It's over: Milledge, McCutchen end streak at 12
Andrew McCutchen slides past Cleveland catcher Mike Raymond to score in the third inning Saturday at PNC Park.
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With Lastings Milledge's four RBIs, Andrew McCutchen reaching base all five times up, Pedro Alvarez's first career hit and an overall fist-clenching show of emotion, it finally came to an end.
The losing streak, at 12 games.
The long faces.
The lingering feeling that everything would go wrong.
And, if the Pirates have their way, their 6-4 victory against the Cleveland Indians Saturday night before an overflow crowd of 38,008 at PNC Park, a dynamite game all-around, will represent not only an end but also a desperately needed fresh start.
"It's been a hard month," manager John Russell said. "But you do have to find bottom somewhere, and you move on, you keep going forward. We have a lot of reasons to be excited here. ... This was fun. We had a lot of fun out there."
Game: Pirates vs. Cleveland Indians, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP Brad Lincoln (0-1, 7.50) vs. RHP Justin Masterson (2-6, 5.02).
Key matchup: Masterson vs. unfamiliar Pirates. The only one with a hit off Masterson is Ronny Cedeno, 2 for 4.
Of note: Players will wear blue wristbands and a blue decal on the left breast to promote prostate cancer awareness on Father's Day.
It was obvious, from the open celebrations after hustling efforts to the playful, two-fingered I-see-you gestures to pretty much everything Milledge and McCutchen did.
Close friends off the field, they combined to go 6 for 7 with four walks and five runs. Milledge tripled, doubled, singled and drew an 11-pitch walk in going 4 for 5. McCutchen tripled, singled and walked three times -- one of his drew 11 pitches, as well --.
Milledge is 7 for 11 on the homestand to drive his average up to .276, and he might not be getting platooned anymore.
His only downer was needing a home run for the cycle and striking out.
Swinging for the fences?
"Oh, yeah, definitely."
"This is just the time of year when I start coming out of my shell," he said. "I don't know why, but here it is."
McCutchen, not really prone to slumps, continued his .451 tear -- 14 for 31 -- over nine games.
"It felt great out there, man, all night," he said. "Most of all for the team. We needed this."
To say the very least.
The scene had been as bleak as any during these 17-plus years of losing: The 12-game streak was one shy of the third-longest in franchise history, three-quarters of those losses came by a torturous two or fewer runs and, off the field, all kinds of negative attention was drawn by the disclosure of extensions for general manager Neal Huntington and Russell, and even the firing of a human pierogi.
It was clear almost immediately that this would be different, and not just because of the thousands hanging over the rotunda railings, or a moving pregame tribute to members of the 1960 World Series champions, all of whom visited the clubhouse to shake hands with the current players in the afternoon.
"Those guys should come before every game," closer Octavio Dotel said after recording his 13th save in just his second save situation all month.
With the game, the energy started with McCutchen aggressively sprinting home from second on Milledge's infield single in the first, the Cleveland defense focused more on Milledge's headfirst dive than the runner rounding third, and the score was 1-1.
McCutchen raised his left fist toward the crowd after crossing home.
Those two brought the 3-1 lead in the third, too: Neil Walker and McCutchen opened with singles and, after an out, Milledge tripled past diving right fielder Shin-soo Choo.
Standing on third, Milledge looked into the Pirates' dugout and pumped both fists, shouting, "Let's go!"
He struck again in the fifth with an RBI double, and Alvarez's first hit followed: He reached down for a 1-1 fastball from left-hander David Huff and lasered it on a bounce over the left-field fence for an RBI book-rule double that raised the lead to 5-1.
Alvarez, who had been hitless through 11 at-bats, kept his cool at second, but the crowd responded with a minute-long standing ovation, including his family leaping and embracing in the box seats.
"It's very special that they were here to share that moment with me," Alvarez said.
Of the crowd's reaction: "It's flattering to get such support, such an ovation. There's no better feeling than that, being out there and seeing that."
Starter Jeff Karstens was chased by Russell Branyan's three-run home run in the sixth, his line done at four runs and six hits over 5 1/3 innings, and Cleveland was within 5-4.
"One bad pitch," Karstens said. "But the bullpen did a great job."
Karstens wound up with just the second victory for a starter since May 19, the first since June 5.
Evan Meek continued his yearlong dominance with 1 1/3 scoreless innings, including getting the Indians' biggest bat, Travis Hafner, to end the sixth by bouncing a comebacker with bases loaded.
McCutchen brought insurance in the ninth, with a two-out triple to deep center, followed by Garrett Jones' RBI shot up the middle.
"You have to get a hit there after the way Cutch ran the bases," Jones said.
This morning, the standings still will show the Pirates an abysmal 20 games under .500 at 24-44 and, as per the math, hard-pressed to avoid 100 losses. But, with Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Walker -- who had another hit and made a superb diving catch in the fourth -- in the everyday lineup, and Brad Lincoln pitching again today, there also exists more of a chance for real change now than, say, a month ago.
Tabata been 0-9 since his promotion and, before the game, said of the team's streak, "I didn't know what to expect. Unbelievable."
Afterward, despite going 0 for 5, he smiled wide.
"This is a great feeling. What a night."
First Published June 20, 2010 12:22 am