Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Pirates on best start since 1983

The Associated Press

Pokey Reese tags out Elmer Dessens between first and second on a fielders choice.
(AP photos)
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        PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Pirates don't resemble the team that lost 100 games last season, one that hasn't had a winning record in 10 years. That's what they were hoping.

        Ron Villone extended Pittsburgh's unexpectedly good run of early pitching with 7 1-3 shutout innings and the Pirates, off to their best start since 1983, beat the Reds 1-0 Monday.

        Brian Giles' first hit of the season, a one-out double in the sixth off Elmer Dessens (0-2), created the only run as the Pirates (5-1) won their fifth in a row overall — and their first home opener since 1993.

        “It's too early to get too excited, but we read how we were supposed to be the worst team in baseball, about how bad our pitching was supposed to be,” reliever Mike Williams said. “We were laughing at some of the things that were written. It's fun coming to play here now, it's loose and relaxed and guys are confident.”

A giant American flag is displayed during the pre-game activities for the Pirates home opener.
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        Giles, who sat out the first week of the season with a strained rib cage muscle, doubled with one out, moved up on Dessens' balk and scored on Aramis Ramirez's sacrifice fly to the base of the center field wall.

        “I had to do something, because I was getting tired of hearing about how they didn't need me,” Giles said.

        Villone (1-1) gave up four hits and struck out three in 7 1-3 innings to end a six-game losing streak dating to Aug. 26, when he beat Pittsburgh while pitching for Houston.

        The Pirates' 5.05 ERA was the second-worst in the NL during their 100-loss season a year ago, but they have a 2.04 ERA in their first six games. They have allowed only 19 hits in their last four games, working 19 consecutive scoreless innings and giving up only one run in their last 27 innings.

        “I can see a big difference in this club,” Villone said. “Guys are more confident, and they're pushing each other; there was a lot of competition among the starting pitchers during spring training. This team is playing with a lot of energy, and I hope we keep it up.”

        After Villone was lifted, Mike Fetters came on to get Brady Clark to ground into a double play to end the eighth before Williams finished up in the ninth for his fourth save in as many opportunities.

        Since Villone lost to the Mets 6-2 on opening day, every Pirates starter has won, never once allowing more than one run in any inning — a stretch of 45 innings in which Pirates pitching has yielded only six runs.

        “They did a good job here of going out and getting some veteran guys — Villone, Mike Fetters, Brian Boehringer, getting Mike Williams back — and we're not just throwing young guys out there,” catcher Jason Kendall said. “We've got guys who have been there and done it before.”

        Despite having 6,000 unsold tickets as of Friday, pleasant weather and a strong walkup sale helped the Pirates draw a sellout crowd of 36,402. The Pirates feared a mammoth highway reconstruction project in downtown Pittsburgh would hold down the crowd.

        Notes: The Pirates started 5-1 on the road in 1983, then returned home to lose two in a row. ... Larkin and OF Ruben Mateo (head cold) were late scratches from the Reds' lineup. Mateo was called up to replace the injured Griffey. ... The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by seven people who lost family members on United Flight 93 that crashed near Pittsburgh on Sept. 11. ... The Pirates were 3-3 after six games last season. ... Until Monday, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in 1993 was the last Pirates starter to win a home opener. ... Kendall is hitless in 15 at-bats, dropping his average to .087.


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