to grow.
The intensity was there, as were the big pitches. Twice in the game, Snell ended the inning with a swinging strikeout to leave runners stranded at third base. And nowhere did Snell make more critical pitches than in the seventh inning, when he escaped a situation that started with runners on second and third and one out unscathed.
Snell pumped his fist as he left the field after getting Mets second baseman Luis Castillo to hit a squibbler in front of the mound for out No. 3. And at 111 pitches, his night was over. His step was complete.
"He gave us a great performance, and the job that he did in the seventh inning, there's nothing else you could ask for than the job he did tonight," Tracy said. "He did a terrific job."
Just as impressive was Snell's newfound confidence in taking advantage of pitching inside, something that his manager doesn't doubt can propel him from being good to great.
"It's one that he's been working on, and now he's starting to get results," Tracy said. "If he continues to get those types of results and you add this little piece to the equation, he's going to become something special."
Snell struck out Carlos Delgado with a pitch on the inside corner. He did the same to Lastings Milledge. Work with pitching coach Jim Colborn has given Snell the confidence to throw inside, adding another challenge to hitters who face him.
"It was tough to begin with," said Snell, who still hasn't earned a win since July 4. "Throwing in is tough, because you don't want to hit anybody. It's something that I haven't done much. [Tonight], it seemed to work."
While Snell left the game with the score tied at 3, he seemed to be in position to pick up what has proven to be an elusive eighth win after Nate McLouth's solo home run over the right-field wall in the fourth inning gave the Pirates a 3-2 advantage.
But a defensive miscue on a tough play cost Snell that chance.
That Mets rally started when Snell lost his footing trying to pivot and make a throw to first on a bunt from Castillo. The Mets followed with a single that gave them runners on the corners with just one out.
Snell, however, induced a grounder to Freddy Sanchez that had the makings of an inning-ending double play. But when shortstop Jack Wilson took the throw from Sanchez and tried to make the transfer to his throwing hand, he dropped the ball, allowing the Mets to plate a game-tying run.
"With [Carlos] Beltran running, I was thinking once that ball was hit, I have to get it out in a hurry," Wilson said. "It was one of those things that you couldn't believe it wasn't there when you went to shift. It was going to be a bang-bang play anyway, but I just didn't do my job."
The Mets then took the lead two innings later when the Pirates' bullpen couldn't protect the 3-3 tie. With David Wright and Beltran a combined 3-for-15 against Torres in their careers, Tracy sent the veteran right-hander to the mound to start the eighth.
"We needed to get one of the first two hitters out, and we're in business," Tracy said. "The whole key was that we had to get one of the first two guys out."
Instead, Torres exited with no outs, Beltran on second and Wright on third.
Damaso Marte followed with a walk to Delgado after getting ahead of the slugger, 0-2. Shawn Chacon then left a two-seamer over the plate to Moises Alou that the New York outfielder laced into center to drive in two runs.
"The one bad pitch I throw and it costs us the game," Chacon said. "That's what happens if you make a mistake to guys like that."
The Pirates chipped away at the two-run deficit with one in the eighth, but they left the tying run stranded at third to end the inning.
While it was Alou's base hit that ultimately lost the Pirates the game, a handful of missed opportunities collectively put the team in position for the Mets' eighth-inning outburst. In the first four innings alone, the Pirates stranded seven runners, including five in scoring position.
"We missed some great opportunities early in the game, and obviously it came back to haunt us," Tracy said.
But while this loss is just another to add to the other 67 the Pirates have dropped this year, the performance was anything but just another step for Snell. It was a leap back to where the right-hander was in the first half, and an emphatic step forward in the future.
Asked how good he felt on the mound, Snell never hesitated.
"That Arizona start was good," a smiling Snell said. "But this start, I felt real good."
He wasn't the only one who thought so.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.