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Pirates get in gear with clutch hitting



Published: Sun, April 14, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Brian Giles, Aramis Ramirez and Craig Wilson each had timely hits.

By TOM WILLIAMS

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- A three-game losing streak that threatened to wipe out the Pirates' surprising start to the 2002 season came to an end Saturday when Brian Giles, Aramis Ramirez and Craig Wilson came through in the clutch.

The Bucs' recent lack of clutch hitting ended when Giles opened the seventh inning of a 1-1 game against the Chicago Cubs with a double.

Ramirez followed with a single that broke the tie, then scored the game-winning run on Craig Wilson's single against Cubs starter Matt Clement.

"I believe our offense will get it going real soon," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Sometimes a game like this can jump start a team."

After missing the first week of the season with a pulled muscle in his right side, Giles had two hits against Clement to raise his batting average 80 points (.294).

"Brian's starting to pick it up," McClendon said. "He's the type of guy who can carry a team for seven-to-10 games. It's up to the others to climb on his back and help pick it up."

Early lead: Backup catcher Keith Osik's first hit of the season put the Pirates ahead, 1-0, in the third inning.

Osik's 415-foot homer over the left-center field fence was also the Pirates' first hit against Clement, who stuck out seven of the first nine batters he faced.

"I didn't know for sure it was going out because that's the deepest part of the ballpark and the ball didn't seem to carry much here last year," Osik said.

Clement, who was traded to the Cubs from the Marlins on March 27, was strong in his second start with his new team, striking out a career-high 12 batters.

"It was a tough loss after you go out there and throw your best stuff," said Clement, who lost to the Pirates 6-1 last weekend at Wrigley Field.

"He had great stuff," Baylor said. "To lose with that kind of stuff is unfair. We just can't see to put it together with good pitching and good hitting in the same day."

The Pirates (6-4) had the same problem in their three home games this week.

Strong pitching: Two weeks into the season following one with 100 losses, the Pirates' six wins are a pleasant surprise.

The key to the .600 start has been the unheralded starting pitching as all 10 starters have received decisions.

Although those five pitchers (Fogg, Ron Villone, Kip Wells, Dave Williams and Jimmy Anderson) have given up 11 homers, all have been solo shots.

In the four home games from Monday through Friday, the Bucs had gone 3-for-21 with runners in scoring position. Two of those hits came in Friday's 7-3 loss to the Cubs, but neither produced a run.

Even with the clutch hits by Ramirez and Giles, the Pirates are still batting just .213 with runners in scoring position (16-for-75).

So what's working? Pitching and defense. In the first 10 games, the Pirates committed just three errors compared to 11 last year in the same span.

And the pitching staff's earned-run average has dropped to 3.24.




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