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Duffy helps lead Bucs out of basement

| Friday, Sept. 8, 2006

CHICAGO - How have the fortunes of the Pirates changed since the All-Star break?

Well, at Wrigley Field on Thursday, light-hitting Chris Duffy smacked two home runs for the first time in the majors, as the Pirates closed out a third win in four games against the Cubs, 7-5.

"I don't know what I ate for breakfast, but I'm going to eat it again (today)," Duffy said. "I'm a little bit superstitious."

Yesterday, Duffy was 4 for 4 with a career-best three RBI.

He stole two bases to bring his season total to 18.

He scored three runs.

His home run to right field opened the game and the Pirates' scoring. His shot over the famed ivy in center field snapped a 5-5 tie in the ninth.

"Obviously, our center fielder had a day for himself," manager Jim Tracy said. "And I couldn't be more proud of him."

Duffy's 2006 season has proven itself an interesting study.

Christened the starting center fielder despite his shaky and injury-plagued spring training, Duffy struggled for most of the first two months before leaving the team after a demotion to Triple-A Indianapolis in May.

Duffy was frustrated with management and admittedly down on himself.

He retreated to Arizona to deal with some issues -- specifically, whether he wished to continue with a career in professional baseball.

"There was a lot of stuff going on that I had to figure out," Duffy said. "I woke up one day and decided, 'Yeah, this is what I want to do.'"

Duffy returned to the organization after a month's absence. He worked back into playing shape in Florida and accepted his assignment to Indianapolis, where he began to enjoy success both on the plate and on the basepaths.

He was recalled to the Pirates on July 31 and placed into the starting lineup as the leadoff hitter Aug. 1.

He struggled for a week-plus until finding his stride in mid-August. Since Aug. 11, he has batted .300, stolen 15 bases and scored 21 runs.

The Pirates are now 12-3 in games in which Duffy successfully steals a base. They are 18-5 when he scores a run.

Oh, and his Gold Glove-caliber defense has left nothing to be desired.

"As we move forward, he's a valuable, valuable guy," Tracy said.

Duffy downplayed his importance to the Pirates, who escaped last place with their 27th victory in 51 games since the All-Star break.

"I'm just doing what any leadoff hitter is supposed to do, what all the good center fielders do every day," Duffy said. "It's just part of the game."

Additional Information:

Last game: Did not play Thursday vs. Chicago Sanchez has 172 hits in 500 at bats, including 46 doubles (tied for second in the Major Leagues), 2 triples and 6 home runs. He has 73 RBI. Next game: Friday, vs. Reds.
NL batting title race
(Through Sept. 6)

.344, F. Sanchez, Pgh
.334, M. Cabrera, Fla
.329, M. Holliday, Col
.322, A. Pujols, StL
.322, G. Atkins, Col
Note: Bill Madlock was the last Pirates player to win a batting title. He won in 1983, with a .323 average.

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