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D'Amico shines as Pirates sweep
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07/06/2003 12:32 PM ET 
D'Amico shines as Pirates sweep
Ramirez drives in four, commits two errors
By Eric Pfahler / MLB.com

Abraham Nunez is tagged out at the plate by Houston's Brad Ausmus in Sunday's win. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
PITTSBURGH -- It took the Pittsburgh Pirates until the midpoint of the season to sweep their first home series in 2003, but the timing could be just right for the Bucs to make a run at the National League Central Division.

Pittsburgh completed the three-game sweep with an 8-3 drubbing of the Houston Astros before a crowd of 18,741 at PNC Park on Sunday. With the sweep, the Pirates have won four straight and seven of their last 10. They also improve to 4-2 in their current 25-game stretch against the division opponents.

Offensively, the Pirates wasted little time getting on track as they opened the scoring in the second. With runners on first and second, Abraham Nunez smoked a two-run double off Houston starter Wade Miller to put the Bucs ahead, 2-0.

The Bucs continued to tag Miller in the third. Brian Giles hit a solo homer, his 10th of the season, on a 2-0 pitch to begin the inning. Two batters later, Craig Wilson hit the Bucs' second roundtripper of the inning, a 416-foot bomb over the center field wall, upping the lead to 4-0.

"It's nice to finally hit something hard," Wilson said. "(I didn't know it was gone) until I looked up, and it went over the wall."

The Pirates put the game out of reach in the sixth. With runners on the corners and two outs, Ramirez more than made up for his two errors in the game, crushing a three-run homer to center, extending the lead to 7-1. The home run ended a rough outing for Miller (5-9), who allowed seven earned runs and three homers in 5 2/3 innings.

Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said having both Giles and Ramirez hit well is a key to the Bucs' run.

"[Giles and Ramirez] are starting to get it turned on, and we need that," McClendon said.

D'Amico (6-8), meanwhile, cruised, throwing a complete game, allowing just three runs (two earned) and four hits in the game.

"It was one of those days when you were trying to make pitches and get back to the dugout as quick as you can," D'Amico said.

D'Amico said he was happy to get the chance to go the whole way. He only threw 78 pitches heading into the ninth.

"As a starting pitcher, you're always wanting to get that opportunity," D'Amico said.

"It's always frustrating when you feel like you have more left and you're out of the game."

McClendon said D'Amico made the choice easy.

"In the ninth [D'Amico] had 78 pitches, so there was really no question whether or not he was going out there."

He retired the side in four of his first five innings. He also escaped a troubling situation in the fourth with little damage. After Geoff Blum singled, Ramirez botched a Jeff Bagwell grounder -- the third baseman's first error in the game -- leaving runners on second and third with one out. Blum scored on Lance Berkman's 4-3 groundout, cutting the lead to 4-1, but Bagwell was stranded at third following another groundout induced by D'Amico.

The right-hander tossed just 90 pitches in the first game, compared to 108 in five innings in his last start, a 5-3 loss to Cincinnati last Tuesday.

"I wasn't trying to be too picky or too fine out there," D'Amico said. "I was just trying to throw strikes and let them hit it.

"It seemed to work out pretty good for a while."

In the seventh, D'Amico again got out of trouble with minimal runs allowed. With runners on first and second and no outs, Ramirez picked up a grounder by Morgan Ensberg, tagged third and heaved the ball to first for the double play. Orlando Merced followed with an RBI single, but D'Amico got Brad Ausmus to fly out to end the inning, maintaining a 7-2 lead.

Ramirez added an insurance run in the eighth, knocking in Kenny Lofton with single.

Berkman hit a homer off D'Amico in the ninth for the final run.

D'Amico said each Pittsburgh starter has done his part to help the Bucs play better.

"Everybody's been throwing the ball better," D'Amico said. "Hopefully, we can keep it up."

The win saved McClendon the hassle of finding someone to close for the Bucs. Closer Mike Williams was unavailable after pitching in each of the last four games.

"Those are things that the doctor ordered," McClendon said, referring to refreshing his bullpen. "I'm certainly glad to have them delivered."

The Pirates have now won 13 of their last 20, and could extend their season-high win streak to five games with a win in Milwaukee on Monday night.

"We're certainly peaking at the right time," McClendon said. "It's fun to watch [the team] play right now."

Eric Pfahler is an intern for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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