Pitching in: Bucs complete twin bill sweep
Pirates get strong outings from Karstens, bullpen
CHICAGO -- Two. That's the number of wins the Pirates had in their 20 road games before Wednesday. It was also the number of victories Pittsburgh had secured in 12 games against the Cubs this year.
By the end of Wednesday, the Pirates had doubled that number in both categories.
Certainly a notable feat given the team's staggering road woes this season, the Pirates reeled off the same number of road victories they previously had accumulated in all of August and September in a nine-hour period on Wednesday. The club did it by following up an afternoon four-hit shutout by Charlie Morton with a Ryan Doumit-led, 8-2 win over Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs under the lights.
This doubleheader sweep was the Bucs' first since taking two from the Mets at PNC Park in September 2004. The Pirates hadn't swept a doubleheader on the road since doing so in San Francisco on Sept. 15, 1996.
"I can't remember the last time we won at Wrigley Field, let alone two games in one day," said Doumit, who reached base in all five plate appearances. "Today's a big win for us. We're trying to finish strong as a team."
Coming into Wednesday's doubleheader at Wrigley Field, to find the last two wins the Pirates had on the road, you had to go back to Aug. 11 and Sept. 13. Yes, those were the only two victories registered by Pittsburg not at PNC Park since July 24.
All this coming from a Pirates team that is suddenly trying to halt what a week ago looked to be a sure march toward a 100-loss season. The team has now won five of its last seven after losing 23 of the previous 26.
"It's been a long season," said Jeff Karstens, who earned a win in Game 2. "It's been a rough season. Just to come and try to finish the season on a strong note would be really big for us going into next year."
Highlighted by Doumit's four-hit day, Pittsburgh had some clutch production from the middle of its lineup to thank for this win. Seven of the eight RBIs came from the fourth, fifth and sixth spots in the order, which before Wednesday had driven in a total of eight in the last 11 games combined.
Lastings Milledge's two-out RBI single in the first gave the Pirates the early lead. Doumit had the biggest hit off Zambrano with a two-run double in the third, and Brandon Moss followed that up with a single to drive Doumit in with two outs.
Doumit's night had just begun. His RBI single in the seventh pushed across the first of three runs the Pirates scored during an inning in which they stung former teammate John Grabow for four hits. Doumit then capped his day with a solo homer in the ninth.
"It's been a trying year, not only for me personally, but for the team as well," said Doumit, who now has five four-hit games in his career. "Unfortunately, it's taken me all the way to September to kind of find my swing a little bit. It'll carry over."
Doumit is now hitting .346 with 12 RBIs in September.
"I know he's been working really hard," manager John Russell said of his catcher. "It makes him feel like he's starting to accomplish something this year. I know he was frustrated and really didn't feel like he was contributing much."
In all, those middle three spots in the order finished a combined 7-for-13 and scored four times. Milledge finished with his second multi-hit game of the day.
Collectively, the Pirates went 6-for-14 with runners in scoring position and finished Wednesday's two games with nine hits in such situations.
Once again the reliever piggybacking system worked quite well for the Russell. Without a true starter to lean on Wednesday, Karstens got the call to start and in what was even better than Russell's best-case-scenario, Karstens worked five innings. Expected to likely provide four innings of work, Karstens was able to do go even deeper because he needed only 61 pitches, 44 of which were strikes, to finish five.
"I was just trying to be efficient as possible and get ahead early and stay ahead," said Karstens, now 4-5 this year. "I'm just going out there and pitching how I know how. I'm not really thinking about too much."
That led the way for Donnie Veal, who the Pirates had already predetermined would follow Karstens. Hopeful of getting a possible multiple-innings performance from Veal, Russell was forced to remove the lefty after he faced just three hitters, two of which walked.
Steven Jackson came in and cleaned up the mess, as he got Chicago's Jake Fox to line into a double play that was aided by a generous out call from second-base umpire Bill Welke. From there, the bullpen breezed through the Cubs' lineup in the game's last three frames. Jesse Chavez and Virgil Vasquez each made scoreless relief appearances.
The Pirates have now won both games in which they've had to get by using only relievers, with the other win coming against the Dodgers last Friday.
"It was great," Russell said of the win. "We have struggled here. To sweep a doubleheader is tough enough anyway, let alone on the road. To come in here and beat two really good pitchers, too, I'm really proud of the way the guys played."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.