Pirates maintain their strong hitting over the holiday weekend, pick up slack for Duke

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CINCINNATI -- Jim Tracy probably had a few flashbacks to his days as a youngster growing up in nearby Hamilton, Ohio.

Memorial Day weekend. Picnics. Slow-pitch softball games at North End Park.

Ah, the fun.

But yesterday wasn't much fun for the Pirates' manager, who watched his club score 14 runs and then have to hang on for dear life before tucking a 14-10 victory into the basket.

"We won this game with our bats, no question," Tracy said.

Most slow-pitch games are decided by the bats, after all.

This one featured 14 hits by the first six batters in the Pirates' lineup and nine RBIs by the Nos. 3-5 hitters -- Freddy Sanchez, 4, Adam LaRoche, 2 and Jason Bay, 3.

It also featured starter Zach Duke returning to a delivery that's very close to the one he used as a rookie in 2005 when he went 8-2 with a 1.81 earned run average in 14 starts.

Duke has struggled pretty much since.

After his start in St. Louis Tuesday night, Duke went to pitching coach Jim Colborn.

"I don't feel right," Duke said.

The two looked at videotape of Duke as a rookie and noticed a big change in his delivery, no doubt some of that difference being a tweak Colborn made in it a year ago.

Duke threw an extra-long bullpen session Friday to work on changing his delivery.

"It was something that needed to be done," Duke said.

That extra work was one reason Tracy pulled Duke after five innings yesterday. Another reason was that Duke yielded seven hits and five runs (three earned) on a humid afternoon during which balls flew into the seats with regularity.

This tweak in Duke's delivery is supposed to allow him to get more of a downward plane on his pitches.

"He'll get it," Tracy said. "I guarantee you, he'll get it."

"The consistency is not there," Duke said, "but I think I made some strides [yesterday]."

Except for an error by third baseman Jose Bautista, Duke would have blanked the Reds in the first three innings.

In the fourth, though, he allowed back-to-back home runs to Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Dunn. Ryan Freel's single drove in another run in the inning.

When the inning ended, Duke spent some time standing and staring hard at the wall of the dugout.

"I was frustrated," he said. "I couldn't repeat the mechanics [consistently]. I fell behind [on the count], and when you fall behind, pitches get hit hard."

Duke did wind up with his second win of the season. He got his first one in Cincinnati, too, way back on April 8.

As they did Saturday night, the Pirates presented their starting pitcher with a comfortable lead before he went to the mound.

They scored five runs in the first inning -- which they hadn't done since June 3, 2006 in a 6-4 Duke win against San Diego -- and had leads of 7-2, 11-5 and 14-9.

But they didn't nail this one down until Salomon Torres entered the game with two outs in the eighth inning.

With the Pirates ahead, 14-10, Tracy waved in his closer to relieve left-hander John Grabow and face Ken Griffey Jr. with a runner on first base.

"We'd taken it as far as we could go," Tracy said. "If they were going to beat us, they were going to have to beat the best we've got."

Torres allowed a single to Griffey, but then got the last four outs with little trouble.

The 24 runs set a record for a game at five-season-old Great American Ball Park, eclipsing by one the 23 amassed by the Reds and Chicago April 3, 2006 -- a 16-7 Cub victory.

The Pirates started the run parade with a leadoff walk to Bautista. Chris Duffy doubled him home. Sanchez singled Duffy to third. LaRoche lined a single into center field. Bay worked Kirk Saarloos through 11 pitches, then smoked the 12th pitch into the upper deck in left field.

Sanchez hit a sacrifice fly in the second.

Duke singled in a run in the third.

Ronny Paulino had a run-scoring single in the fifth before Jack Wilson homered.

Duffy doubled, stole third and trotted home on Sanchez's sacrifice fly in the sixth.

And in the eighth, pinch-hitter Nate McLouth touched off a three-run burst with a single. Bautista singled and Duffy advanced Bautista to second with a sharp ground ball to first base. Sanchez, who has 13 hits in his past 23 at-bats with runners in scoring position, singled in both runners. Sanchez scored on LaRoche's double into the left-field corner.

"I'm extremely encouraged by the way we hit with runners in scoring position [7 for 17] and with the team at-bats [runners advanced with outs] we had," Tracy said. "We did a great job."

Of course ...

"We had to in order to win the game," he said.

The Pirates try for a four-game sweep of the struggling Reds -- they've lost 20 of their past 25 games -- this afternoon.

Tony Tribble, Associated Press
The Pirates' Jason Bay is congratulated by Adam LaRoche after Bay hit a three-run homer yesterday in the first inning as Reds catcher Chad Moeller looks on.
Click photo for larger image.

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Game: (RHP Ian Snell, 4-3, 306) vs. Reds (RHP Kyle Lohse, 1-6, 5.31) 1:15 p.m., Great American Ball Park.

TV, radio: No TV, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Key matchup: Cincinnati outfielder Adam Dunn is 0 for 10 with four strikeouts liftetime against Snell.

Of note: Lohse pitched well in his first four starts this season, but he hasn't pitched well in his past six starts. He has lost each of the past six and has allowed 50 hits and 28 earned run in 29 1/3 innings.

David Kohl, Associated Press
Freddy Sanchez hits a two-run single off Reds pitcher Gary Majewski in the eighth inning yesterday at The Great American Ball Park.
Click photo for larger image.


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