No 'W' for deserving Snell in Pirates' win
Pittsburgh right-hander finishes his season on high note
PITTSBURGH -- Ian Snell deserved better.
He deserved to go out with a "W" next to his name, though that's not to say he didn't go out a winner.
And even though it was Josh Phelps who knocked in the game-winning run with a two-out eighth-inning single that sent the Pirates home with a 6-5 win over the D-backs at PNC Park, Snell deserved the game ball.
"It's a good win, but the thing you feel a little bit bad about is Ian Snell," said manager Jim Tracy, whose club snapped a nine-game losing skid. "He's been terrific during the course of the month of September. You'd like the game to end a little bit differently, with him getting the win."
Snell didn't know it until he walked off the mound after throwing 99 pitches in six innings, but Tuesday was the last start he will make this season. Pitching coach Jim Colborn approached Snell as he entered the dugout after that sixth inning with both a message and a challenge.
"He told me, 'Great season -- just look toward next year,'" Snell said. "'Know what I can do better, know how I can come into Spring Training a little bit stronger, be a better teammate, whatever. Just sit down and think about this year and what I can do better.'"
Snell's strong start on Tuesday showcased the growth process he underwent during his second full season in the big leagues.
He relied on his breaking ball, when in the past he would have tried to dominate solely with his fastball. He trusted his defense, which started two double plays behind him, instead of aiming to strike out every batter. He trusted himself, used both sides of the plate and gutted out six innings even with slight soreness in his right shoulder.
"I learned a lot about pitching this year," said Snell. "I think I did a good job going out there and exceeding my expectations from last year. I don't have the wins to show it. The quality starts, the innings, the strikeouts, everything is good."
His numbers back up that claim.
With six innings on Tuesday, Snell brought his season total to 208, bettering his previous high by 18.
"That's a big difference," Snell said of the increase. "I wanted to see how far I can go this year."
That wasn't the only benchmark he set. His 177 strikeouts this season also set a new career best. And though Snell finished with four more wins last year, 2007 saw the righty cut down on his walks and lower the number of home runs allowed.
Sub-2.00 month-long ERAs served as bookends for Snell's season. The one run he allowed in six innings on Tuesday lowered his September ERA to 1.63. At the end of April, that mark was a similar 1.59.
"It feels good," Snell said of finishing on a high note. "The reason why is that people were beginning to put me down and saying, 'Snell's starting to suck.' You had a few bad starts during the year, and everybody starts jumping on your back and puts you down. I didn't let it bother me."
The dominance he showed in September showed resiliency, after Snell battled through rough patches during both July and August. In essence, he rebounded to finish his season the way he started it -- with a dominant outing that earned him a no-decision.
Asked if he was the league's best nine-game winner, Snell humbly answered: "My numbers can only show. I can only go up there and put the numbers up."
What his numbers show is that in 10 no-decisions this season, Snell has a combined 2.58 ERA. Two hands would be needed to count the number of games Snell pitched well enough to win but simply lacked run support. And a lead in each of his last two games was blown late.
Snell exited the game with a 2-1 lead on Tuesday. The Pirates pushed that lead to 5-1 with an RBI double from Cesar Izturis and a two-run single by pinch-hitter Nate McLouth in the seventh. Win No. 10 seemed to be in the books.
Snell had made three previous attempts to reach double-digit wins for the second straight season, only to fall just short. He did again when four Pirates relievers combined to give up four eight-inning runs that allowed Arizona to tie the game at 5.
"It was like somebody punched you in the stomach with that seventh inning," Phelps said of the turn of events.
But the Pirates quickly battled back. A one-out double by Adam LaRoche in the eighth began the rally. Diamondbacks reliever Brandon Lyon helped the cause by balking LaRoche to third. Phelps then connected on a 2-1 pitch from Lyon, sending it through the hole in the left side of the infield.
"To the credit of the ballclub, to bounce back the way they did after they tied it was real good," Tracy said. "Obviously the 10-day trip had been very, very difficult."
Matt Capps sealed the win with a dominant 1-2-3 ninth.
The Pirates scored off Arizona starter Doug Davis in the first to take a 2-1 lead. The inning was highlighted by a leadoff home run by center fielder Nyjer Morgan. Needless to say, watching the ball land in the right-field seats caught Morgan, known for his speed, not power, a little off guard.
"I didn't expect to hit a home run until at least when I figured out how to get them," said Morgan, who hadn't homered since the Hawaiian League last fall.
And when did he think he would learn?
"Once I got into my 30s," Morgan answered, smiling.
Snell didn't find anything bittersweet in the outcome. A win is a win, and ultimately, he believes he learned how to become a winner this season. It's a feeling and a confidence that the nine in the win column can't take away.
"The outcome of the season isn't great for us, but we played hard every day," Snell said. "It's tough, but we won the game. That's all that matters."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.