McLeary gem helps Bucs top Reds

McLeary gem helps Bucs top Reds

PITTSBURGH -- The rain-soaked crowd of 35,514 on hand Saturday night at PNC Park was hoping to see Freddy Sanchez lock up the batting title on "Freddy Sanchez All-Star Bobblehead Night."

That didn't happen, but thanks to an outstanding performance by starting pitcher Marty McLeary and a much-needed clutch hit, the Bucs were able to snap an eight-game slide by downing the Cincinnati Reds, 3-0.

As was the case the night before, most fans held up, "Go Freddy Go" placards each time Sanchez came to the plate. Unlike Friday night, Sanchez wasn't able give the crowd the hits that they wanted.

Sanchez, who is attempting to become the first Pirates batting champion since Bill Madlock in 1983, went 0-for-4 to drop his season average to .343. He holds a three-point lead in the batting race over Florida's Miguel Cabrera with one game to go.

Sanchez would have an outstanding chance of winning the batting title if he does not play Sunday in the finale. Cabrera would have to go 3-for-4 on Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies to tie Sanchez for the batting lead, and 4-for-4 or better to pass him.

However, Pirates manager Jim Tracy said that sitting Sanchez on Sunday is not an option that he will consider.

"Freddy is not interested in backing into anything. He's going to play," said Tracy. "He holds a very strong advantage from the standpoint that if he can get a base hit he probably forces that other guy to get three or four.

"So you send him out there and you give him the opportunity to become the 2006 National League batting champion. I'm sure that's the way he'd want to do it and that's the way we're going to do it."

Because the Marlins will begin their finale game 30 minutes earlier in the Pirates, Tracy will be able to keep an eye on Cabrera's progress and decide when it will be the right time to pull Sanchez from the Bucs' finale.

"We will monitor the at-bats between Florida and Pittsburgh," said Tracy. "We will keep a very close eye on it."

Sanchez was unavailable for comment.

McLeary, a 31-year-old rookie making his second career big-league start, made certain that the Pirates wouldn't need much production from their slumping offense.

McLeary (2-0) scattered five hits and two walks over seven scoreless innings to lead Pittsburgh to its first win since Sept. 20. He retired each of the first nine batters he faced and did not allow a Cincinnati baserunner to get beyond second base.

"He pitched terrific," said Tracy. "He was throwing strikes with all of his pitches and locating them extremely well.

"Marty McLeary has represented himself extremely well with the opportunities that he's gotten during the month of September."

By allowing only one run and nine hits over nine innings in his two starts with the Pirates, McLeary has likely put himself in the mix for an opportunity to earn a spot in the starting rotation next spring.

"That's all I tried to do," McLeary said. "They gave me the ball. I'm just going to try to go out there and make the decision hard for them. We'll see what happens."

After being held to two runs in 28 innings over the previous three games, the Pirates finally got the clutch hit that they had been desperately looking for in the sixth inning Saturday. With the bases loaded, one out and the Pirates clinging to a 1-0 lead, Jose Bautista drilled a single to center field off Reds starter Bronson Arroyo to knock in two runs and provide McLeary with a little breathing room.

"I was just looking for a pitch up in the zone, trying to stay away from a double play and maybe get a sac fly to get a run in," Bautista said. "It worked out perfect that the ball fell in and we got two runs instead of just one."

It was the kind of big hit that the Pirates had been sorely lacking during their eight-game losing streak.

"Over the course of the last several series we've played, in some of the games that we've gotten beat, it's that hit right there that would have changed several of the games that we've played," said Tracy.

Salomon Torres pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 11th save. Torres has appeared in 93 games, one shy of the franchise record set by Kent Tekulve in 1979.

Torres doesn't plan to lobby Tracy for a token appearance Sunday.

"I want to get in there if there is a situation to save," said Torres. "Whatever the manager wants me to do, when he calls my name that's when I'm going to get into the game. It's up to him.

"I just want to be able to help the team. If we're winning, I'm going to be there. If it doesn't happen, there's always next year."

Arroyo (14-11), a former Pirates hurler who was critical of the Pittsburgh lineup after losing to the Bucs earlier this season, allowed three runs on seven hits and three walks in seven innings.

The crowd of 35,514 at PNC Park on Saturday pushed the Bucs' home season attendance to 1,836,545. It is the fifth-largest attendance total in club history.

Ed Eagle is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.