Last-minute starter Owings hits, pitches Diamondbacks past Pirates 8-0

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—Arizona manager Bob Melvin’s last-minute move to play Micah Owings would have been a great one even if Owings hadn’t pitched one of the best games of his career.

Owings was 4-for-4 with three doubles and three RBIs while pitching 6 1-3 innings to boost the Diamondbacks over the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-0 Thursday and stop a three-game losing streak for the NL West leaders.

Given an ominous weather forecast, Melvin decided less than an hour before game time to hold back ace Brandon Webb (17-10) and pitch Owings (8-8).

The Diamondbacks have a one-game division lead heading into a three-game series Friday at Colorado with Webb on the mound. Arizona leads San Diego, which beat Milwaukee 9-5, by a game. Colorado, which played later at Los Angeles, was 2 1/2 back.

“I was eating breakfast when they told me, and a lot started running through my mind,” Owings said. “It got back to the fact I’ve got to go out and do the best I can, try to help my team and not try to do too much.”

Do too much? How much more could he have done?

Owings allowed four hits, struck out four and walked none. In his previous start, he beat San Francisco 5-0 on Sept. 18 with a two-hitter.

“How impressive was the two-hit shutout the last time? Pretty impressive,” Melvin said. “But this is even more impressive to me.”

Owings hit an RBI double during a three-run second against John Van Benschoten (0-7), then added a two-run double in the seventh off Romulo Sanchez. Overall, it wasn’t as big a game statistically as his two-homer, six-RBI day against Atlanta on Aug. 18, but Owings pitched better than he did in beating the Braves 7-6.

“It was nice to get back in the (batter’s) box, it had been over a week,” Owings said. “I love getting in the box, it’s just another way I can help the team.”

Owings was lifted when it finally began raining, but only briefly, during the seventh. Play was held up only 18 minutes, but Tony Pena replaced Owings when the game resumed.

“The main thing is we’re still in first place,” Owings said. “I wish I could say the pressure was on and I wanted to be the guy to step up, but I think anybody in this room would say that.”

Pena, Dustin Nippert and Yusmeiro Petit finished Arizona’s 12th shutout of the season with a scoreless inning apiece.

Webb is 3-0 in his career against Pittsburgh, but 0-3 against Colorado, and top pitchers often dislike moving off schedule. But with heavy rain expected to fall early—instead, it skirted the city except during the brief delay—Melvin didn’t want Webb to pitch only an inning or two and then be forced out of the game.

Melvin also said Owings was “strong minded” and wasn’t bothered by starting on short notice.

Given Owings’ day, apparently not.

“He just likes to play the game,” Melvin said. “If I’d have told him he was playing first base, he would have said, `Let’s do it.’ He’s a pitcher, yet he’s a baseball player, yet he’s a competitor.”

Stephen Drew homered, singled twice and had three RBIs to support Owings, a .339 hitter who has 11 extra-base hits this season, including four homers. Owings, 4-for-5 at Atlanta on Aug. 18, became the first pitcher with two four-hit games in one season since the Yankees’ Whitey Ford against the St. Louis Browns on Aug. 3, 1953, and at Washington nine days later.

All that offense made for a much better flight to Denver, with the Diamondbacks rookies dressed up for their traditional hazing day in a variety of feminine garb.

Players exchanged their uniforms for dresses for the long flight, with infielder Alberto Callaspo decked out as an all-in-white tooth fairy replete with a magic wand.

Isn’t winning fun?

“When we got on the board first, I think everybody settled down a little bit,” Drew said. “Everything worked out well.”

Van Benschoten, a former first-round draft pick in danger of being taken off the 40-man roster following several years of arm problems, lasted only two innings, giving up four runs and six hits while elevating his ERA to 10.15. The Pirates lost their 10th in 12 games despite winning the previous two nights.

“The pitches I threw for balls were in the wrong places, the pitches I threw for strikes were in the wrong places,” Van Benschoten said. “I’ve got to be a lot better. I’ve got a long offseason to figure it out.”

Drew got the Diamondbacks off to the quick start they talked about after their 5-1 loss Wednesday night, hitting his 12th homer on Van Benschoten’s sixth pitch.

Owings doubled following Augie Ojeda’s leadoff single in the second, and Drew and Eric Byrnes followed later with run-scoring singles. Tony Clark hit a solo homer in the fifth off Tony Armas, his 17th of the season and third in 14 at-bats against Pittsburgh this season.

Notes

Drew went 12-for-27 (.444) at Pittsburgh this season. … Clark has four homers in 22 career at-bats at PNC Park. … Ojeda went 2-for-4 with three runs and reached base three times. He was on base nine times in 13 plate appearances in the series. … Pittsburgh’s scheduled starter, Paul Maholm (back), also was scratched, but that move was made Wednesday.

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