Duke, LaRoche lead Bucs past Dodgers
Lefty dominant over 8 2/3 ; third baseman goes 5-for-5
PITTSBURGH -- Be assured that the Pirates were intent on having no part in the Dodgers clinching the National League West title. Not here. Not now.
Los Angeles will have to take its postseason party elsewhere, as the Pirates made sure the champagne would be kept on ice and out of sight for a second straight day. Pittsburgh took care of capturing the improbable series win -- the team's first in a month -- behind a career day from third baseman Andy LaRoche and a masterpiece by Zach Duke. It culminated in an 11-1 win at PNC Park for the Pirates' final home game of 2009.
"It was like, 'Y'all can clinch somewhere else,'" said Andrew McCutchen, who reached base four times. "It's all about preparing for next year. Right now, this feels so good to beat a team that's going to be in the playoffs and to get them in three of four games."
But if only it had all been as good as it sounds.
The ending was soured, as the 16,696 on hand would adamantly attest to, by manager John Russell's decision not to give left-hander Zach Duke the opportunity to secure his fourth complete game of the season.
Duke had cruised against the National League's best hitting team all afternoon and entered the ninth with the potential of matching his home opener shutout with another in the home finale. A one-out triple, just the fourth hit he had given up, and a subsequent sacrifice fly took away the shutout. But having thrown just 103 pitches -- an incredible 74 of which were strikes -- and having no sort of pitch count to work under, Duke still had the complete game within his grasp.
And then, with two out in the inning, Russell emerged from the dugout and sent the signal to his bullpen. Why?
"I wanted Zach to have a nice ovation from the fans," Russell explained. "He did a heck of a job, pitched a great game. We were trying to get him a shutout and, unfortunately, they scored the run. We just wanted to give the fans an opportunity to appreciate what he did rather than the game just being over."
Russell had one other reason as well.
"We needed to get Donnie [Veal] a little work today," said Russell, who will use Veal for multiple innings on Wednesday. "That'll make him a little more prepared."
Yet, Russell's decision to take Duke out infuriated the fans. They booed Russell as he made his way to the mound and that verbal displeasure only augmented when he turned to go back.
Only briefly did those boos turn to cheers, and that was when Duke reached the foul line and tipped his cap to an appreciative crowd that, by that time, was standing for him.
An awkward exit?
"It's hard to tell here," Duke said, trying to briefly find some levity in the situation. "Sometimes they're booing. Sometimes they're saying Duke. I'll just think they were saying Duke the whole time."
However, Duke made it no secret, not through his tone nor his body language afterward, that his preference would have been to receive the standing ovation after getting the third out in the ninth.
"At that point in the game, I think I might have gotten one either way," Duke said. "I was one out away. I wanted [the complete game] pretty bad. I'm not going to lie. It would have been my fourth on the year and it's something I can hang my hat on for sure."
He was asked if he had a chance to try and change Russell's mind.
"It wasn't really open for discussion," Duke answered.
Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who was asked about Russell's decision to yank Duke out one prematurely, shied away from being critical.
"After all the time I've spent in the dugout, I know that he's the only one who knows why he did that," Torre said. "Complete games don't mean what they used to and it's late in the season. You sure don't like getting booed. But he knew it on the way out. That didn't deter him."
It's a shame that this ended under such circumstances because everything else about Duke's outing was fantastic. He retired the 14 straight before that ninth-inning triple. And he looked as good, if not better, than that April 13 shutout in which he limited the Astros to four hits.
"I felt very good," said Duke, who now has 11 wins for the first time in his career. "The main thing was that we scored early, and I knew that from there I just had to get ahead of hitters and put the pressure on them. My offspeed stuff got sharper as the game went on."
An offense that has cost Duke numerous victories this season ensured that wouldn't be the case again. Pittsburgh scored four unearned runs in a second inning that included Delwyn Young's first RBI since Aug. 29 and two-out hits by LaRoche and Garrett Jones. That would be just the beginning for that duo, which, along with McCutchen, went a combined 10-for-14, drove in eight and scored eight times at the top of the order.
And a team that had just four hits with runners in scoring position in its past 32 at-bats in such situations had that many through six innings on Monday.
"That's definitely a bonus when everybody's swinging," McCutchen said. "It was just great that everyone was able to contribute."
The runs continued to spill in. LaRoche, a former Dodgers farmhand, had another double and two home runs to cap a career-high five-hit and six-RBI game. Jones also went deep, giving him his 21st homer of the season.
"It's good to finally be able to feel like I'm getting my stroke back and haven't lost it completely," said LaRoche, who now has five homers in his past 14 starts. "It was great to get this big victory on this last day here at home."
Indeed, it was almost the perfect day.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.