Pirates 9, Twins 1

James McDonald gave the Pittsburgh Pirates a superb start on

Thursday night.

He’s been doing that all season.

The fact he finished the game? That was a first.

McDonald pitched his first career complete game, Garrett Jones

hit one of Pittsburgh’s three home runs and the Pirates won for the

fourth time in five games, 9-1 over the Minnesota Twins.

McDonald (6-3) continued his breakthrough season by allowing one

run, six hits and no walks with five strikeouts, lowering his ERA

to 2.19. He has allowed one run or fewer in nine of his 14 starts

this season.

”He was lights-out today,” said Pittsburgh third baseman Pedro

Alvarez, who homered. ”He’s been pretty good all year, but when

his breaking pitch is working the way it was today for strikes and

for chase, and he’s locating his fastball the way he was, he’s one

of the best out there. And today’s performance is as good a

performance as you’ll have from any pitcher.”

McDonald was 18-20 in 95 career starts heading into this season

and is now among the NL leaders in ERA. He credited the additions

of two veterans – pitcher A.J. Burnett and catcher Rod Barajas – to

the Pittsburgh clubhouse this season for helping him finally

harness his long-tantalizing potential.

It was after his most recent start – one in which he allowed one

run but lasted only six innings – that Barajas sat him down.

”He told me I need to be that guy who wants seven to nine

innings every night out,” McDonald said. ”Tonight after the

seventh, that just went through my brain the whole time, and I

really wanted that.

”I could see he really wanted me to finish the game, all my

teammates wanted me to finish the game – and I finally believed in

myself I could finish the game.”

It was the Pirates’ first complete game this season.

Jones had an RBI single in the first inning and a two-run homer

that made it 8-1 in the seventh. Alvarez added a shot that traveled

an estimated 435 feet to right-center two batters later. Barajas

had a two-run homer in the sixth.

Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen came up a home run short of the

cycle, scoring two runs and driving in three.

The surging Pirates have won seven of their past eight series

and four consecutive series at home. They moved within two games of

first-place Cincinnati in the NL Central.

Justin Morneau had two hits for the Twins, who have lost six of

eight.

Winners of 10 of its past 12 at home, Pittsburgh rebounded from

a loss Wednesday by pounding out 12 hits. Jones, Alvarez and Alex

Presley all had two.

With two outs in the first, McCutchen tripled to right-center

just past the diving Ben Revere. He scored when Jones followed with

an infield single off Minnesota starter Liam Hendriks.

”I feel prepared; I’m throwing well in warmups then I get out

to the game and something changes,” Hendriks said. ”I give up a

couple of runs before I get in that groove and get my

aggressiveness going.”

An inning later, McCutchen came up with the bases loaded and two

outs and hit a similar hard, deep liner. This time, he pulled it to

left for a three-run double.

Barajas snapped an 0-for-13 slump with his seventh homer that

followed Alvarez’s leadoff single in the sixth.

That prompted Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire to lift Hendriks

(0-4), who remained winless in 10 career starts. Hendriks was

charged with six runs – three earned – and eight hits. He did not

walk a batter and had three strikeouts.

”As the story goes,” Gardenhire said, ”if you don’t pitch,

you get whacked.”

”I know we didn’t make a play behind him there but there were

rockets flying everywhere,” Gardenhire added.

Jones, a former Twin, homered for the first time since June 3

after McCutchen singled to lead off the seventh. Alvarez’s homer

was his fifth in his past five games and team-high 13th this

season.

Minnesota got its run in the fourth when Ryan Doumit’s two-out

single scored Trevor Plouffe.

But that was the only time they could get to McDonald.

”Just from last year to this year, it’s almost like night and

day,” Jones said of McDonald. ”He’s learned to harness his stuff

and trust his stuff – and he’s got great stuff. .. It’s impressive

to watch the way he’s going after hitters and being aggressive and

being confident.”

Notes: LHP Brian Duensing will start for the Twins on Saturday

in Cincinnati. It will be his first start of the season after 30

relief appearances. He has 50 starts in his four-year career. …

Minnesota C Joe Mauer (bruised right quad) was not in the lineup

for the third straight game, although Gardenhire said he was

available to pinch-hit. … Morneau stole second base in the sixth,

his first since 2007. … Pittsburgh hosts Detroit to conclude its

interleague play this weekend. The Tigers took two of three from

the Pirates in Detroit last month. … The Twins travel to

Cincinnati, where RHP Nick Blackburn (3-4, 7.48) faces the Reds’

Homer Bailey (5-4, 4.03) in the opener Friday.