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Must C Clutch: Presley wins it for the Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- Waiting for the Pirates' hitting to catch up to the pitching? It might be worth the wait.

In the meantime, stock up on the antacids. There could be a lot of repeats of Saturday night.

"We kind of showed our identity tonight. It doesn't always have to be pretty," Alex Presley said after his 85-foot RBI single into the shortstop hole in the 10th inning Saturday night gave the Pirates a 2-1 squeaker over the Phillies.

In two games, the Pirates have scored two runs -- the other coming on a wild pitch. And that has been enough for a split, because Pittsburgh pitching has been stifling. The Bucs dropped Thursday's Opening Day tilt, 1-0.

"Our pitching has done an unbelievable job in the first two games," said catcher Rod Barajas, who has caught every one of the pitches thrown thus far. "We just haven't done much with the bats."

Barajas himself did more than anyone yet has, as he led off the 10th against Joe Blanton, the fifth Philadelphia reliever working behind Cliff Lee. His drive to left-center cleared center fielder Shane Victorino's glove by inches, and it missed clearing the wall by the same margin.

Backup catcher Michael McKenry, who would've gone in defensively anyway had the game proceeded to an 11th inning, ran for Barajas, and took third on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Clint Barmes.

"A great bunt. There's some leadership right there," McKenry said of the veteran infielder.

After Josh Harrison was nicked by a pitch to put runners at the corners and Jose Tabata popped out, Presley rolled Blanton's 2-2 pitch to Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins' back hand.

After first-base umpire Tony Randazzo spread his arms in the safe sign as McKenry crossed the plate, the reaction from the Pirates' dugout seemed almost delayed, as if the players had to be further convinced Presley had really been called safe before storming out to celebrate.

"I knew I had a chance. I hit it just bad enough," Presley said. "I knew it was in the hole, so I ran hard, like I do every time. I knew I was safe as soon as I touched the bag."

"I knew he hadn't hit it that well, and when Rollins had to backhand it, I thought he had a shot [of beating it out]," manager Clint Hurdle said.

Juan Cruz earned the victory after pitching his way out of a jam in the top of the 10th.

Another sellout crowd of 38,885 fans -- marking the first time the 126-year-old Pirates have begun a season with consecutive sellouts -- came alive when the Bucs pushed across the tying run, their first of the season, in the sixth inning.

"It was an important win for us, in front of a Saturday night crowd like this," Hurdle said. "We played gutsy baseball. All four pitchers stepped up." A sizable portion of the crowd was made up of red-clad Phillies fans, who occasionally engaged the locals in a shouting match.

One side went, "Let's go Cliff Lee!" And the other side went, "Let's go Bucs!" That match was a draw, as was most of the game.

And after Lee did go -- into the showers, leaving behind a 1-1 tie -- the teams' respective bullpens stared each other down until Blanton blinked.

Pirates starter Jeff Karstens was also nails for six innings, allowing five hits and a first-inning run. Like Erik Bedard on Opening Day, he wasn't rewarded with a win. Unlike Bedard, he didn't suffer a loss, taken off the hook when the Pirates drew even on a wild pitch after he already departed.

After 14 scoreless innings to start the season, the Bucs didn't exactly knock down Lee's door: He opened it for them, uncorking a two-out wild pitch in the sixth that enabled Yamaico Navarro to scamper home to tie the game at 1.

Navarro had drawn a one-out walk as the pinch-hitter for Karstens, which was followed by Tabata's single -- the Pirates' first hit since the first inning. As Presley's grounder forced out Tabata, Navarro took third, from where he ran through Lee as the pitcher covered home after his first pitch to Andrew McCutchen skipped by catcher Carlos Ruiz.

Lee, too, was done after that inning, having allowed two hits and a run in his six innings.

How hungry are these Pirates fans for some offense? Some of their biggest cheers with the Bucs at bat were for Karstens -- for dragging out an 11-pitch at-bat before striking out in the third. Karstens' resistance included fouling off five two-strike pitches, with the cheers escalating each time he prolonged the standoff with Lee.

"I'm not much of a hitter," Karstens said, "and after it got to two strikes, I just tried to stay alive. Who knows, needing all those pitches to retire me could've gotten Lee out of the game earlier than otherwise."

The game could not have begun on a more ironic note. After Victorino and Placido Polanco led off with consecutive singles, No. 3 hitter Rollins sacrifice bunted them into scoring position.

In the season opener two days earlier, Pittsburgh's first two hitters, Presley and Tabata, had singled. That threat was diffused when McCutchen bounced into a double play. Following the 1-0 defeat, Hurdle was questioned about not having his No. 3 hitter bunting. Hindsight at work, since the Pirates never mounted another rally against Roy Halladay.

Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel's strategy paid off. The Phillies cashed in a run on Hunter Pence's infield single gloved behind the bag by second baseman Neil Walker. Comments