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Pirates' McDonald mows down Twins

| Thursday, June 21, 2012, 9:46 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates starter James McDonald delivers during the second inning against the Twins on Thursday, June 21, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates starter James McDonald delivers during the third inning against the Twins on Thursday, June 21, 2012 at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen hits a three-run double during the second inning against Minnesota on Thursday, June 21, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen smiles at Pedro Alvarez after scoring during the first inning against Minnesota on Thursday June 21, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alavrez tags out Minnesota's Justin Morneau in a rundown Thursday, June 21, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen talks with Nick Leyva after driving in three runs during the second inning against Minnesota on Thursday, June 21, 2012, at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher James McDonald walks from the mound with catcher Rod Barajas after defeating Minnesota Thursday June 21, 2012 at PNC Park. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

The ninth inning was virgin territory for Pirates right-hander James McDonald.

He had pitched eight innings before — once late in the 2010 season and twice last month. But in his first 108 outings in the majors, including 60 starts, McDonald had never tossed a complete game.

A few days ago, after McDonald went six innings in a loss at Cleveland, catcher Rod Barajas challenged him to demand more from himself. He remembered those words Thursday night, when he reached the seventh against the Minnesota Twins.

“I really wanted it,” McDonald said. “I finally believed in myself that I could do it. So, when I went out there (in the ninth), it was like it was the first inning all over again.”

Ryan Doumit's fly out sealed the Pirates' 9-1 victory at PNC Park. Not only was it McDonald's first career complete game, but it also was the first this season by a Pirates pitcher.

“It would've been more fun to get it earlier, but it was worth the wait,” McDonald said.

He threw 120 pitches, including 76 strikes. Doumit was the last batter manager Clint Hurdle was going to let him face.

“It's another step forward for him,” Hurdle said. “He's knocking things down this year.”

Andrew McCutchen singled, doubled and tripled, gathering three RBI. Garrett Jones celebrated his 31st birthday with two hits, including a two-run homer, and three RBI. Barajas snapped an 0-for-13 skid by jacking a two-run homer.

Pedro Alvarez hit a 435-foot solo shot for his 13th homer. The ball bounced on the concourse behind the right-field bleachers, rolled down the slope toward the Allegheny River and to a fan seated on the water's edge.

“A great night,” said Jones, who gave the credit to McDonald. “From last year to this year, it's like night and day how far he's come and how he's trusting his stuff.”

McDonald did not have his best stuff last night. Barajas said he realized early in the game that McDonald's slider was “nonexistent,” meaning he had to rely on his curve and four-seam fastball.

“It's hard to be a two-pitch guy and have success at this level,” Barajas said. “He did that today. They adapted to the curve, so we went to the fastball. It worked.”

McDonald (6-3) gave up six hits, hit one batter and struck out five, lowering his ERA to 2.19. McDonald has not allowed more than seven hits in any of his 14 starts this season. That's stingy enough to have more than six wins, but he often has been the victim of poor run support.

The four runs the Pirates scored in the first two innings yesterday were more than they'd produced in seven of McDonald's starts this year. The Pirates teed off against Twins righty Liam Hendriks (0-4), who is winless with a 6.84 ERA in 10 career starts.

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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