Snell finishes season with flourish
Right-hander helps Pirates snap nine-game road losing streak
SAN DIEGO -- Ian Snell had no interest in buying into the notion that Friday's contest between the Pirates and the Padres didn't mean anything. While little could be be gained by either team in the standings, Snell felt he had everything to lose.
Not wanting to end the season in the way that much of it transpired, Snell took the mound for his final start and responded with one of his strongest performances to lift the Pirates to a 6-3 victory over the Padres at PETCO Park.
"I just wanted to finish the season strong. That's what I did," said Snell, who picked up his seventh win. "There's no guessing about it. I left everything on the field. People can judge that performance and say what they want. I did my best, and that's all my team asked of me."
The start closed the book on a turbulent season for Snell. With results not nearly up to preseason expectations, Snell spent much of the year trying to surmise what the explanation might have been: The pressures of a multiyear contract, perhaps? The expectations of being a staff ace? An injury to his pitching elbow?
But with a five-inning performance on Friday in which he allowed just one run on one hit, the right-hander capped a two-month stretch that was his strongest of the season. Snell's 4.67 ERA in August was the lowest of any month up until that point. He bettered that with a 4.33 mark in September.
Both manager John Russell and Snell had explanations as to why marked improvement was made, and both started in the same place.
"He learned a lot about himself," Russell said. "I think he's done a much better job this second half of preparing himself to go out and pitch. I think you're starting to see better results out of it.
"There is a lot of commitment to what he's doing," Russell continued. "He's a tremendously hard worker, but his mental focus has been a lot better with what he's trying to get accomplished when he goes to the mound."
Snell acknowledged the improved work ethic -- pinpointing a better diet and more targeted between-start workouts -- as key to his differing second-half preparation.
There would also be little debating that Snell's increased aggressiveness, which served him well on Friday, helped him get back on track in the second half, as well. Reaching as high as 96 mph with his fastball on Friday, Snell didn't dance around the strike zone. He walked only one. He struck out five.
About the only thing that didn't end the way Snell would have liked was his untimely exit. With one out in the fifth, Snell felt his right calf cramp up.
"It was hard staying on top of the ball," Snell said.
Up until that point, the right-hander had kept the Padres hitless. With the discomfort in his leg, Snell managed to strike out outfielder Chase Headley. He allowed a two-out solo homer to Padres catcher Nick Hundley, but responded by getting second baseman Matt Antonelli to fly out to end the inning.
It would be the final out Snell recorded this season, exiting with the game tied at 1.
"It's a good note for him to end on," Russell said. "He's kind of been building toward that. He's been making a lot of progress. He pieced it together pretty well tonight."
As hard as it has been for Snell to pocket wins this season, this one was by no means in the books until Matt Capps garnered a game-ending flyout for his 21st save. In doing so, the Pirates could celebrate their first road win in their past 10 games.
The victory also snapped a seven-game losing skid at PETCO Park, dating back to 2005.
The Pirates did their early scoring on two long balls in a not-so-homer-friendly ballpark.
Freddy Sanchez took Padres starter Josh Geer deep in the second with his ninth homer of the season, finishing with his fifth three-hit game of the season and two runs scored.
Catcher Ryan Doumit later followed with the game-changing blast in the sixth, a three-run shot off reliever Mike Ekstrom. That pushed the Bucs' lead to three and put Snell in position to get the win. It also buoyed Doumit's astonishing National League-leading average with runners in scoring position to .411.
From there, though, the relief pitching was dicey. Snell could only watch as San Diego almost immediately erased the three-run deficit. Three singles -- none of which were hit squarely -- and a walk pushed one run across against Pirates reliever Sean Burnett.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Burnett induced a double-play grounder, which scored another San Diego run, but more critically recorded two outs. T.J. Beam then relieved Burnett and recorded the third out to preserve the lead.
In the eighth, John Grabow recorded an equally significant out, this time striking out outfielder Kevin Kouzmanoff with the bases loaded.
"Barely," sighed Russell. "Grabow's done it for us all year, gotten in jams and gotten out of it."
The outing was the 73rd of the season for Grabow, establishing a new career high. He had pitched in 70 or more games just once in four full seasons before this season.
The Padres then gift wrapped a pair of ninth-inning runs for the Pirates to pad the lead for Capps. With two out and two on, former Pirate Brian Giles inexplicably dropped a routine fly ball in right that allowed two insurance runs to score.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.