Wilson's late blast boosts Pirates' spirits
Jack Wilson hits a solo home run with two outs in the ninth inning to tie the score, 3-3, against White Sox closer Bobby Jenks yesterday in Chicago.
White Sox closer Bobby Jenks looks away as Nyjer Morgan scores the winning run in the ninth inning yesterday in Chicago.
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CHICAGO -- It requires quite some suspension of reality to believe, but the Pirates were adamant they had faith.
Even though they were down to their final out.
And lugging three days' worth of ineptitude to the plate.
And facing one of the sport's elite closers.
But there it was for everyone at U.S. Cellular Field to see: Jack Wilson's no-doubt home run off Bobby Jenks tied it, and Delwyn Young's RBI single brought a stirring, stunning finish to a 4-3 upending of the Chicago White Sox yesterday.
It ended a three-game losing streak, a 20-inning scoreless streak and, to hear the Pirates tell it, it should have ended whatever doubts anyone might have about their spirit.
• Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 8:05 p.m., Wrigley Field.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (3-1, 3.30) vs. RHP Ryan Dempster (3-3, 4.40).
• Key matchup: Chicago leadoff man Alfonso Soriano is 6 for 17 vs. Maholm, and half of those hits have been home runs.
• Of note: The Pirates are one of four teams in Major League Baseball to have used only five starters. The others: Milwaukee, San Francisco and Tampa Bay.
"I am telling you, it's a beautiful thing how this team never quits," Craig Monroe said after going 2 for 4 as designated hitter. "Jack's swing right there is what this team's all about. He's looking to drive the ball. He's looking to get us back in the game."
Monroe smiled as he glanced around the clubhouse.
"We're working to change the losing ways, and it's a battle to do that. I know we make outs, get into slumps, but this group is tired of losing. I can feel that. I know that."
Jenks, Chicago's triple-digit flamethrower, had been 10 for 10 in save opportunities with a 0.00 ERA in such situations. So, the 3-2 lead he inherited seemed plenty safe, doubly so once he got two quick outs and the crowd of 28,309 rose and roared.
First offering to Wilson was 94-mph heat, but up and away. Wilson had intended to be aggressive, but not that much.
Second offering was the same pitch, velocity and height, but it drifted back over the inner half of the plate, and Wilson belted it into the seats well beyond left field for his first home run.
There was stone silence, with the exception of the hooting in the visitors' dugout.
"It was a great feeling, especially against one of the best closers in the game," Wilson said. "I thought I'd look for something to drive, maybe a double. I ended up getting a good chunk of it."
"We were trying to go away, and it came back middle-up," Jenks said. "The way I look at it, if I blow one of every 11 and I get 44 chances, that's a pretty good year."
Next was Nyjer Morgan.
He recalled thinking after high-fiving Wilson, "Just keep it rolling." And so he did with a double into right field, part of a 3-for-5 recovery from his mini-slump.
Next was Young.
He hammered a single off the glove of diving third baseman Josh Fields, and Morgan bounced all the way into the dugout as if on springs.
Matt Capps, apparently sharing the vibe, recorded his ninth save by striking out the side in the bottom half. Remarkably, until this, he never had struck out the side in a 1-2-3 inning in his career.
"All fastballs, too, right around 94-95," Capps said. "I'm getting there."
Others merited credit: Jeff Karstens, buoyed by an improving sinker, limited the White Sox to three runs over 5 1/3 innings to continue his recent upswing. Sean Burnett and Jesse Chavez stranded Karstens' final two runners in the sixth. Eric Hinske, spelling struggling Adam LaRoche at first base, hit his first home run as well as an RBI double.
And the offense as a whole broke out for 16 hits after ending that scoreless streak with a run in the first. That included a dozen hits during Chicago ace Mark Buehrle's seven innings, thanks largely to a plan that called for right-handed batters to send his soft stuff the opposite way: Five did exactly that.
"We started out with a lot of hits, but we weren't scoring any runs," Pirates manager John Russell said. "I think the baseball gods kind of helped us a little bit there at the end. We pitched three really good games, and you'd think you'd win one of them. We'll take it."
LaRoche heard praise, too, even though he did not play.
One of the team's leaders, along with Hinske, Monroe and center fielder Nate McLouth, he tried early in the morning to lighten the mood by offering to throw batting practice in the indoor cage. Instead, he lit a fire: He pitched as an amateur, but suffice it to say the results of his half-hour of dipping into the bucket of balls brought some confidence-building contact.
"I told them, 'I'll take care of all of you,' and I did," LaRoche said afterward. "Too bad I can't pitch to myself."
"Adam said he'd get me right," Wilson said. "Give him credit: He did. I think I'd have taken him deep twice if we'd been outside."
Next is a trip across town for three against the Cubs, beginning tonight.
First Published May 25, 2009 12:00 am