The Pittsburgh Pirates are starting to win at home and their fans are beginning to notice.
Pittsburgh, which will play the middle game of its series with the Colorado Rockies, has won six of its last eight at home since starting the season 8-21 at PNC Park.
The Pirates have won eight of 12 overall, including Friday’s 5-3 victory, after losing six straight.
“We just have to keep playing the baseball we’re playing,” said reliever Mike Williams, who pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 21st save. “We’re still making mistakes, but we’re making improvements. We still have a shot. We’re not 15 games back by any means.”
Pittsburgh drew a crowd of 37,566 on Friday for its third consecutive sellout after failing to sell out the first 34 home games. The Pirates drew 36,856 for last Saturday’s interleague matchup against Cleveland and 37,803 on Sunday. Only twice before have the Pirates sold out three straight at PNC Park, which opened for the 2001 season.
“It’s a good feeling when they’re cheering for you like that in the ninth,” Williams said. “I think you’d much rather play in front of 40,000 than in front of 1,000. No doubt about that. I don’t know if they make a difference in how you play or not, but it’s a lot more fun.”
Despite the loss on Friday, the Rockies reached the halfway point of their season with a winning record for only the fourth time in franchise history.
STANDINGS: Rockies - 4th place, 7 1/2 GB, NL West. Pirates - 5th place, 8 GB, NL Central.
ROCKIES PROBABLE STARTER: Denny Neagle (1-1, 5.11 ERA). Neagle will be making his third start of the season. He earned his first victory of the year last Saturday, beating Detroit 5-3. Neagle, who has a 3-3 mark against his former team, allowed three runs in 6 1-3 innings.
PIRATES PROBABLE STARTER: Kris Benson (5-7, 5.23 ERA) Benson has allowed 20 earned runs and 27 hits in 13 2-3 innings in his last three Pirates starts. After missing a turn in the rotation to work on his mechanics, the right-hander gave up five runs last Saturday in a 7-6 loss to Cleveland. He is 1-0 with a 1.57 ERA in three career games against Colorado.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Rockies - Todd Helton, .338 avg. and 69 runs; Preston Wilson, 17 HRs, 68 RBIs and 6 SBs. Pirates - Brian Giles, .295 avg.; Reggie Sanders, 11 HRs; Aramis Ramirez, 44 RBIs; Kenny Lofton, 47 runs and 14 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Pirates, 1-0.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Rockies - Colorado optioned RHP Scott Elarton to Triple-A Colorado Springs, and recalled OF Ben Petrick. Petrick was batting .273 with 11 HRs and 37 RBIs in 71 games. … The Rockies had winning records in the first half of the season in 1995, 1997 and 2000. … 1B Helton is hitless in seven at-bats against Benson. Pirates - 1B Randall Simon, placed on the 15-day DL last Saturday with a torn ligament in his right hand, said he expects to take batting practice within three days and plans to rejoin the lineup in the second week of July. … LHP Neagle was 43-25 in five seasons (1992-96) with the Pirates, appearing in 187 games. … OF Matt Stairs has gone 17-for-42 (.405) since returning from the DL to raise his average to .260.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rockies - 12-27 on the road; Pirates - 14-23 at home.
INJURIES: Rockies - OF Chris Richard (shoulder), 60-day DL; RHP Denny Stark (side), 60-day DL. Pirates - INF Simon (hand), 15-day DL; INF Pat Meares (hand), 60-day DL; INF Pokey Reese (thumb), 60-day DL; RHP Mike Lincoln (shoulder), 60-day DL; LHP Dave Williams (shoulder), 60-day DL.