Pirates power past Padres in finale
Elder LaRoche, Pearce hit back-to-back dingers in fourth
SAN DIEGO -- Despite all the trouble in between, the Pirates capped their 2008 season the same way they began it -- with a win. If only there had been a few more in between.
The club's 6-1 victory over the Padres at PETCO Park on Sunday closed the books on manager John Russell's first season at the helm. And while the win was certainly more preferred than ending the season with a series loss to the Padres, there was little left to be said about this year.
Beginning the moment that Matt Capps got San Diego's Louis Rodriguez to fly out to right to end the three-hour, two-minute game, it was already about '09.
"It's a great for the team to end the year with a win," said Adam LaRoche, who paced the win with two RBIs. "It doesn't make this a successful season for us, though. We were out of it early and too long ago."
And then he issued a challenge -- one part for management, the other for him and his teammates-to-be next year.
"We need some more pieces here," he said "And we need to find a way to do things consistently."
With the win, Pittsburgh finished the season a disappointing 67-95 and will -- as a result -- select fourth next year in the First-Year Player Draft. The 67 wins are one short of the club's 2007 total and match the number of wins collected by the '05 and '06 Pirates teams.
In a seemingly unfitting sort of way, the Pirates won this game in the same fashion that they had lost so many -- with pitching. Back-to-back homers by LaRoche and Steve Pearce in the fourth stoked the offense and three eighth-inning runs sealed it. But before that outburst in the eighth, it was the pitching that made a narrow lead stand.
By no means was starter Ross Ohlendorf dominant, but he managed to limit the damage to just one run. With his pitch count at 98 and two runners on with two outs in the fourth, however, Russell ended Ohlendorf's day, making the righty ineligible to pick up his first win with the organization.
"The problem was just that I throw 20 pitches every inning," Ohlendorf said. "I wasn't really that tired, but there was a point where I needed to get [first baseman Adrian] Gonzalez out and I didn't."
Gonzalez had drawn a two-out walk in the inning.
Ohlendorf came into the afternoon 0-3 in his four starts with the club and was unable to put together a 1-2-3 inning in this one. The right-hander scattered five hits and four walks.
"I really wish I had been able to pitch deeper into the game, but I've been struggling with that the whole time," he said. "My stuff hasn't been as good as it was a month ago. But more importantly, I've been throwing too many pitches."
Six members of the bullpen then followed with a combined 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, during which the Padres put just three runners on base. It was then, with Capps' perfect ninth, that the Pirates could put to rest a forgettable year from the pitching staff.
Finishing well at the bottom of the National League in team ERA and at the top in walks, it wasn't exactly a season to remember. The starters finished with 33 wins, the lowest total in the Majors.
But if there's anything to build off in the starting pitching, it may be found in this last six-game stretch. As each member of the rotation made his final start of the season, the group combined for a very nice 2.67 ERA on this road trip.
"The biggest plus is to be able to go home reflecting back on the season where you have that last start not being the one like, 'Oh geez. Are you kidding me?'" Russell said. "Not that that's going to be a huge issue with us, but you'd like them to go home knowing that the last outing was a really good one or one in which they did some really good things."
As for the offense, even though it spent the last two months crippled after the loss of two of its biggest bats, it finished with bang.
It started in the fourth. With the Pirates trailing 1-0, LaRoche drilled a 1-1 changeup from San Diego reliever Wade LeBlanc and deposited it into the upper deck in right field. The homer traveled an estimated 446 feet, making it the fourth-longest blast in the five-year history of PETCO Park.
The homer was a part of a two-hit day for LaRoche, who finished September with a .321 average.
"I normally hit that ball foul," joked LaRoche. "But I stayed in on it."
Pearce followed with a blast to the opposite corner of the park to give the Pirates their first lead. The home run was the fourth for him this month and his third in six games on the road trip.
"I got some good pitches to hit, and I wasn't missing them," said Pearce, who finished by hitting safely in 13 of his final 15 starts. "Not playing every day, it was hard to get a consistent swing. My timing was always messed up, and you can't miss pitches in this league."
The narrow two-run advantage was stretched to five when a two-run double by Jason Michaels and an RBI double by LaRoche pushed across three additional runs in the eighth.
With season positives few and far between from a team standpoint, the Pirates did have a league leader in one individual area by the end of the day. Center fielder Nate McLouth finished tied for the National League lead in doubles with 46.
And for those already concerned about withdrawal, rest easy -- Opening Day is only 190 days away.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.