Duke leads Bucs to Game 1 win
Lefty's strong start helps Pirates take first of doubleheader
PITTSBURGH -- Even a rainout on Sunday couldn't halt a streaking Pirates team that used another strong starting pitching performance to reel off its sixth straight win, this one 5-0 over the Braves in Game 1 of a doubleheader at PNC Park on Monday afternoon.
Not only did the victory extend the team's season-best winning streak, but it also moved the Pirates to 7-0 in their last seven home games and to 5-1 against Atlanta this season. The Pirates will be looking for their third sweep of the season if they can take one more from the Braves in the second game of Monday's twin bill.
Zach Duke picked up the win and continues to sizzle in May. He finished with a six-inning quality start for the third time already this month. It wouldn't be the left-hander's most dominant performance, but, despite scattering five walks and five hits, Duke allowed only one Atlanta baserunner to reach third all afternoon. He would strand 10 Braves on base by the end of his day.
"He's keeping the ball down," manager John Russell said. "He's getting a lot more groundballs. That's the type of pitcher he is."
With the win, Duke notched back-to-back victories for the first time since Sept. 11 and 17, 2006.
"Pitch-quality is the difference," Duke said. "They are quality pitches. They have life to them. The sinker is on right now."
With Duke locked in a scoreless pitchers' duel through five, the Pirates offense took advantage of some uncharacteristic wildness by Atlanta starter Jair Jurrjens to take the lead in the sixth.
Right fielder Jason Michaels drew a five-pitch walk to start the inning, before Adam LaRoche hit a shallow popup that dropped just in front of Atlanta outfielder Matt Diaz. After runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt, Brian Bixler took a ball off his name on the back of his jersey to load the bases.
Jurrjens battled back from a 3-0 count to strike out Duke, but wouldn't have similar success against Freddy Sanchez. Sanchez sliced a bases-clearing double into the right-field corner to give the Pirates a lead that the pitching staff would not relinquish.
"That was huge," Duke said. "That was the difference maker. He's steady Freddy. That's what he does."
With the hit, Sanchez moved to 3-for-5 with eight RBIs on the season when hitting with the bases loaded. He is also 10-for-24 with eight RBIs since moving to the leadoff spot, a move that coincides with the beginning of the team's winning streak.
Adam LaRoche would extend that lead with a two-run homer to right in the eighth off Atlanta reliever Manny Acosta.
The Pirates did snap their six-game errorless streak, however, as they finished the game with four different players making errors. Michaels' fifth-inning error was the first of the now Major League-leading 36 team errors that has been committed by an outfielder.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.