Karstens sparks Pirates' 'refreshing' win

In first game after Bay trade, four pitchers cool off Cubs, 3-0

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CHICAGO -- It takes quite a bit to unsettle John Russell, the Pirates' invariably cool, composed manager. But, shortly after reporting for work early yesterday morning to Wrigley Field, he confessed this to bench coach Gary Varsho ...

"I didn't sleep much."

Understandable, it must have seemed, given the challenges at hand: His Nos. 4 and 5 hitters Jason Bay and Xavier Nady and closer Damaso Marte were traded. And the Bay trade had left its searing wound on the team's psyche less than 24 hours earlier.


Something else had him tossing and turning?

"I was excited," Russell clarified.

In a good way?

  • Box score
  • Statistics
  • Standings
  • Today
    • Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 1:05 p.m., Wrigley Field.
    • TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
    • Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (7-6, 3.79) vs. LHP Ted Lilly (10-6, 4.49).
    • Key matchup: All of the Cubs vs. the torrid Maholm, who has a 2.76 ERA in his past 11 starts. His history vs. Chicago is peculiar, though: He is 4-0 but with a 6.15 ERA in seven career starts.
    • Of note: The Pirates finished July with the third-highest batting average in the National League, at .282, and the fourth-most runs, with 136.

"In a great way. I've seen the players we got in these trades, and I think I know what they can do. I really wanted to see them out there, to see what effect it would have."

He did not have to wait long, as one of those newcomers, Jeff Karstens, pitched six scoreless innings to spark the Pirates' 3-0 quieting of the first-place Chicago Cubs. Denny Bautista, Sean Burnett and John Grabow added three hitless innings of relief, Jason Michaels homered and had two RBIs, and Jack Wilson had three hits.

New third baseman Andy LaRoche and outfielder Brendan Moss acquitted themselves well, too, LaRoche singling in four at-bats and starting the game-ending double play, and Moss getting an outfield assist, a fine catch on a foul pop, and a healthy-looking approach at the plate despite going 0 for 4.

Perhaps most important, most everyone seemed to rally around it all rather than sulk.

"We had a nice energy," Russell said. "I liked what I saw."

"To lose the guys we lost, then come out here with fresh faces and beat the first-place team ... man, that's pretty refreshing," Wilson said. "Obviously, things were a little down before, even this morning. But these new guys walk in here, you start asking questions, where they're from, how they're doing and you say, 'Hey, welcome to the Pirates,' then get to work."

And if everything had not gone so well?

"Wow, just imagine if we'd come out here and gotten killed," Wilson said, smiling.

It certainly was a possibility, given that the Cubs own the National League's best record, had a five-game winning streak and had taken nine of 12 from the Pirates this season.

The newcomers seemed to sense the urgency of the afternoon.

"Yeah, we knew what had just happened and, to be honest, we might have been trying to do a little too much," Moss said.

"We heard it was pretty emotional for some guys, especially for someone like Jack, who's been here for so long," Karstens said. "You don't want to take that pressure with you to the mound, but you do know they're counting on you."

If Karstens carried any burden, not to mention any nerves after having pitched only for the New York Yankees' Class AAA team all season, it did not show: He allowed five hits and walked four, but he faced the minimum batters through three innings, left the bases loaded in the fourth by getting All-Star Geovany Soto to fly out, then stranded two more in each of his final two innings.

He was not overpowering, but he pinpointed a 91-mph fastball when needed and, above all, changed speeds effectively.

"He kept them off balance pretty much the whole afternoon," Russell said.

It was Karstens' fourth major league win, first since Sept. 19, 2006, but he hardly sounded satisfied.

"I was a little erratic," he said. "I don't want to have four walks. I do a lot better when I'm just attacking guys. But sure, it's nice to win."

Karstens acknowledged that he might have had an edge because all of Chicago's hitters were seeing him for the first time.

The Cubs mentioned that, too, but only to an extent.

"Give their pitcher credit: He pitched a great game," center fielder Jim Edmonds said. "We didn't have much footage and, from what we saw, he definitely looked better than on the video."

Chicago manager Lou Piniella was asked if his team might have had a hangover from that sweep of the Brewers.

"There's 54 games to go. I don't think that's an excuse," he said. "They pitched a good ballgame, they played well, and they beat us."

Jason Michaels and Wilson hit back-to-back RBI singles off Jason Marquis in the second, and Michaels made it 3-0 in the sixth by lining Marquis' first-pitch fastball into the left-field bleachers.

"I never try to swing for homers," Michaels said.

Even so, he has six home runs and 31 RBIs in just 127 at-bats.

Bautista found trouble in the eighth, walking two with one out. Burnett, getting trusted more in late situations, was summoned for a bailout and went hard after pinch-hitter Henry Blanco with four fastballs before getting an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.

"Big moment," Russell said.

"It felt good to be out there in that situation," Burnett said. "I know I've just got to get a couple guys out, so I let her fly."

Grabow faced three batters in the ninth for his first save.

It was the Pirates' fourth shutout, the first since Zach Duke's June 20 gem against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com. First Published August 2, 2008 4:00 AM


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