Amid Pirates' 7-2 victory, No. 1 pick clinched

Jones' big effort includes home run, three RBIs; Burres solid again


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ST. LOUIS -- Strange scene for the Pirates.

Garrett Jones' home run and three RBIs, Brian Burres' solid start and John Bowker's timely bases-clearing double pushed them past the St. Louis Cardinals, 7-2, Tuesday night at Busch Stadium. That ended the latest road losing streak at a relatively modest five games.

At roughly the same time, a few states to the south, the Seattle Mariners beat the Texas Rangers, 3-1, to clinch that the Pirates will have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft next summer. The Pirates are 56-101, the Mariners 61-96, so they still can tie for worst record in Major League Baseball, but the tiebreaker is the previous season's standings, and only the Washington Nationals finished below the Pirates in 2009.


Today

Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 1:40 p.m., Busch Stadium.

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

Pitching: RHP James McDonald (4-5, 4.25) vs. RHP P.J. Walters (1-0, 7.83).

Key matchup: Walters, a September recall, pitched four innings of long relief last week in Pittsburgh, and the Pirates tagged him for five runs and seven hits, including a three-run home run by Pedro Alvarez.

Of note: The Pirates have homered more than once in a game only 32 times.

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It will be the first time the Pirates have picked first overall since 2002, when they took pitcher Bryan Bullington. The consensus top talent in the coming class is Rice University third baseman Anthony Rendon.

So, there's that.

"Really, we look forward to the day we start picking 28th and 30th," general manager Neal Huntington said just outside the clubhouse. "We've had two No. 2s already and, in our minds, it's no different except that we're able to pick out the guy we want a little earlier than usual. We've got to get the right pick, whether it's that round or the 32nd round."

The Pirates' No. 2 overall picks have been third baseman Pedro Alvarez in 2008 and, this past June, pitcher Jameson Taillon.

Rendon, 20, will be a senior at Rice next year, and scouts will monitor closely how well he recovers from a major ankle injury July 14 that required surgery.

Huntington, as always, steered clear of discussing specifics of the draft.

"I'll be able to give a lot more information about who we take No. 1 in the country after we take him," he said. "There's a good list of guys available, some college arms, and there could be some college bats. Prior to the injury, Rendon's a very interesting player. We've got to see where he is post-injury."

Be sure, based on how the game here played out, that the current players' focus -- assuming any of them even knew of the Pirates' draft status -- was squarely on the outcome.

That was most visible in the performance of Jones: He hit a two-run home run in the first inning, his team-high 21st and a long shot into the left-center bleachers off Jeff Suppan, to bring a 3-0 lead. He added an RBI single off the tip of shortstop Brendan Ryan's glove in the sixth to bring a 4-2 lead. And he doubled to right to open a three-run rally in the eighth.

It was a bit of a breakout, considering Jones had batted .193 over his previous 53 games. He and hitting coach Don Long have worked on adjusting his hands lower on the bat, and all concerned expressed that it is beginning to pay.

"I'm really just trying to stay back, hit through the middle, hit the other way," Jones said. "That's what I was able to do on the home run, had a changeup and just stayed with it."

To boot, in the first inning, Jones gave a large effort by charging after a pop foul with such force that he spilled into the first row of seats. He did not catch it, but the attempt drew applause from some of the 38,315 on hand.

"All the games count," Jones said.

Burres, the unassuming, soft-tossing 29-year-old left-hander who spent most of the summer in the minors, improved to 4-4 after 52/3 quiet innings in limiting St. Louis to two runs, one earned, on four hits. He is set to pitch the season finale Sunday in Miami and could become the only one of this team's 11 starting pitchers to finish with a winning record.

More important, he rebounded after lasting just 2 1/3 innings last week against the same opponent, when his inability to pitch low led to a 9-1 loss at PNC Park.

"He's a little sneaky," catcher Ryan Doumit, who has worked closely with Burres, said. "There's just a little something to the way he pitches that hitters can't get a good read on it."

The Pirates followed with scoreless middle relief from Chris Resop and Sean Gallagher -- "Huge," Russell called their roles -- to carry the 4-2 lead into the eighth. That was when the offense had a second consecutive inning with bases loaded and two outs, having left them that way in the seventh.

This time, the pinch-hitter Bowker, who has shown a tendency to swing at the first pitch, stayed off Mike MacDougal's outside fastball that Russell said "probably looked tempting." The next one was drilled loudly to the track in left-center, and the bases were cleared to make it 7-2.

"I'll tell you what: When he hits the ball hard, he hits it really hard," Russell said.

"I'd never faced him before," Bowker said of MacDougal, "so I wanted to see one pitch. The second one seemed a lot better to hit."

The Pirates won at Busch for the first time since April 8, 2009, after losing seven in a row.

The Cardinals learned earlier in the evening they were eliminated from the playoffs when the Cincinnati Reds clinched the Central Division title.


Dejan Kovacevic: dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Find more at PBC Blog . First Published September 29, 2010 5:00 AM


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