The Pittsburgh Pirates have been a cellar-dwelling team for as long as most fans remember. But often, in September, they have their moment of glory by taking three games from a division leading team in PNC Park.

This is what may be happening now, against the Atlanta Braves. A win tonight would result in a sweep. Even a loss would not change the fact that the Pirates have already clinched the three game series.

In 2006, the Pirates swept the New York Mets in three games at home, thereby delaying their clinching of the division. Two of the winners were lefties Paul Maholm and Zach Duke. In the third game, Tom Gorzelanny, also a southpaw, started, but was rescued by a “committee” of  relievers, with closer Matt Capps getting the win.

Last year, the Bucs took three out of four at home from the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. Paul Maholm, Dan McCutchen, and Zach Duke all pitched good games, but only Duke got a win; the other two were “no decisions” for the two starters and split 1-1.

The remaining game was pitched by a committee, with Jeff Karstens being lifted after three innings, Donnie Veal getting the win in a 3-1 game, and three more relievers protecting the lead.

On the other side was a reliever named James McDonald (traded by the Dodgers to the Pirates in July 2010 as partial consideration for reliever Octavio Dotel).

Monday night, Brian Burres put up one of his better starts against the Braves, giving up only one run in six innings (This is his third quality start, giving up a total of four runs in nineteen innings, all at home.). Even the Pirates were good enough to score three runs off Tommy Hanson, resulting in a win.

Last night, James McDonald pitched seven scoreless innings, including finding his way out of a couple of jams. Veteran Tim Hudson put up only six blank frames, and then came apart in the seventh, to the tune of five runs, leading to a 5-0 victory for the home team.

In his best three (home) games, against the Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins, and Atlanta Braves, McDonald has given up one run in twenty innings. But his five inning, five-run start against the Mets, though technically in PNC Park, was of “away” game quality, and his four away games have been (mostly) this bad.

The last game of the current series features Zach Duke, the hero of the previous two series. Paul Maholm will open the next one.

In the two earlier years, the losses to the Pirates were just speed bumps on the way to the division leadership for the Mets and the Dodgers. This year, though, the impact on Atlanta may be more meaningful.

They’ve already lost their division lead as a result of the past two losses. Another loss tonight could push them down into a tie for the wild card if San Francisco wins.



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