Webb goes the distance in shutting down Pirates, 3-1
August 6, 2008 5:00 AM
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Zach Duke throws against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first inning of last night's game in Phoenix.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHOENIX -- It was not a bad pitch and, really, it was one no one should have been discussing.
Fact is, if Zach Duke had been facing anyone other than Arizona ace Brandon Webb last night at Chase Field, he probably would not have been explaining the curveball he threw that resulted in Chris Young's decisive two-run home run.
And he probably would not have taken his 10th loss.
And, most important, the Pirates probably would not have fallen short of the Diamondbacks, 3-1.
As it was ...
"I thought Zach threw the ball well," manager John Russell said. "But he made the mistake on a breaking ball. Especially when you face a guy like Webb, you can't really afford that. You hate to base a game on two hitters, but that's what it came down to."
That it did, and it had everything to do with exemplary pitching on each side.
Webb, in taking the Major League Baseball lead with a 16-4 record and lowering his ERA to 2.93, went the distance in limiting the Pirates to nine hits, eight of them singles, while fanning four and walking no one.
Pitching: RHP Jeff Karstens (1-0, 0.00) vs. LHP Randy Johnson (9-7, 4.35).
Key matchup: What else? Big Unit vs. Doug Mientkiewicz. Even if all they do is glare at each other.
Of note: Since 2001, the year PNC Park opened, Jack Wilson has turned more double plays (756) and recorded more assists (3,368) than any National League shortstop. His 1,137 appearances in that span rank second to Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins (1,176).
Duke, now 4-10, mostly matched him through seven innings, charged with two runs on four hits and a walk while matching a season high with six strikeouts.
But the game, as Russell said, was based on two hitters ...
There were quick outs in the third, when Stephen Drew lined a ball down the right-field line that caught just enough of the chalk to go for a double. Next, Duke dug a 1-2 hole for Young and wanted to waste a curveball, down and in. But it stayed up just enough and drifted over the middle of the plate, and Young, impressively, pulled the ball virtually with one arm just to the right of the 330-foot mark in left.
"I know Zach was trying to bury it, but he didn't quite get it down far enough," Russell said.
Duke described it as more of a bad decision.
"It wasn't a bad pitch. It just wasn't the right pitch. It was down enough. I just threw it into where he was looking. Against Brandon Webb, that's all it takes."
Duke did not allow another hit until the seventh, but it did not matter: Webb needed just 87 pitches to breeze through eight, pounding that trademark sinker and getting 17 groundouts, including three double plays, to ho-hum the Pirates.
"You know the sinker's coming, but it's all about location and movement," third baseman Jose Bautista said after hitting three of those groundouts. "He works in and out, he's comfortable with both, and has good offspeed stuff. When a pitcher's like that, it's not easy."
Newcomer Craig Hansen gave up another run in the eighth on back-to-back doubles by Orlando Hudson and Conor Jackson, and it was 3-0.
As always, though, even against Cy Young candidates, the Pirates kept swinging.
Freddy Sanchez's leadoff ground-rule double was followed by Doug Mientkiewicz's RBI single. Nate McLouth beat out an infield single, and Ryan Doumit's groundout advanced the runners to second and third, though Doumit definitely swung as if he were trying to achieve much more.
Still, the tying run was in scoring position with one out, and Webb, whose sinkers had begun to elevate, was visited on the mound and had a chance to regroup.
"I just wanted to stay down in the zone, which is what I'd been doing all night," Webb said.
So, he did: Brandon Moss struck out swinging over a devastating curve, and Jason Michaels did likewise over a sinker to quash the Pirates' bid for a 27th comeback victory.
Duke was left winless since June 9, a span of nine starts, and winless on the road since May 27, 2007.
But he also had, finally, something tangible to show for on-and-off progress seen in his previous three starts, when he was looking as effective as he did last night for long stretches, only to have it blow up with a bad inning.
This time, it was one bad decision.
"I think I've done some consistent work, trying to tweak things," Duke said. "Yeah, I'd say this was an indication that things are going in the right direction."
The Pirates have lost four in a row since winning the opener of this 10-game road trip and have fallen to a season-low 11 games under .500 at 51-62. Twenty more losses, and they clinch a 16th consecutive losing record.