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Pirates continue surge despite trading binge

Joe Rutter
| Friday, July 25, 2003

CINCINNATI -- Two wins in a row, four in the past five games and a surge to seven games under .500 for the first time since June 1?

Break up the Pirates.

Wait, somebody already did that.

Thanks to the recent rash of trades, these might not be your father's Pirates or even your brother's Pirates, but these Pirates are a resilient bunch, and they continued to prove that by beating the Cincinnati Reds, 7-5, in 11 innings Thursday afternoon.

Despite blowing 3-0, 4-3 and 5-4 leads, the Pirates found the resolve necessary to sweep the Reds in this two-game series and run their lifetime record at Great American Ball Park to 5-0.

"I didn't expect us to do anything different," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Through all this, the trades have been tough, but the season is not over. Everybody had us going in the tank and giving up and not going out and performing. The fact is, we have to play baseball games and we have to try to go out and win. The guys are focused and doing it."

Sure, it is only three days since Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton and Scott Sauerbeck were traded and five since Mike Williams was sent packing. But the Pirates are playing a productive brand of baseball that, if implemented more often this season, may have staved off the recent fire sale of players.

Not only are the Pirates winning games, they are distancing themselves from the fifth-place Reds and gaining ground on a certain Windy City team that just traded for Ramirez and Lofton. The Pirates moved within three games of the third-place Cubs.

"Contrary to popular belief, the season isn't over," McClendon said. "The Pittsburgh Pirates aren't going to roll over and play dead. We're going to go out and play baseball. I take offense to (people who think differently). I still have good players here."

One of those is Brian Giles, who drove in two runs but could be heading to the San Diego Padres in a blockbuster trade. Giles isn't surprised by the way the Pirates have dealt with the payroll purge.

"Our guys play hard and always have played hard here," he said. "We've not always had the talent. You can say what you want about this team, but we go out and play and compete."

It was two veterans affected by the Cubs trade that helped the Pirates snap a 5-5 tie in the 11th inning.

Matt Stairs, replacing Ramirez in the cleanup spot, atoned for an eighth-inning gaffe in right field to drive in the go-ahead run with an RBI double in the 11th. Jose Hernandez, the replacement for Ramirez at third base, drove in the final run with a sacrifice fly.

Stairs also had an RBI double in the third inning after hitting the game-winning home run Wednesday night. Hernandez also provided a homer in that victory.

Stairs realizes more trades probably are in the works before the non-waiver deadline Thursday.

"As a player, you cannot control the talks that are going on, so you can't let it affect you," he said. "Five years ago, I let it bother me and it ruined my season. Now, I sit back and just play because there's nothing you can do. It's a business. I'm more than happy to stay here. It's a good situation here."

Pitcher Jeff D'Amico also is on a one-year contract, can be a free agent and doesn't know what his Pirates future holds. Still, he was effective against the Reds, holding them to one earned run in six innings. He was in line to get the win until Stairs botched a line drive in the eighth and the Reds scored the tying run.

"It's your job to go out and perform no matter what happens," D'Amico said. "I didn't think about (trades), to be honest."

D'Amico also drove in the third run of his career with an RBI double that staked the Pirates to a 3-0 lead in the fourth. The Reds scored three unearned runs off D'Amico in the bottom of the inning after Hernandez committed an error on Jose Guillen's leadoff grounder. Two sacrifice flies and an RBI single by pitcher Jimmy Haynes accounted for the damage.

Giles drove in his second run with an RBI double in the fifth, but Russell Branyan opened the Reds half of the inning with a homer to tie the score again. Jeff Reboulet restored the lead in the sixth when he scored on a wild pitch.

Joe Beimel replaced D'Amico in the seventh and pitched a scoreless inning. Brian Boehringer got two quick outs in the eighth before walking Reggie Taylor. Pinch-hitter Aaron Boone followed with a laser to right field. Stairs ran in and tried to make a diving catch only to watch the ball bounce all the way to the wall.

"I told him that if hadn't dived for that ball, we'd have been out of here and hour and a half ago," McClendon said.

Boone ended up at third on the play but remained there when Barry Larkin grounded out.

The bullpen had to chip in with three more innings, and that was the downside to the victory. McClendon was one reliever short because newcomer Brandon Lyon was in Pittsburgh having his right elbow examined. Julian Tavarez was unavailable because he was being given back-to-back days of rest after pitching four times in a five-game span and warming up in Tuesday's game.

That meant a change of plans. Brian Meadows pitched the ninth, and Mike Lincoln had to log the final two innings for his first win. The benches were depleted, too, when all was said and done.

"It was quite an interesting game," McClendon said. "We had nobody left. They had one guy left. But the good guys won."

And that doesn't faze McClendon, who is quick to point out that the Pirates are 21-14 in their past 35 games.

"There are a lot of positive things going on even though we are trading players," McClendon said. "I choose not to lose sight of that fact."

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