Duke goes distance as Pirates take home opener, 7-0

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Zach Duke pitched a four-hit shutout, Freddy Sanchez doubled three times and Adam LaRoche and Ryan Doumit homered as the Pirates opened their 2009 home schedule in style with a 7-0 humbling of the Houston Astros this afternoon before an overflow crowd of 38,411 at PNC Park.

Duke raised his record to 2-0 by striking out five and walking two while throwing 78 of 119 pitches for strikes.

It marked just the third victory in the Pirates' past 16 home openers, the first since 2004, and it was the first complete-game shutout since John Candelaria's on April 7, 1978.

"I'm on a really good note right now, right where I've been all spring, and I'm hoping to just stay that way," Duke said. "My arm feels great."

The biggest difference between now and last year, when he went 5-14?

"It's really just the location of all my pitches, being able to throw the fastball where I want consistently."

"Obviously, Zach's not going to pitch a shutout every game," manager John Russell said. "But the consistency that he's shown us in the latter part of last season, the spring and now these two starts, you can see a lot of confidence there."

Every player in the starting lineup, including Duke, had at least one hit as part of the Pirates' total of 14.

"This is fun right now," Doumit said. "We're playing to the level that I know this team is capable. You couldn't ask for a better game, a better atmosphere. We heard the fans the whole game."

Part of the atmosphere, several Pirates acknowledged, was the somber mood set before the game by the various tributes to the three fallen Pittsburgh Police officers, -- Paul Sciullo II, Eric G. Kelly and Stephen J. Mayhle.

"It was a special day, with some mixed emotions," Russell said. "The city of Pittsburgh has heavy hearts right now, and our guys really wanted to have a special opening day here. Zach set the tone, and we played a really good ballgame."

The Pirates leaped ahead in the first when Sanchez's double off the fence in right-center -- umpires ruled fan interference -- was followed by a flyout that moved him to third and Doumit's two-out single through the right side.

Sanchez started the five -run rally with a double in the third, too, this time down the third-base line. Nate McLouth singled him home and, one batter later, LaRoche sent a two-strike, 87-mph fastball just above the Clemente Wall for his second home run.

When Brandon Moss followed with a single off that same wall, Moehler was lifted because of a sprained right knee.

Tim Byrdak relieved and walked his first two batters before getting Duke to bounce into a forceout at home. With bases still loaded, Nyjer Morgan's grounder up the middle was muffed by shortstop Miguel Tejada and skipped into center for a two-run single that made it 6-0.

Doumit's home run, also his second, also over the Clemente Wall, came off a 1-1 curveball from Geoff Geary in the eighth.

Last-place Houston fell to 1-6.

Check PBC Blog for details, updates.



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