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Pirates Pirates prevail in 15th; Wild pitch ends another marathon vs. Indians

Sunday, June 22, 2003

By Bob Smizik, Post-Gazette Columnist

The much-maligned concept of interleague play produced a small-scale classic last night at PNC Park as two teams that were a combined 23 games under .500 dueled spectacularly into extra innings in front of a sellout crowd with the Pirates finally prevailing over the Cleveland Indians, 7-6.

Abraham Nunez celebrates with teammates at home plate after scoring on a wild pitch in the bottom of the 15th inning against the Indians last night. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

It was the first sellout of the season at PNC Park and it was produced without benefit of fireworks or bobbleheads. The contest was just a good old-fashioned rivalry between two cities that don't like each other and two teams scratching for respectability.

The crowd of 36,856 was predominantly in favor of the Pirates, but had a thick Cleveland flavoring and produced the unusual effect of plays by both teams being cheered like they had been performed by the home team.

The victory was the Pirates sixth in seven games and breathed life into a season that little more that a week ago, with the Pirates 14 games under .500, had been void of hope

In the end, the most unlikeliest of heroes carried the night for the Pirates in a game that lasted 15 innings and 4 hours, 58 minutes.

While his teammates could do nothing through the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th, it remained for the notoriously light-hitting Abraham Nunez to provide the offensive spark. And with the bullpen depleted, it remained for journeyman Julian Tavarez to brilliantly carry the load.

 
 
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A day-by-day look at the 1903 Pirates, who won the National League pennant and played in the first World Series.

June 22, 1903

The Pirates (39-17) and Beaneaters (20-32) were rained out in Boston.

The New York Giants (36-17) split a doubleheader against the third-place Chicago Cubs (36-20) and remained in second place in the National League.

The Pirates' next series was against the Phillies (15-36) in Philadelphia. The Pirates were 6-1 against Philadelphia for the season.


-- By Randy Stoernell

   
 

Nunez, who broke an 0-for-14 slump earlier in the game, led off the 15th with a scorching shot down the right-field line for a triple.

"I knew I had to go all out," Nunez said. "They were playing me so far in right center, I thought I could get a triple."

Two batters later, after an intentional walk to Kenny Lofton, Nunez ran home with the winning run on a wild pitch by loser Dan Miceli (1-1).

It's doubtful the game would have got that far without Tavarez, who pitched five hitless innings from the 10th through the 14th. He walked three and had a large dose of luck to go with his skill.

In the 13th, Tavarez walked two with one out. The runners advanced to second and third on an infield out. Up came Casey Blake to rifle a shot up the middle that looked like it would score two runs.

"I never saw it," Tavarez said.

It smacked off the meat part of his leg and caromed almost perfectly toward first baseman Craig Wilson. Wilson picked the ball up and stepped on the base for the final out.

"Unbelievable," said Tavarez. "I said, 'I guess I get my time on ESPN tonight.' "

Tavarez came back to retire the Indians in order in the 14th.

"I can't lie to you," he said. "I wasn't strong at the end. I was hungry to win, but I wasn't strong."

Scott Sauerbeck (2-4) faced three batters in the 15th to get the victory.

The Pirates, who trailed 3-0 and 5-1, tied the game in the eighth on a Reggie Sanders home run, but fell behind in the top of the ninth when Mike Williams gave up a run-scoring single to Milton Bradley with two outs.

When Cleveland closer Danys Baez retired Kendall and Brian Giles to open the bottom half of the ninth, the Pirates seemed doomed. But Aramis Ramirez, who earlier had doubled and homered, lashed another double to put the tying run on second base.

He should have stayed there. But first shortstop John McDonald bobbled Sanders routine grounder to keep the inning alive and move Ramirez to third and then third baseball Blake misplayed Matt Stairs bouncer to allow the tying run to score.

The game began on the sourest of notes for the Pirates as their would-be ace Kris Benson botched another start. Benson gave up three runs in the first inning and two more in the fifth. The performance left Benson with a 10.13 earned run average in his past four starts.

Not much else went wrong for the Pirates as the bullpen shut down the Indians until the ninth and the rest of the team provided an abundance of heroics.

No one more than Giles, whose seventh-inning RBI single moved the Pirates to within a run of the lead. But that was a footnote to his major accomplishment.

Giles came up with the defensive play of the game -- if not the Pirates season -- in the eighth inning. With a runner on second, and Cleveland leading by a run, Giles ran up the left-field wall and reached well into the stands to take a home run away from Brandon Phillips.

With the lead preserved, it was time for Sanders to step into the hero's role. Facing David Riske, who blew a called third strike past Ramirez to end the seventh, Sanders drove the first pitch toward the left-field seats. In a case of history almost repeating itself, Crisp ran hard into the left-field wall and reached for the ball. For a second it looked like he might have caught it and the crowd held its breath. But second base umpire Greg Gibson, well into the outfield, broke the suspense by signaling home run.

The Indians got to Benson quickly. Their first four batters reached base safely on three singles and a walk to produce two runs and a sacrifice fly brought home the third.

Benson looked more like his old self during the next three innings, facing the minimum of nine batters. But with two out in the fifth, Blake singled and Jody Gerut and Bradley followed with booming doubles to deep center and right-center to produce two runs.

It was the second consecutive 15 inning game between the teams, which hadn't happened since San Francisco and Florida did it on June 18 and 19, 1996.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1468.

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