Duke, Walker pace Pirates' needed road victory

Second baseman's timely home run, two other hits top Rockies, 4-2


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DENVER -- If the Pirates' inability to win on the road really is mostly a mind-over-matter issue, then perhaps this will represent the first significant mental hurdle cleared.

Zach Duke pitched six solid innings, the bullpen put up three zeroes, the defense made all the plays, and Neil Walker had a clutch home run among his three hits to beat the Colorado Rockies, 4-2, Tuesday night at Coors Field.

1. Pitching.

2. Defense.

3. Timely hitting.

Sound like a formula?

"When you play on the road, that's what you need to do," manager John Russell said. "Zach did a good job, our bullpen did what they usually do for us, we caught the ball, Neil had a really big hit ... it was a very solid win for us."


Today

Game: Pirates vs. Colorado Rockies, 8:40 p.m., Coors Field.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: RHP Ross Ohlendorf (1-8, 4.39) vs. RHP Aaron Cook (4-6, 4.78).

Key matchup: A good day to start Delwyn Young? He is 4 for 5 with two RBIs for his career off Cook.

Of note: Ohlendorf is one of three pitchers in Major League Baseball with 15 or more starts and only one win. The others are Atlanta's Kenshin Kawakami and Seattle's Ryan Rowland-Smith, both 1-9.

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Very much needed, too, and not just because the Pirates had lugged a four-game losing streak into the mountains.

Consider just the road factor: They had the worst record in Major League Baseball at 11-38, had lost 24 of the past 26, had not won anywhere other than Wrigley Field since May 25 in Cincinnati -- the first game of Walker's recall -- and, for the most part, looked terribly overmatched throughout.

But maybe they picked up something from San Diego over the weekend at PNC Park, given the Padres' pitching-defense-and-clutch approach to having the majors' best road record.

"It's great to do this, especially at the beginning of the trip," Walker said. "We've been looking for something to get us started on the road and, hopefully, this is it."

"The best part is that it was a clean game," reliever Evan Meek said. "That's what it takes to win on the road, and we had that from Zach on out."

Indeed, Duke has pitched well in all three starts since returning from the sprained elbow, posting a 3.18 ERA, and this might have been his best, with a line of two runs and three hits over the six innings. And even the two runs -- back-to-back solo home runs by Brad Hawpe and Clint Barmes in the fifth -- came on pitches that stayed down.

The latter was Duke's primary aim.

"The sinker was down, the changeup was down," Duke said. "That was the main thing."

Duke has a history of bouncing back quickly after a shutdown.

"Each start, he's getting a little sharper," Russell said. "You can see that when he's down in the zone like he was tonight."

Duke had plenty of help ...

The Pirates pounced on Colorado left-hander Jorge De La Rosa when Andrew McCutchen doubled, Jose Tabata singled him home and, after Walker's bunt single and a double play pushed Tabata to third, he scored on a wild pitch.

De La Rosa found quite the groove right after that, striking out seven of eight batters over the next four scoreless innings. But, right after the Hawpe and Barmes shots tied the score at 2-2, the Pirates counterpunched in the sixth to go ahead: Tabata reached on a tough error charged to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Walker smashed a single off third baseman Melvin Mora, and Garrett Jones lined an RBI double into right-center.

Those runners would get stranded, putting the usual pressure on the bullpen. But, as usual, the bullpen emerged unscathed.

In the seventh, Meek gave up Miguel Olivo's leadoff double but escaped with three soft groundouts.

"I just had to get my command back," Meek said.

Walker brought insurance in the eighth with his home run that made it 4-2. He reached out right-handed to drive a 2-2 fastball from reliever Joe Beimel -- the former Duquesne University standout who once was his offseason batterymate -- into the left-field seats for his fourth home run.

"I was able to get extended a little bit," Walker said. "It was a good night for all of us, not just for me."

Walker had entered in a rare 0-for-11 slump but went 3 for 4.

In the eighth, Joel Hanrahan gave up Ryan Spilborghs' double that eluded Tabata. But Spilborghs, most unadvisedly, tried to take third and was thrown out by a crisp relay from Tabata to Ronny Cedeno to Pedro Alvarez.

In the ninth, closer Octavio Dotel gave up a two-out double but got pinch-hitter Jason Giambi to fly out and complete his 21st save.

And the defense was prevalent throughout, with fine plays in the outfield by McCutchen and Tabata, in the infield by Alvarez, Cedeno and Walker. The standout was McCutchen's all-out sprinting haul of Olivo's liner to left-center in the fourth that looked certain to produce a Colorado run.

Most speedy outfielders enjoy Coors' broad terrain, and McCutchen is no exception.

"I love it out there," he said. "You can run all day."

On the other side, the Rockies, evidently still reeling upon returning from a 2-9 road trip manager Jim Tracy called "mindboggling," have lost seven in a row.

Tracy, previously the Pirates' manager, was asked before the game what he saw in the latest version of his former team.

"What do I see? It's very interesting young talent, no doubt about that," he replied. "There are some real dynamics to the top of their order. There's a very, very good-looking third baseman who just showed up with them."

That, of course, is Alvarez.

"What would be interesting, as far as I'm concerned, is the collectiveness moving forward and the capability of holding it together for an extended period," Tracy continued. "So, then, they can become very familiar with one another. That will be the key to seeing if it has a chance to come to complete fruition. That's what I see."


Dejan Kovacevic: dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Find more online at PBC Blog . First Published July 28, 2010 4:15 AM


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