Pirates 2, Phillies 1

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—A kid pitcher makes a dazzling start or two and his manager will invariably say he’s performing beyond expectations. It’s not that way with Pittsburgh Pirates rookie left-hander Zach Duke.

His manager and teammates expected this, and they’re looking forward to a lot more.

Duke pitched seven shutout innings for his first major league victory and Humberto Cota hit a two-run homer, giving the Pirates a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday night.

With Duke making his second consecutive impressive start since being called up from the minors last week, the Pirates split the four-game series despite being outscored 18-6. The Phillies dropped their 15th in 22 games and haven’t won any of their last seven series.

Duke (1-0), statistically the minors’ top pitcher last year, allowed six hits—five for extra bases—but repeatedly got big outs while stranding seven runners. He struck out eight and walked one.

A surprise? Manager Lloyd McClendon would have been disappointed if Duke wasn’t exceptional.

“I’m impressed with everything about him,” McClendon said. “The kid has a great makeup and the stuff to go with it. He’s something to be excited about. I think he can have a special career.”

The 20,942 fans quickly got behind Duke in his first home start, chanting “D-u-u-ke! D-u-u-ke!” as he successfully followed up his debut start, a seven-inning, three-run outing Saturday in Milwaukee.

“When they were chanting my name, I got all kinds of chills,” said Duke, who is 22 and looks even younger. “I definitely had some jitters going—it was my first time pitching here and I wanted to make an impression.”

Duke looked calm, confident and as uncommonly polished as he did in shutting out the Phillies for five innings in a March 18 exhibition game, the start that unexpectedly pushed him into contention for the opening-day rotation.

“I think it helped facing them before, knowing where I could pitch their hitters,” Duke said.

Duke started the season at Triple-A Indianapolis but was promoted after going 12-3, following a 2004 season in which he was a combined 15-6 with a minor league-leading 1.46 ERA in Double-A and Single-A.

“He came at us—when we’d get guys to second or third with two outs, he’d bear down and get us out,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “We just couldn’t get the big hit on him. He didn’t buckle under. He was aggressive.”

Philadelphia had plenty of chances but was 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position against Duke, who quickly advanced through the Pirates’ minor league system with a combined 43-17 record despite being only a 20th-round draft pick in 2001.

“He threw all of his pitches, and he located them,” the Phillies’ Jason Michaels said. “He wasn’t missing too much. He kept us a little off balance.”

Duke’s pitching line to date in the majors: 14 innings, 11 hits, three runs, 17 strikeouts, two walks.

“He had everything: His changeup was exceptional, his fastball touched 92 (mph), he had a decent curveball,” McClendon said. ‘It was just a fantastic job.”

Philadelphia finally scored in the eighth on Bobby Abreu’s double off John Grabow and Chase Utley’s RBI single up the middle. Jose Mesa pitched the ninth for his 21st save in 24 opportunities, stranding pinch-runner Jimmy Rollins at second to end the game.

The Phillies lost despite two outstanding catches. Left fielder Pat Burrell leaned into the first row of the stands to back pull Jack Wilson’s long drive in the fourth, just after Cota had homered.

Center fielder Michaels made an even better catch in the seventh, racing nearly into straightaway right field before sliding on his stomach to run down Freddy Sanchez’s drive—one of the best defensive plays in PNC Park’s five seasons.

Michaels also had a double and a triple on the same day his preliminary hearing on charges he struck a Philadelphia police officer early Sunday was rescheduled for Sept. 21.

The Pirates, winning only their seventh in 24 games, wasted several chances against Brett Myers (6-5), who needed 34 pitches while walking the bases full without the Pirates scoring in the first. They also left the bases loaded in the fifth.

But Rob Mackowiak, hitless in nine at-bats, doubled to start the fourth and scored on Cota’s two-out drive to left. Cota was 4-for-29 before hitting his fifth homer and the third off Myers in three starts.

“I made one mistake and I lost the game,” Myers said.

Notes

Mesa has converted all four save opportunities since June 18. … Pirates 2B Jose Castillo didn’t start because of a sore hamstring. Rollins missed a second consecutive start with a sore hand. … The Phillies are 0-6-1 in their last seven series, while the Pirates are 0-5-2.

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