Pirates 5, Rockies 3
PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Pittsburgh Pirates are ready to make the National League Central race a little murkier.
The Pirates, starting a nine-game homestand, have won eight of 12 and are seven games out of first place in the NL Central despite being 10 games below .500.
“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.”
The Pirates scored three unearned runs in the fifth inning before the second-largest home crowd of the season (37,566). After starting the year 8-21 at PNC Park, the Pirates have won six of their past eight home games.
Fogg (4-3) allowed nine hits and two runs in 5 2-3 innings to win for the first time in four starts at home this season he was 0-2. He last won at PNC Park on Sept. 7 vs. Florida.
“Foggie lived on the edge all night and kept me on the edge, as well,” Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We thought if he could give us six innings, our bullpen would match up well.”
The sellout crowd was the Pirates’ third in a row after they failed to sell out their first 34 home games. They drew 36,856 for 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 great when the fans are out there supporting you,” Fogg said. “It’s a tremendous feeling.”
The Pirates’ recent surge can be largely attributed to an improved bullpen and better hitting. They are one of only three teams in the NL that has raised its average each of the first three months of the season.
“They have a lineup that can jump up and bite you,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said.
Nobody has been batter than Stairs, who has 12 hits in his last 28 at-bats. Normally a right fielder, he made his third start at first base and gave the Pirates a 2-1 lead in the fourth when he pulled Jason Jennings’ 3-1 pitch over the wall in right-center for his fifth homer of the season.
Stairs is 17-for-42 (.405) since returning from the DL (torn ligament in his right hand) and a brief rehabilitation stint at Triple-A Nashville.
“He went down and got consistent at-bats,” McClendon said. “It got him in a groove.”
The Pirates increased their lead to 5-1 in the fifth when Jennings (7-6) issued a full-count, bases-loaded walk to Aramis Ramirez as the crowd roared. Stairs then beat out a high chopper to second, driving in another run. Reggie Sanders followed with an RBI single up the middle, but center fielder Preston Wilson threw out Ramirez at home to end the inning. All three runs were unearned, thanks to an error by first baseman Todd Helton on Kenny Lofton’s hard-hit ball.
Jennings, who was looking to tie a team record with a win in five straight starts, allowed five runs—two earned—six hits and five walks in five innings.
“He was inconsistent,” Hurdle said.
Rockies catcher Charles Johnson homered with two outs in the second to put Colorado up 1-0. The Pirates tied it in the bottom of the third when Jason Kendall singled to center and Wilson appeared to throw out Jeff Reboulet trying to score, but Johnson dropped the ball during his sweep tag. Umpire Derryl Cousins first called Reboulet out, then changed his call when he saw the ball sitting on the ground. That prompted an argument from Hurdle.
“Charles took it out of his glove to show (Cousins) the ball,” Hurdle said.
Trailing 5-2, the Rockies rallied in the seventh, putting runners on first and third with two outs. With right-handed hitting Jay Payton at the plate, Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon replaced Scott Sauerbeck with right-hander Brian Boehringer. Payton singled to right to make it 5-3, but Mark Bellhornpopped out to end the threat.
The Pirates’ string of sellouts likely will end tonight, as a crowd of 25-30,000 is expected. … The Rockies road record dropped to 12-27. They are 291-13 at Coors Field. … Colorado reliever Matt Miller made his major league debut and pitched a scoreless sixth inning. … Colorado optioned right-hander 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. … 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 andplans to rejoin the lineup in the second week of July.