06/21/08 12:52 AM ET
Pirates win Interleague duel vs. Jays
Mientkiewicz's double sparks rally for victory in 12th
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
It's unfortunate, however, because that masks the fact that this 1-0 victory over Toronto at PNC Park was won by so much more.
There was a performance from Zach Duke that rivaled the best among any Pittsburgh starter this year, though his seven-inning outing had been over for almost two hours by the time this one ended. Not to mention the fact that Duke showcased himself at his best with former Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay as his opponent.
"He was outstanding," manager John Russell said. "Obviously, if he gives up anything it's a different story."
After Duke threw 19 pitches in the first frame, he'd average just 13 each inning from there. He worked both sides of the plate with ease, consistently keeping his pitches down. Only five of his outs were recorded by the outfielders, and he scattered six hits and walked one.
"The fastball was there, and the sinker was down," said Duke, who has made one other scoreless start this season. "It's a tough situation when you're facing a guy like Roy Halladay."
The left-hander also further cemented his claim to being the team's most consistent starter. He has now worked seven innings a staff-high four times this year, and he has gone at least six innings in 10 of his last 11 starts. His ERA dropped below four (3.91) for the first time since April 14, giving him the staff's only sub-four ERA.
Then there was the Pirates' bullpen, which followed Duke's lead by posting five more scoreless frames. This was a 'pen, don't forget, that had been rocked for 16 runs in nine innings during the team's recent series in Chicago.
Friday's combination of Matt Capps, Tyler Yates and Damaso Marte allowed just two hits in those five innings.
"Everyone we handed it over to threw strikes and was aggressive," Doug Mientkiewicz said afterward. "That's what we have talked about doing."
There was a steller defensive play by Jack Wilson in the 11th, which was a backhanded grab in the hole and then a transfer of momentum in time to get an out at first.
And with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the 12th, it was a ball hit by pinch-hitter Jason Michaels that ultimately drove in the winning run. Michaels' chopper to Toronto's drawn-in shortstop John McDonald wasn't gloved cleanly, allowing Mientkiewicz to score.
But all that aside, hand the game ball to Mientkiewicz. There's little question about that.
Russell had put Mientkiewicz in Friday's lineup for good reason. With six hits in 18 at-bats against Halladay, Mientkiewicz had faced the Toronto right-hander more than anyone else. The rest of the club came in with a combined 20 at-bats against him.
The move would pay off on the offensive end, as Mientkiewicz went 2-for-2 with a walk against Halladay. But it was his glove that left the 28,962 on hand on their feet.
All this for a guy who is admittedly "petrified" of playing third.
"I wanted to finish it in the ninth because I am scared to death at third," said Mientkiewicz, who was making just his 20th career start at third. "I think I lucked out that I didn't have a ball hit right to me, which I think was better."
No, instead he had to dive and leap for them.
It started in the third, when with a runner on second and two out, Mientkiewicz stopped a one-hop shot right along the third-base line. While he wouldn't throw out Vernon Wells on the play, the stop did prevent Toronto's Alex Rios from scoring. Duke then got Scott Rolen to follow with an inning-ending foul out.
His next victim would be Rolen, who scorched a line drive down the line in the sixth that Mientkiewicz dove and snared, again saving an extra-base hit. He'd be at it again in the eighth, grabbing a high chopper to begin an inning-ending double play with the imposing heart of the order up for Toronto.
In all, Mientkiewicz's three defensive plays proved game-changing.
"He's a gold glove first baseman and has done a very nice job for us at third," Russell said. "That's what he is. He's going to give you everything he's got and lay it all out on the field."
Mientkiewicz's defense eventually saved the Pirates from having to lament two wasted rallies before finally coming through in the 12th.
In the fifth, Mientkiewicz was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a flyout by Raul Chavez, who came to the plate with two on and none out.
And in the seventh, the Pirates squandered a bases-loaded, one-out opportunity against Halladay. Pinch-hitter Chris Gomez struck out. Then Nyjer Morgan rocketed a 1-1 pitch up the middle that hit Halladay in the right temple, only to ricochet right into the glove of Rolen at third.
"It's just one of those plays where I was looking for something to drive, and I did," Morgan said. "He just happened to get his head in the way. I hope he's OK."
The Blue Jays reported afterward that Halladay was indeed fine and would make his next start as scheduled.
In the end, though, the win snapped a three-game losing skid for the Pirates.
"We knew we were coming back home, and we like playing at home," Russell said of his club, which went 1-5 on its latest road trip. "It was a tough road trip. We're not going to deny that. But they've been resilient all year."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.