The Pirates finished an equal-opportunity spoiler homestand.
Their 7-4 victory against Milwaukee yesterday at PNC Park gave them two wins in three games against the Brewers -- just after they had won two of three games against the Chicago Cubs.
- Game: Pirates (RHP Ian Snell 9-11, 4.00) vs. Houston Astros (RHP Roy Oswalt 14-7, 3.41), 8:05 p.m., Minute Maid Park, Houston.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
The Brewers and Cubs are the top two teams -- perhaps by default -- in the National League Central Division.
"Maybe teams look at the schedule and think about our series as a weak spot," said Josh Phelps, whose two-run, pinch-hit triple capped a three-run eighth inning that broke a 4-4 tie. "We don't want to be overlooked.
"And not that [the Brewers] are in that position yet, but I've seen teams take their champagne on the road for when they clinch. Nobody likes to lose, but you really don't want to lose when you know they're over there celebrating."
For their part, the Pirates staved off a clinching of their own. They can't secure their 15th consecutive losing season until tomorrow night at the earliest.
"You're very hopeful that pretty soon the shoe is on the other foot," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said.
Tracy believes the Pirates have made progress toward moving that shoe.
"There are facets of our ballclub that are making more sense right now than they ever have," Tracy said.
He cited the Pirates' young starting pitching, fleet center fielder Nyjer Morgan, second baseman Freddy Sanchez and first baseman Adam LaRoche among other positives.
Tracy said that when he became the Pirates manager in November 2005, his team had "seven or eight" major holes.
"A major overhaul is not something we need," he said. "There's a lot of stuff here to like that was not here [two years ago]."
That said ...
"We've got to get Zach Duke back," Tracy said.
Duke, so sensational as a rookie in 2005, hasn't enjoyed the same success since and spent much of this season on the disabled list because of an elbow problem.
"If we can get him back to how he was [in 2005], then the picture would become even brighter," Tracy said.
The other day Tracy spoke of "tweaking and influxing" the Pirates.
"Bring in a piece or two," Tracy said. "Being realistic, you've got to look at that."
There could be some pieces that just came up from Class AAA Indianapolis. Morgan was 0 for 5 yesterday, but he already has displayed his incredible defensive ability and speed.
"I think it's energy and passion more than speed," said Trent Jewett, who managed Morgan at Indianapolis this season. "And I think he can continue to add to his arsenal."
Then there's Steve Pearce, who picked up two more hits and two more RBIs yesterday and contributed a fine diving catch of a foul pop.
The catch might have been impressive than the offense. Pearce was a first baseman until August when he began learning to play right field under the guidance of outfielder instructor Rusty Kuntz.
"To have added a new position to his docket and done well there, too?" Jewett said. "That he's made such a smooth transition is a credit to the kid and Rusty."
Perhaps Morgan should get some credit, too.
"I told him, 'I have you in the gaps. You get what you can on the [foul] line,' " Morgan said.
That gives Pearce a rather easy task.
"I cover my own little area and that's it," he said. "I cover from wherever I am to the line."
Starter Tom Gorzelanny gave the Pirates another effective start, but once again lost a victory when the bullpen didn't hold a lead.
Franquelis Osoria bailed out Gorzelanny with two runners on in the seventh, but allowed a single to J.J. Hardy and a double to Ryan Braun that put runners on second and third with no outs in the eighth.
Prince Fielder's ground ball to shortstop off Damaso Marte got Hardy home.
Shawn Chacon got ahead of Corey Hart, 1-2, but yielded a drive to deep center field on a 3-2 pitch. Morgan almost made a spectacular catch at the wall, but the ball popped free.
"I jumped too high and the ball hit the palm of my glove," Morgan said. "I didn't 'web' it."
Hart wound up with a tying triple.
One-out walks to Jose Bautista and Pearce by Derrick Turnbow set the stage for the Pirates' decisive rally. Ronny Paulino's single through the middle scored Bautista before Phelps drove his triple into the notch by the bullpens.
First Published September 13, 2007 4:00 AM