Pirates keep the party going with 9-3 victory
Freddy Sanchez is met by a sea of hands upon returning to the Pirates dugout after hitting a grand slam in the fourth inning to break the game open last night.
Chuck Tanner, left, and Kent Tekulve threw out the first pitches before last nights game at PNC Park.
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Winning was in the air at PNC Park last night, partly from the palpable buzz over the Penguins' Stanley Cup championship, partly from the warm ovation the crowd of 31,411 offered before the game to some exceptional Pirates alumni.
Whatever the case, the home team certainly appeared to pick up on it, pounding the Detroit Tigers, 9-3, on 16 hits, a Freddy Sanchez grand slam, Adam LaRoche's first home run in a month and Zach Duke's eight efficient innings.
"You could sense the excitement," manager John Russell said. "Not only for our game, but you know there's a lot of excitement all over the city right now. And I think we fed off that."
The atmosphere was decidedly unlike most for baseball in this town: Many in attendance wore Penguins sweaters despite 75-degree heat, with a few carrying those familiar aluminum-foil Cups. And, shortly before first pitch, 13 members of from the Pirates' past three World Series champions -- Bill Mazeroski, Chuck Tanner, John Candelaria, Elroy Face, Bob Friend, Al Oliver, Jim Rooker, Grant Jackson, Dave Giusti, Kent Tekulve, Manny Sanguillen, Steve Blass and Bob Robertson -- were feted as part of the weekend's centennial commemoration of the first championship against Detroit.
• Game: Pirates vs. Detroit Tigers, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Ross Ohlendorf (5-5, 4.82) vs. LHP Dontrelle Willis (1-3, 6.60).
• Key matchup: Freddy Sanchez does not get distracted by Willis' animated delivery, judging by 10 hits in 17 career at-bats.
• Of note: Today is the Pirates' highly popular Turn Back the Clock promotion, with the home team and visitors wearing throwback uniforms from their 1909 World Series meeting, no music or mascots, no seventh-inning stretch and few announcements.
One of the loudest cheers of the night was for Mazeroski, predictably, another for a cursory mention of the Penguins' victory on the scoreboard in the sixth inning.
"Why wouldn't everybody here be in a great mood after what just happened?" shortstop Jack Wilson said after a double and two singles. "Turned out to be a great night all around."
"Nice to see the place filled like that," Duke said. "You do feed off that, no question."
There is proof: It was the third-largest crowd of the season at PNC, and the home team, coincidence or not, won all three games by a combined score of 23-6.
The Pirates scored four times in each of the second and fourth innings, chasing Detroit starter Armando Galarraga after two-plus.
LaRoche led off the second with his eighth home run -- first since May 21, a span of 83 plate appearances -- off a 2-0 fastball and above the Clemente Wall. Four rapid-fire singles followed, including Wilson's for an RBI. Andrew McCutchen's run-scoring groundout, and Nyjer Morgan's RBI double that brought a 4-1 lead.
In the fourth, the Pirates looked as if they would come up empty despite bases loaded when Morgan bounced into a forceout at home for the second out. But Sanchez launched Nate Robertson's lifeless 1-1 changeup into the left-field bleachers for his fifth home run, second career grand slam and an 8-2 lead.
"He threw me a bunch of good changeups, and I went after that one," Sanchez said. "Wasn't trying to hit a home run. Just to get a good swing."
A flurry of good swings -- which included every player in the starting lineup getting at least one hit -- came the day after Russell offered rare criticism of his offense, a charge the players wholly supported.
"We swung the bats really well, got some big hits," Russell said.
The Pirates were 7 for 18 with runners in scoring position, a day after being stifled in a 3-1 loss.
"We're not really a home run-hitting team, but we had lots of guys come through," Sanchez said. "That felt good after the game we just had."
Duke was not at his peak -- three runs, six hits and solo home runs by Marcus Thames and Ryan Raburn over his eight innings -- but rediscovered his sinker and retired his final 11 batters to improve to a staff-best 7-4.
"You don't let the early home runs get to you," Duke said. "And the offense gave me a big early lead, which helped."
From there, it looked mostly like fun, on and off the field, as evidenced by Morgan and Delwyn Young playfully engaging some fans in the outfield seats -- which usually are empty -- before and during the game.
"Me and D.Y., we're telling people, 'Hey, we want to party in the streets, too, you know?' " Morgan said. "We want that to be us."
Putting "Pirates" and "championship" together in a sentence requires quite the stretch after 16 losing seasons, obviously. But those involved are adamant they ultimately want to share more than the first name and colors of the other two teams in town.
"We're extremely excited for the Pens," Russell said. "First, the Steelers in the Super Bowl and, now, this. It just shows what this city's all about, the atmosphere that's here. We want to do the same thing. We're confident and excited about what we're doing here, the direction we're taking. We hope to make it three soon."
How far do they have to go?
In the past four years, during which the Steelers and Penguins have combined for three championships, the Pirates have been over .500 after 28 of the 549 games they have played, never later than May 2 of any year.
They currently are 29-33.