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Pirates

Brewers hold on, nip Bucs

| Thursday, April 10, 2003

After spending a long season in baseball purgutory, Todd Ritchie made a triumphant return to Pittsburgh.

The right-hander gave up five hits, all singles, Wednesday night, as the Milwaukee Brewers hung on for a 3-2 victory against the Pirates.

"That's the best I've seen him (pitch) in two years," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. "I didn't see him last year, but I heard he struggled quite a bit."

A year ago, Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield swindled the Chicago White Sox for pitchers Josh Fogg and Kip Wells in exchange for Ritchie. The swap reaped huge dividends for the Bucs -- Fogg and Wells led the team with 12 victories apiece -- while Ritchie sunk to a 5-15 mark and a 6.06 earned run average, and wound up being banished to the bullpen.

Last night, Ritchie, who came to Milwaukee in the offseason as a free agent, was matched up against Fogg.

"It wasn't like it was a mano a mano thing," Fogg said. "I was just trying to go out there and put up as many zeroes as he did. Obviously, I didn't do a very good job of that. (Ritchie) did a great job to get some closure out there."

Ritchie (1-0) was masterful, flirting with a perfect game for 5 1 / 3 innings. Jack Wilson and pinch-hitter Matt Stairs broke the spell with back-to-back singles in the sixth.

"Tonight, I felt really good," Ritchie said. "Probably one of better efforts I've had."

The outing revived memories of July 13, 2001, when Ritchie came within two outs of no-hitting the Kansas City Royals at PNC Park.

"Todd always shows up ready to pitch," McClendon said. "He was always one of my favorite players. He goes about his business, never makes excuses.

"You always wish him well -- expect when he's facing you."

Last night, despite a stiff, finger-numbing wind coming off the Allegheny River, Ritchie subdued the Pirates with rapid-fire strikes and excellent control. Ritchie notched six strikeouts in 7 1 / 3 innings.

Wilson and Stairs were on second and third, respectively, with two out in the sixth, but Ritchie got Jason Kendall to fly out to right. After Aramis Ramirez singled in the seventh, Randall Simon grounded into an inning-ending double play.

"We tried to go up there and hit the ball hard, but it just wasn't happening," Simon said. "And when we did hit it hard, we hit it right at them."

Reggie Sanders and Pokey Reese begain the eighth with consecutive singles. After Wilson struck out, Ritchie was relieved by rookie left-hander John Foster.

Pinch-hitter Craig Wilson struck out looking, with Sanders and Reese stealing third and second, respectively, on the third strike.

Kenny Lofton, who bats lefty, smacked a 1-0 pitch into center for a two-run triple.

That made it a one-run game, but Ritchie said he didn't start to sweat about losing his shot at the win.

"No, I have confidence in my guys," he said. "I can't do anything about what happens when I'm not in there, so you just watch the game and take it as it goes."

Luis Vizcaino replaced Foster, and walked Kendall and Brian Giles to load the bases. But Ramirez popped up to short, snuffing the threat.

Ramirez went 1 for 4, and is batting .194 with no homers and just one run batted in.

"Rammy traditionally hasn't played well in cold weather," McClendon said. "But I'm not overly concerned. I think he'll get it going real soon."

Fogg (1-1) didn't pitch poorly -- he allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits in six innings. But, he was done in by an errant throw by Ramirez and a mighty swing by Geoff Jenkins.

A wild throw by third baseman Ramirez cost the Pirates a run in the second inning.

With two out and runners on first and second, Royce Clayton hit a hard grounder down the line. Ramirez smothered the ball, but his throw across the diamond short-hopped first baseman Simon. Wes Helms, who had doubled with one out, scored to make it 1-0.

It was the second game in a row that Ramirez made a miscue that led to a run. He's made three of the team's eight errors this season.

In the sixth, Richie Sexson singled with one out. Jenkins followed with a home run into the seats in right-center field.

"He's a great hitter," Fogg said. "He came off the DL today, and got right back in the swing of things. It was a horrible pitch, one of those things where you'd like to grab it before it gets to the plate."

It was Jenkins' first home run in the majors since June 16, 2002. He missed the second half of last season after dislocating his ankle, and began this season on the disabled list with a sprained wrist. He mashed two long homers Tuesday while on a rehab assignment in a Class AA game for Hunstville.

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