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09/24/06 1:52 AM ET

Duke sharp but Bucs edged by Pads

Left-hander hurt by seventh-inning long ball in pitchers' duel

SAN DIEGO -- On most nights, the kind of the performance Zach Duke gave the Pirates on Saturday at PETCO Park would have been plenty good enough to snap the Bucs' two-game losing streak.

This, however, was not most nights.

This was a night when Padres starter Jake Peavy pitched like a staff ace trying to lead his team into the playoffs, and San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman pitched like a guy chasing history.

The end result was a 2-1 Pirates' loss in a game that easily could have swung either way.

"You've got to give [the Padres] credit," said Pirates manager Jim Tracy. "One thing that you can definitely say about that club on the other side of the field is that they've got pitching.

"We didn't do anything wrong. It was a terrific ballgame. We got beat, 2-1."

Duke (10-14), who had posted a 1.50 ERA in his four previous September starts, put together another solid outing, limiting San Diego to two runs on six hits and five walks in 6 1/3 innings. He was two pitches away from outdueling Peavy.

Duke took a slim 1-0 lead into the sixth inning before the Padres finally got to him. After a two-out single by Brian Giles, Mike Cameron drilled a double off of the fence in left-center field to tie the game at 1.

Pirates center fielder Chris Duffy, who robbed Giles of extra bases with a great running catch in the third inning, thought he might have had a chance to catch Cameron's ball, too, but he didn't want to risk colliding with left fielder Jose Bautista.

"Right when it was hit, I thought I had a shot," said Duffy. "He hit it pretty high. I was shaded four or five steps into left-center. But obviously, I'm not Kelly from 'The Bad News Bears.'"

Duke's biggest mistake came in the seventh inning, when he left his cutter up in the strike zone to Padres rookie second baseman Josh Barfield. The rookie promptly deposited the Duke ofering into the left-field stands for the winning run.

"I wanted to get it down," Duke explained. "I left it kind of in his happy zone. He's really good at getting to a ball inside and it was kind of belt-high.

"I pride myself on not making those mistakes that change a game so much like that. I let it happen tonight."

With the way Peavy was dealing on the other side, Duke knew that he had no margin for error.

"I could tell early on Peavy was on his game," Duke said. "That's never a comforting feeling being on the opposing team.

"I knew I was going to have to throw some zeroes up there. I felt pretty good about my performance until the seventh inning."

Peavy (10-14), who has suffered through a disappointing season after leading the National League in strikeouts in 2005 and ERA the year before, regained his old form Saturday.

The Pirates scored their only run in the first inning, and they were kicking themselves later that they didn't cash in for more.

Duffy began the game with a single and swiped second base. Jack Wilson followed with a walk to put two runners on with none out. National League batting leader Freddy Sanchez went toe-to-toe with Peavy for nine pitches, fouling off six in a row, before hitting a high chopper back up the middle. Peavy made a leaping grab to snag the ball and then threw on to second base to begin a 1-6-3 double play.

Xavier Nady prevented the Piartes from coming away completely empty-handed by chasing Duffy home from third base with a two-out single to shallow left field.

After giving up the single to Nady, Peavy went on to retire 22 of the final 26 batters he faced, including 11 via strikeout. Each of the six hits Peavy yielded were singles.

"He was pretty much in command the entire game," said Duffy. "He was able to keep us off balance. He was throwing a lot of changeups and sliders. He just wasn't giving in.

"When a guy like that is able to throw all of his pitches for strikes and keep you guessing, that's how you lead the league in strikeouts."

Peavy's gem set the stage for Hoffman, who entered the game one save shy of Lee Smith's big-league record of 478 career saves.

The sellout crowd of 43,168 erupted as Hoffman walked to the mound in the ninth, with AC/DC's "Hells Bells" blaring on the PA system. It was an entrance song Tracy became all too familiar with during his five-year stint as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"When you hear it, you realize that the task isn't going to be that easy," Tracy said.

With cameras flashing throughout the stands, Hoffman retired the side in order, striking out Ryan Doumit for the final out. "I guess until you get into that moment and out on that mound, you really aren't sure how it is going to feel," Hoffman said. "I tried to find solitude in the situation of the game, which was that we needed to get three outs to hold on to first place [in the NL West].

"I'm human. A lot of things run through my mind. That's why you have to focus."

Tracy, who managed Hoffman at Class A Chattanooga in 1991 during Hoffman's first season as a closer, had a special appreciation for the long-time Padres closer's accomplishment.

"He's tied Lee Smith. That's a feat," said Tracy. "It's a feat that suggests consistency. It suggests resiliency. That's how you get to the point where he's at."

Doumit, on the other hand, downplayed his at-bat.

"It's just another closer -- just another game," he said. "I think everyone else is going to hype it up more than it was. It was just another at-bat."

With the Padres' win and the Dodgers' 9-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego extended its lead in the NL West to 1 1/2 games.

Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.