The Pittsburgh Pirates’ offense put the middle contest of a three-game set with the Cleveland Indians out of reach quickly. Repeating that feat in the series finale will likely be much more difficult.
Ace Cliff Lee(notes) will take the hill Thursday night looking to lead the Indians to a series victory at PNC Park, while the Pirates will try to defeat a third recent Cy Young Award winner this season.
Only Baltimore has a better batting average at home than Pittsburgh does, and the Pirates (32-39) put on an offensive display against Cleveland (30-43) on Wednesday night.
After scoring four runs in the ninth inning against the Indians’ shaky bullpen in Tuesday’s 5-4 loss, Pittsburgh struck earlier the next day. The Pirates chased Carl Pavano(notes) after he allowed eight runs in 3 2-3 innings en route to a 10-6 victory, albeit one that ended with homers by Grady Sizemore(notes) and Kelly Shoppach(notes) in a five-run Cleveland ninth.
“I thought we had a better approach from the first inning on,” manager John Russell told the Pirates’ official Web site. “We took advantage of some mistakes and scored some runs early and then had the big six-run inning which really got the game out of hand.”
The left-handed hitting LaRoche may not get a chance to increase that average in Thursday’s finale, however. That’s because the Pirates will get their first look at Lee (4-6, 2.94 ERA), the reigning AL Cy Young-winning southpaw who’s limited left-handers to a .235 average.
Even if LaRoche gets a day off, Lee has reason for concern. The Pirates have already beaten former Cy Young winners Jake Peavy(notes) and Johan Santana(notes), and both of those wins came without Andrew McCutchen(notes).
The rookie center fielder drove in two runs Wednesday while extending his hitting streak to 12, and he’s hit safely in six home games since being called up June 3.
“Good things are happening right now, and hopefully I can keep having good at-bats,” said McCutchen, who is hitting .322.
This will be Lee’s third consecutive start against an NL Central opponent, and he’s looked good in his first two. He shut out St. Louis on June 14, then gave up three runs over seven innings Friday against the Chicago Cubs in an 8-7, 10-inning loss.
Cleveland’s bullpen, with a 5.42 ERA, blew a 7-2 lead after Lee exited.
“There’s a reason Cliff’s got as many wins as he has and it’s mainly because of us down there,” closer Kerry Wood(notes) told the Indians’ official Web site, “so he should be doing a lot better than he’s doing. It just seems like every time I haven’t done my job, it’s been on the day he’s pitched.”
Wood is 0-1 with a 17.56 ERA, and two of his four blown saves have come when Lee starts.
The Indians will face Ross Ohlendorf(notes) (6-6, 4.94) for the first time since the right-hander was traded from the New York Yankees to the Pirates last July. Ohlendorf will be looking to bounce back from arguably his worst start of the season, as he allowed six runs and nine hits over five innings in a 7-3 loss at Colorado on Friday.
Ohlendorf, who’s 4-2 with a 4.12 ERA at home, was 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in two relief appearances against the Indians while with the Yankees.