Freddy Sanchez's three-run double, Adam LaRoche's two-run home run and Zach Duke's six scoreless innings carried the Pirates to their sixth consecutive victory, 5-0, against the Atlanta Braves in the first game of a doubleheader this afternoon before 16,669 at PNC Park.
In the nightcap, though, John Van Benschoten was charged with seven runs, six earned, in five-plus innings of what wound up an 8-1 loss. Following the game, Van Benschoten was optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis. The team will make no corresponding move until tomorrow.
The six-game winning streak was the Pirates' first longer than five since a 10-0 run June 26-July 5, 2004.
In Game 1, Atlanta put 15 runners on base without scoring and failed to capitalize on six Pirates walks and four errors.
Duke had plenty of baserunners in his third consecutive strong start, with five hits, five walks and three errors behind him, but most of that trouble occurred at the bottom of the Atlanta order, and he had little trouble escaping.
"It all starts with the starting pitching," manager John Russell said. "We're making pitches when we need to and going deep into games. It's a solid win for us. We'll take it any way we can get it."
"I made quality pitches that had some good life on them," Duke said. "My sinker's really on right now. The ground-ball total speaks for itself."
He got eight ground-ball outs and three strikeouts.
Sanchez's big hit represented the game's first runs in the fifth.
Jason Michaels' walk off Jair Jurrjens opened the inning. Adam LaRoche followed with a skied single that dropped into shallow left. After each was bunted up a base, Brian Bixler was hit by a pitch between the shoulder blades, felled momentarily but fine. Duke struck out for the second out, but Sanchez sliced Jurrjens' 0-1 fastball into the right-field corner to clear the bases.
Ryan Doumit led off the Pirates' eighth with a double off Manny Acosta and, one out later, LaRoche lined a 1-1 curveball into the seats beyond right-center for his fourth home run, the third in the past eight days.
Damaso Marte pitched two scoreless innings of relief, and Sean Burnett worked the ninth.
Van Benschoten gave up at least one hit in every inning he pitched, nine in all, and he failed to retire any of the five batters he faced in the fifth, as Atlanta pulled away, 7-1.
It was his first start for the Pirates this season and, despite having done well in Class AAA throughout his professional career, he is 1-12 in the majors.
Braves ace Tim Hudson, in dramatic contrast, cruised through seven innings, with one unearned run and two hits.
The Pirates finished the homestand 6-1, including taking three of four from Atlanta, which came to Pittsburgh with its own six-game winning streak.
More details in tomorrow's Post-Gazette.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.