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Pirates knock off Reds, reach .500

| Monday, May 28, 2012, 4:22 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates starting pitcher James McDonald delivers against the Reds on Monday, May 28, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates outfielder Gorkys Hernadez makes a sliding catch in front of the Reds' bullpen on Monday, May 28, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
The Pirates' Rod Barajas breaks up a double play under Reds shortstop Wilson Valdez on Monday, May 28, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates starting pitcher James McDonald hugs catcher Rod Barajas after defeating the Reds on Monday, May 28, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen high-fives closer Joel Hanrahan and catcher Rod Barajas after defeating the Reds on Monday, May 28, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs robs the Pirates' Pedro Alavrez of a hit on Monday, May 28, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez doubles during the first inning against the Reds on Monday, May 28, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher James McDonald scores past Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan on Monday, May 28, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen pauses during a moment of silence on Memorial Day during a game against the Reds on Monday, May 28, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Ballpark vendor Tom 'T.C.' Congdon cools off hot fans with some ice between innings of the Pirates' game with the Cincinnati Reds on Monday, May 28, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Nursing a four-run lead Monday, Pirates right-hander James McDonald allowed the Cincinnati Reds to put their first two batters on base in the third and fifth innings.

A year ago, McDonald might have wilted under the pressure and allowed the Reds to rally. Not anymore.

“This is not the same James McDonald they saw last year,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

McDonald tossed eight scoreless innings and guided the Pirates to a 4-1 victory.

If he had been a bit more efficient — and if the temperature hadn't been in the high 80s — McDonald might have gotten a shot at his first career complete game.

“We took what we got from him and moved on,” Hurdle said. “Very strong outing from James today. It was another great step forward for him.”

McDonald (4-2) threw 103 pitches, gave up five hits and struck out five. He retired the final 12 batters he faced.

“One of the things I wanted to focus on this year is, when I get in a jam, being that same pitcher with the same mentality and focus,” McDonald said. “Go at ‘em. Keep the team in the game. I got in that mode.”

McDonald's outing turned on the third and fifth innings. Each time, the Reds had runners on first and second with nobody out and the top of the order coming up.

McDonald snuffed both rallies before sluggers Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce could get to the plate.

“At times, I was a little mentally weaker last year,” McDonald said. “When certain guys got up, I would think about, ‘What if this happens? What if that happens?'

“Now, I don't care. It's a hitter up there and I've got a job to do: to get him out. Whoever it is up there, I go right after him. My mental approach to the game is different. It's better.”

The Pirates are 24-24, just three games behind the first-place Reds.

“I like the direction we're headed,” Hurdle said.

Reds starter Bronson Arroyo (2-3) lasted four innings and gave up eight hits. The Pirates scored four runs off him, all of them coming with two outs.

In the first inning, the Pirates caught a break when catcher Ryan Hanigan couldn't hang onto Pedro Alvarez's foul tip. Instead of striking out, Alvarez got another chance and crushed an opposite-field double off the left field wall, missing a home run by inches. Neil Walker scored.

Arroyo then went inside with an 0-2 pitch to Garrett Jones, who lined an RBI double to right.

In the second, Walker drilled an RBI double into the right fielder corner. Alvarez began the third with a double and scored on Rod Barajas' single to right.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or 412-320-7811.

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