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Pirates

Bucs extend winning streak to eight games

Joe Rutter
| Sunday, July 4, 2004

For the second consecutive season, pitcher Kris Benson might not be available to the Pirates shortly after the All-Star break. This time, it won't be due to injury.

Benson's trade value continued to soar Saturday night when he pitched seven strong innings and helped the Pirates to a 5-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers that extended their winning streak to eight games.

Working at least seven innings for the fourth consecutive start, Benson (6-7) limited the Brewers to two runs on eight hits.

With Benson becoming a free agent at the end of the year and owed $3 million on his contract, he could be pitching his way onto a contender in the near future.

"I know there are people up there and that certain teams are watching me," Benson said. "Like I've always said, I may think about it two hours before a game. Come two minutes before the game, I'm thinking about getting Brewers hitters out, making pitches and helping myself and the team.

"I'm pleased with the outcome today. That's more pleasing than anything."

It's not uncommon for scouts to fill the stands this time of the year. That was no exception yesterday as a bevy watched Benson pitch. An Anaheim Angels scout arrived on the scene, joining representatives from St. Louis, Minnesota and Detroit. More interested suitors are expected to show up for Benson's remaining starts before the July 31 trading deadline.

With four weeks remaining, it appears to be a matter of when -- not if -- Benson will be traded. Benson's stock has risen since the end of May when he had a 5.64 ERA. In his past six starts, he is 2-3 with a 3.19 ERA. He also hasn't given up a home run, a streak that has spanned 45 innings.

"This is as good as I've ever seen him pitch," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He's becoming a leader on the mound that we always thought he could be. What Kris Benson is doing is no fluke. He's throwing extremely well. He made changes he needed to make. As a result, he's been the dominant guy we thought he could be."

The Pirates put Benson in line to get the win when they scored three runs in the sixth to take a 4-2 lead. Randall Simon's opposite-field, two-run double snapped a 2-2 tie.

McClendon allowed Benson to bat in the sixth with two outs and runners on second and third. Then, he replaced Benson, who had thrown 96 pitches, to start the eighth. In his two previous starts, Benson threw 122 and 126 pitches.

"It was humid and I thought he had a taxing seventh inning," McClendon said. "We also had the bullpen matched up the way we wanted it."

It nearly didn't work out as planned. In the eighth, John Grabow gave up one run and left with the tying run at the plate. It took one pitch for Salomon Torres to quiet the threat, but the Brewers had the tying run at the plate twice in the ninth before Jose Mesa nailed down his 19th save in 20 chances.

For the Pirates, Craig Wilson homered for the first time in 18 games and scored two runs. Jack Wilson doubled among his two hits and scored a run. Jason Bay and Rob Mackowiak drove in runs.

Brewers first baseman Lyle Overbay, an All-Star candidate, drove in both of the runs against Benson.

Overbay's two-out RBI single in the first gave the Brewers a 1-0 lead. They threatened to increase their lead in the third when Craig Counsell's double put runners on second and third with one out.

Geoff Jenkins hit a sharp line drive to short. Jack Wilson gloved it and snapped a throw to third. Wes Obermueller couldn't dive back safely in time, and Benson was out of the mess.

"I didn't think Kris had his best stuff," McClendon said. "But he competed well. I was proud of him."

The Pirates tied it with two outs in the fourth on Craig Wilson's homer to the left-field bleachers. Overbay's RBI double with two outs in the sixth put the Brewers back on top, but that lead evaporated in the bottom of the inning on Mackowiak's RBI single.

With the bases loaded and nobody out, Dave Burba came in to face Simon. As he stepped in, Simon had five RBI -- or half as many as Bay has accumulated this weekend.

Simon, who was batting .204, slapped a pitch toward third. The ball squirted past the infield shift the Brewers had on Simon and gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead.

"It feels good to contribute," Simon said.

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