Ohlendorf delivers win on emotional day
Starter blanks Cubs over seven; Sanchez paces offense
PITTSBURGH -- Though it may have seemed secondary after learning of the departures of three teammates earlier in the day, the Pirates did have a game to play at PNC Park on Tuesday night. And regardless of what the collective emotions might have been beforehand, the Pirates rode starter Ross Ohlendorf to a 3-0 win in front of 17,054, bringing at least a welcome distraction from everything else.
"We played well," manager John Russell said. "We turned the page. Move on. These guys have been great about that all year and showed it tonight."
Hours after saying goodbye to Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett and Eric Hinske -- departures that came about through two Tuesday trades -- Ohlendorf paced the win. Putting any potential distraction out of his mind, Ohlendorf, the product of a midseason trade himself a year ago, made arguably his most complete start of the season with his seven-inning shutout.
"I think, for whatever reason, I felt a little more relaxed today and didn't overthrow," said Ohlendorf, who moved to 7-6 with the win. "I just tried to make good pitches."
Ironically enough, Ohlendorf was also the one summoned to take the mound on June 4, the first game the Pirates played after Nate McLouth was dealt away. Figuring out how to deal with the distractions then, Ohlendorf said, prepared for what was to come on Tuesday.
More than anything, though, Ohlendorf benefited from his slider. A pitch that the right-hander has tended to overthrow at times this season became his go-to pitch in this one, and much to his success. The right-hander didn't walk a batter and scattered just four hits, three of which were singles.
"We've been working on [the slider] a lot all season," Ohlendorf said, referring to his side sessions with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. "I've had a couple games where I felt good with it, but today was the best. It's something we continue to work on."
The right-hander also finished with a career-best eight strikeouts, three more than his previous high. That included two key ones in the fifth, as Chicago was staging its biggest threat of the game. After giving up a one-out double to catcher Geovany Soto, Ohlendorf got Chicago hitters Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot to freeze for called third strikes.
With the Pirates ahead, 2-0, Ohlendorf, who retired 11 straight at one point, was removed for a pinch-hitter in the seventh after throwing 93 pitches, 62 for strikes.
"He pitched an awesome game," outfielder Andrew McCutchen said. "I was going up and down the dugout saying I wouldn't want to face Ross today with the way he was throwing."
In a fitting response to his struggles the day before, second baseman Freddy Sanchez almost single-handedly ran the offense in the win, as he played a role in all three of the runs Pittsburgh scored. The Pirates had squandered another quality start from Zach Duke in the first game of the series on Monday, and Sanchez put the blame largely on himself afterward.
The second baseman had come up with at least one runner on base three separate times on Monday, only to watch every opportunity go untapped. He stranded six runners in all. His redemption Tuesday, however, would be sweet, as Sanchez reached base in all four plate appearances, scored once and drove in two.
"Yesterday was obviously frustrating," Sanchez said. "I came up in some big situations and didn't get the job done. I felt kind of good tonight to go out there and get the job done."
He scored the first run of the game back in the fourth, sprinting around from second on a wild pitch in a somewhat odd sequence of events. Brandon Moss had swung through strike three, which would have ended the inning if not for the fact that the pitch from Chicago starter Ted Lilly bounced all the way to the backstop.
Moss headed toward first to try and keep the inning alive, and Sanchez, sensing an opportunity, rounded third and headed home.
"[Lilly] looked like he was pretty close to the mound and that I could beat him to the plate," Sanchez said, later explaining his decision. "There were two outs, so I thought maybe Soto could throw to first and not worry about me. But my main thing was, I thought I could beat him to the plate."
Soto would throw home, but his throw was low and Lilly wasn't able to hold on as Sanchez scored.
Sanchez, a potential All-Star candidate on the club, then came through with two two-out hits, an RBI single to drive in Jack Wilson in the fifth and an RBI double to plate pinch-hitter Steve Pearce in the seventh.
The win, which ensured the Pirates of finishing June above .500, wouldn't be sealed until Matt Capps' 18th save of the season, though it also included a few hold-your-breath moments in the eighth. After John Grabow allowed a leadoff single, Sanchez wasn't able to reach up and grab a feed from Wilson, who had made a diving stop. Wilson's throw trickled into right, both runners were safe and both advanced 90 feet. But Grabow responded with two key strikeouts and induced an inning-ending groundout to end the threat.
That help kept intact the shutout, which was the fifth pitched by the Pirates this season, but the first since April 20.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.