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Pirates Tony McKnight, Aramis Ramirez fuel 3-1 win against Reds

Saturday, September 08, 2001

By Robert Dvorchak, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Some of the glimpses of the future that Manager Lloyd McClendon talks about were on display in the Pirates' 3-1 win against the Cincinnati Reds last night at PNC Park.

Reds center fielder Ken Griffey hangs on, but barely, to a ball hit by Jack Wilson. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette)

Tony McKnight, who began the year in Class AAA, pitched into the sixth inning for the 13th time in his 17 major-league starts and allowed just one run despite feeling faint and weak from a severe case of sinus congestion.

Aramis Ramirez, in his first full year in the big leagues, continued his assault on Reds pitching with a tying single.

And Gary Matthews Jr., a pickup from the Chicago Cubs off the waiver wire, made a highlight reel catch with a perfectly timed leap against the wall in center to preserve a shaky lead. He also broke an 0-for-17 slide with two hits and scored a run.

To top it off, the Reds contributed with a gift run in the seventh, allowing Abraham Nunez to score without the benefit of a hit. After a walk, Nunez stole his eighth base and kept running because of two errors on the play, the 16th time in 20 games the Reds have committed at least one error.

"We have young talent that's good, and we have to continue to develop them and nourish them and mix them in with the veteran players we have," McClendon said. "Hopefully, we can get to the point where we can jell, add a piece here and there and become competitive."

The Reds were up, 1-0, in the sixth when Matthews singled and Brian Giles walked with nobody out. Ramirez singled back through the middle for his 99th RBI.

 
 
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Ramirez, who came into the game with a .381 average with runners in scoring position, has 12 RBIs in his past 12 games. It was also the 15th RBI against the Reds this year for Ramirez, who has gone 23 for 50 (.460) with 15 runs, 4 doubles and 5 home runs in his past 12 games.

"I play to win. It doesn't matter if we're out of the race," Ramirez said.

And when he gets that next RBI?

"It's a goal of every position player to have 100 RBIs in a season," he said.

Added McClendon: "He's become a special player. If he continues to work hard and doesn't get satisfied, he can be an elite third baseman in this league. He's got the whole package. He should have many great years ahead of him."

After Ramirez tied the score, the Pirates had an opportunity to break the game open when Kendall was hit by a pitch to load the bases with nobody out, the 19th time he has been hit this year.

But they only got one more run out of it when Kevin Young grounded into a double play. It turned out to be the winning run.

McKnight (3-3) worked 6 2/3 innings, giving up six hits and striking out six. He did not walk a batter but has shown a propensity to allow baserunners. He had allowed a runner to reach base in 12 consecutive innings before he retired the side in order in the sixth. In his seven starts with the Pirates, at least one batter has reached against him in 36 of the 47 innings he has pitched.

"He doesn't back down in big situations. I think he thrives on them," McClendon said. "He battled, gave us everything he had, with all the strength that he had. He did enough to get by. The impressive thing is, even though he didn't have his best stuff, he still made pitches. He pitched sick tonight. He was under the weather."

Matthews got a rousing ovation from the crowd of 33,800 and saved McKnight's lead with the catch of day in the seventh.

Pinch-hitter Robin Jennings sent a towering drive to the wall in center. Matthews ran back to the wall, then leaped as high as he could to snare it at the height of his jump.

"I just tried to time it," Matthews said. "I had a rough stretch in the last series. It's nice to get back on track."

Then the Pirates got a gift on a comedy of errors. With Nunez running, catcher Corky Miller's throw to second skipped into center field. As Nunez ran to third, Ken Griffey Jr. casually threw the ball back to the infield, but Sean Casey failed to run to the mound as the cutoff man. The throw dribbled toward home plate, which was left uncovered because Miller had drifted toward third to retrieve his catcher's mask. Nunez came home with the third run.

"That's one of those fluke plays," McClendon said. "If it happens to the visitors, you cheer and you're happy. If it happened to us, we probably get booed out of the stadium. It's just one of those things."

The Reds got their run off McKnight in the third on a wild pitch. Todd Walker had a leadoff singled and dashed to third on Dmitri Young's base hit to right. Walker scored when a McKnight pitch bounced in the dirt to the backstop.

The Pirates had an opportunity in the fifth after Kevin Young sliced a double into the right-field corner. With some alert baserunning, Young advanced on a ground-ball out to the left side. With the infield up, Jack Wilson bounced back to the pitcher as Young held. After McKnight walked on a full count, Chad Hermansen struck out to strand to runners.

Scott Sauerbeck and Omar Olivares checked the Reds on one hit to preserve the win. Olivares notched his fourth career save and first since June 30, 1994, against Colorado, when he was pitching for the Cardinals.

"I just had a gut feeling about Ollie tonight," McClendon said. "This is an opportunity to see what other guys can do [in the closer's role]."

For the third game in a row, there were no home runs hit, the longest stretch since PNC Park opened.

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