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Pirates thwart Twins, 7-2

By LaVelle E. Neal III, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

PITTSBURGH — You look at the Pittsburgh Pirates, see they are last in the majors in runs scored and it’s easy to wonder how they are over .500. Opponents said the same thing about the 2002 Minnesota Twins when they began winning division titles.

The Pirates are proof, just like that Twins team, that a team can win with good pitching and an opportunistic offense.

It sure was enough to beat the Twins on Tuesday. Pittsburgh was aggressive on the basepaths, took advantage of a mistake, popped a couple over the fence — including one that really wasn’t a home run — and whipped the Twins 7-2 to open a three-game series at PNC Park.

Josh Harrison, Andrew McCutchen and Clint Barmes each had three hits, with Harrison and McCutchen hitting home runs. One of those round-trippers shouldn’t have been.

Harrison was awarded a home run in the first inning after his drive appeared to land just beyond Josh Willingham’s reach as he jumped at the wall, but replays showed the ball hit the wall, then hit Willingham before going over the fence. Willingham said he didn’t feel the ball hit him.

“It didn’t hit me hard enough, I guess,” Willingham said, “because I hit the wall, too.”

According to Rule 6.09 (g): “Any bounding fair ball is deflected by the fielder into the stands, or over or under a fence in fair or foul territory, in which case the batter and all runners shall be entitled to advance two bases.”

It happened in close quarters, so the Twins couldn’t see what actually happened and didn’t know until after the game.

“Believe me, I would have been out there,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

It wasn’t the difference in the game. The Pirates made sure of that as the night went on.

Pittsburgh extended that 1-0 lead to 4-0 in the middle innings with their legs. They stole three bases in the fifth inning, nabbing two on one play after Harrison got a huge jump off second and slid in easily at third on the front end of a double steal. Bases are stolen off the pitcher in most cases, and Twins lefthander Scott Diamond (5-3) failed to keep Harrison honest.

“It’s in the reports that they run, that if you give it to them, they will,” Gardenhire said. “Everybody’s screaming, ‘You’ve got to check the runner at second base.’ Just not a good one by Scottie there. He picks his leg up and they’re running before he even throws the ball home, and that’s just not a good job by the pitcher.”

Harrison scored on a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.

“I think with Harrison on second base, that’s a terrible job on my part,” said Diamond, who has lost consecutive starts for the first time since being called up last month. “I’ve gotta do a better job of stopping his feet. With that, I tried a no-look and he just read it the whole way.”

Pedro Alvarez singled in the sixth and was running on the pitch when Barmes doubled to right-center, allowing Alvarez to score for a 3-0 lead. Barmes then advanced to third on a wild pitch by reliever Alex Burnett that bounced in the dirt and deflected off catcher Ryan Doumit’s mask. Barmes, of course, scored on a groundout to make it 4-0.

Denard Span provided the Twins offense with a two-run homer in the seventh. Pittsburgh promptly added three in the bottom of the inning, two on McCutchen’s two-run homer.

“They play the game hard and they respect the game and they showed that tonight,” Gardenhire said. “They got after the game really well. They outplayed us and they have been doing really well.”

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