Bucs power past Reds in series finale
Duke allows three runs on six hits in six-plus innings
CINCINNATI -- Manager Jim Tracy said he wouldn't have seen a loss here Sunday to the Reds as a disappointment, even though a loss would have turned what had looked like a great road trip for the Pirates into a so-so road trip.That's what Tracy said before the game. But afterward, well, he saw it a bit differently after the Pirates beat the Reds, 6-3, to end a six-game road trip with a 4-2 record. "This is a game that you go out there and figure out ways to try and get it," Tracy said. "As you go through the course of the season and look back on it, it's a very helpful thing, obviously. It's a big thing to win a game like that. "So instead of a .500 trip, you're plus-two on the road." Plus-two on the season and going home -- finally. The Pirates had spent a week away from PNC Park. They'd gone through Houston for three games there, and then traveled to Great American Ball Park for three more. They swept those games in Minute Maid Park, but they were looking hard to avoid being swept in Cincinnati. The deck, though, seemed stacked in their favor. For the first time this season, Tracy had Freddy Sanchez, who had been on a disabled list with a sprained right knee, in the lineup. Tracy had Zach Duke, his 23-year-old ace, pitching. Tracy also had a hunch. With left-hander Eric Milton pitching for the Reds, Tracy figured it would be a good time to get Brad Eldred, whose powerful bat had impressed in Spring Training, into the lineup as well. Sanchez, Duke and Eldred all played starring roles in sending the Bucs back to Pittsburgh with a victory in tow. Not that any of them proved more pivotal than the other, but Duke surely deserves his due for holding the Reds scoreless over the first six innings. His surely was a quality start, no matter what yardstick anybody uses to judge it. And over those six innings, Sanchez provided Duke some support. "Obviously, his play speaks for itself, you know," Duke said. "He's in there, and he gets at least two hits it seems every time he's in there. It's nice to have him back." In his return from the disabled list, Sanchez got a pair of hits. His biggest was a double in the top of the sixth that staked Duke to a 4-0 lead. The way he'd been plowing through the Reds lineup, four runs looked as if they might be plenty. "Duke was real good today," Tracy said. "He had those six real good innings, and then in the seventh inning ... " In the seventh, the 23-year-old Duke, who was making his second start of the season, didn't look like the Zach Duke he'd been earlier. "Something happened," he said. "I don't know. I just kinda lost my release point, and I lost it in a bad place. It seemed like everything ended up down the middle." The Reds pushed across three runs that inning. They also knocked Duke out of the game, forcing Tracy to go to his bullpen. What had looked like a nice cushion had suddenly turned into a one-run game, a game so close that any of the Reds sluggers could tie it with one swing of the bat. But it wasn't one of their sluggers who changed the score with a swing of the bat. It was Eldred, whom Tracy had decided to start for the first time this season. He played a hunch, and Eldred made the hunch pay dividends. With facing reliever Todd Coffey, Eldred stayed on top of Coffey's first slider and drove it 379 feet into the seats in right field. "I saw it out of his hand good," Eldred said. "He throws pretty hard, so I just wanted to stay on top of the ball -- to stay in the right-center area. I was looking to hit it that way. It's what you want to do with that pitch, and it worked out good." For the Pirates, it worked out great. They added another run on Jason Bay's solo shot in the ninth, and they turned the outcome over to Salomon Torres, who earned his fourth save in four chances. Yet much of the work had been done before Torres took the mound. Sanchez, Duke and Eldred had put the Pirates in position to ensure their six-game road trip remained a good one, Tracy said. "It's good going home knowing that, a year ago, we were not a good road club at all," he said. "Not good at all."
"To come out of the chute and play in these two cities, win four out of your first six and go home to start your home season, it's a far cry from where we were at a year ago, when we played Game 1 at PNC, I can tell you that."
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.