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Bucs' bats fail in McKnight's debut

Joe Rutter
| Friday, Aug. 3, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO - The first trek down McKnight Road didn't take the Pirates to their desired destination Thursday afternoon.

But it wasn't Tony McKnight's debut with the Pirates that was the problem in a 3-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants.

'We're not swinging the bats very well right now,' manager Lloyd McClendon said after the Pirates were held to three singles as the Giants completed a three-game series sweep at Pacific Bell Park. 'We've got to find some offense some place. Our pitching has been OK, but we're not swinging as well as we know we can.'

On a day when McKnight gave the Pirates a quality start, his teammates were held without an extra-base hit for the first time in 61 games. Giants starter Kirk Rueter (11-7) followed in Jason Schmidt's footsteps by holding the Pirates to one hit in seven innings. Tim Worrell and Rob Nen completed the shutout, with Nen collecting his 32nd save.

In the final 20 innings of the series, the Pirates' offense consisted of one run - a solo homer by Jason Kendall on Wednesday night - and five hits.

Kevin Young's second-inning single was the only hit the Pirates totaled until the eighth when Keith Osik and Adam Hyzdu had back-to-back singles.

Fittingly, Pat Meares grounded into a double play to end the threat, and Nen zipped through the ninth to wrap up the efficient 2-hour, 6-minute game.

'That's part of the game,' McClendon said. 'Certainly, there are ups and downs over the course of the year. Right now, our situation is magnified.'

McClendon was referring to the unsettled situation in right field. The Pirates traded John Vander Wal to the Giants on Monday in return for 29-year-old Armando Rios. But it was learned yesterday that Rios will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, robbing the Pirates of another sorely needed run producer.

'When you lose guys you go to battle with for most of the year, it's going to be a blow to you one way or another,' Young said. 'It doesn't make it any better that the starting right fielder who just got here goes down with an injured knee and is out for the season. Add all those things up and it comes out as a lot of negatives. But we're professionals, and we've got to bounce back.'

The Pirates will try to bounce back from a loss that dropped them 25 games below .500 for the first time this season. One positive is that they play their next three games at cozy Coors Field, which is the best setting for a team trying to break out of a batting slump.

Another positive is that McKnight gave a glimpse of his potential in his first start since being acquired from the Houston Astros. Five days earlier, McKnight held the Pirates to two runs in seven innings for his first victory of the year.

Yesterday, he shut out the Barry Bonds-less Giants until the sixth when Marvin Benard hit a leadoff homer and Calvin Murray and Jeff Kent hit doubles for a 2-0 lead. McKnight left in the seventh with the bases loaded and nobody out. Mike Lincoln relieved and kept the damage to just one unearned run that was charged to McKnight.

'I had some jitters. It was like my first time out there in some ways,' said McKnight, who struck out three batters and walked two, both intentionally. 'Being on a new team, you want to make a good impression. I felt good early on, but I didn't finish like I wanted to. Overall, I'll take it for a first start.'

So will McClendon.

'He showed he knows how to pitch,' McClendon said. 'I'm sure he was nervous, but I thought he did a pretty darn good job.'

McKnight said he was overwhelmed by the trade and that he didn't get a chance to do his customary sideline session between starts. But he wasn't fazed in the first inning when Marvin Benard hit a leadoff single and then stole second.

Murray popped up a bunt attempt, Osik caught Benard trying to steal third, and McKnight struck out Vander Wal, who was starting in place of Bonds.

'I had a little extra adrenaline going,' McKnight said. 'It wasn't like my major-league debut, but there were butterflies.'

McKnight allowed singles in the third and fifth innings before the Giants broke through in the sixth. Rueter's second single of the game opened the seventh. An error by shortstop Jack Wilson and a single by Murray loaded the bases.

On a 2-0 count to Vander Wal, McClendon replaced McKnight with Lincoln.

'I thought he was tired at that point,' McClendon said. 'He was starting to force his pitches a little bit, and I didn't want things to get out of hand.'

It didn't, as the Giants pushed just one more run across, on Kent's sacrifice fly.

Rueter, on the other hand, faced the minimum number of batters for six innings and was one over through seven.

'He's a winner, just look at his career numbers,' McClendon said. 'He's not a fluke.'

To emphasize his point, McClendon thumbed through a media guide and discovered that Rueter, with his 92-55 record, has the third best winning percentage among left-handers since 1980.

'He's not hard to figure out sometimes, he's hard to figure out all the time,' McClendon said. 'He's a pretty good pitcher.'

And the Pirates, right now, are reeling from a flurry of deadline deals and a devastating injury to another player.

'We all have to pull together,' McClendon said. 'I have to manage better. The coaches have to coach better. The players have to play better. We don't have time for excuses. We can't lean on them. We have to keep plugging away and move forward.'

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