The Pirates look for a season-high fifth straight win and their first interleague sweep in a decade Sunday afternoon against the Red Sox, who hope to avoid a fifth consecutive loss and being swept by an NL club for the first time since 2002.
After initially climbing two games over .500 on June 16, Pittsburgh (39-37) - which owns by far the majors’ worst all-time interleague winning percentage - dropped four straight to Cleveland and Baltimore.
The Pirates bounced back with a pair of wins over the Orioles, but more impressive has been what they’ve done since Boston (44-32) arrived. Closer Joel Hanrahan(notes) finished Friday’s 3-1 win by retiring Adrian Gonzalez(notes), then wrapped up Saturday’s 6-4 victory - his 22nd save in as many opportunities - by striking out the major league leader in average and RBIs.
“It’s a great feeling out there right now,” manager Clint Hurdle said after Pittsburgh improved to 14-9 in June, guaranteeing its first winning month since June 2009.
It’s been far longer since the Pirates took out the brooms in interleague play. Pittsburgh has played 46 series since last sweeping an AL opponent, three wins against Cleveland from June 15-17, 2001.
The Pirates have been swept by AL clubs 16 times in that stretch.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, haven’t been swept by an NL team since Atlanta came into Fenway Park and won three times June 28-30, 2002.
They’ve only lost the first two games of an interleague series seven times since then, and they’ve tended to provide an emphatic response in those finales. Boston has averaged 9.4 runs while each time avoiding a sweep.
Getting out of Pittsburgh with a win would be a lot easier if the Red Sox could hit with runners in scoring position. Boston is 0 for 16 in the series and hitting .172 with runners on second and third in its 12 losses since May 21.
“We can win four just like we lost four, so we’re not going to get too up or too down,” Pedroia said. “We started the season 2-10 and we’ve been kicking (butt) ever since, so I don’t think anybody’s going to go home and jump out of their hotel room because we lost four in a row.”
Getting clutch hits off James McDonald(notes) (5-4, 4.86 ERA) - the cousin of Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald(notes) - might prove difficult. The right-hander has put 43 runners on base over 20 1-3 innings in four June starts, but he’s 2-1 over that stretch as he’s held opponents to a .148 average with runners in scoring position.
McDonald lasted just 4 2-3 innings in Tuesday’s 9-3 win against Baltimore, though, surrendering 11 baserunners and three runs.
He’s never faced the Red Sox.
The left-hander gave up seven hits over 5 2-3 innings in his Red Sox debut Monday against San Diego, but the only damage was a three-run homer. He left without a decision in a 14-5 win, but made an impression on manager Terry Francona.
“I thought he was really good, and it was really encouraging,” Francona said.