Lieber downs former team again
For the second consecutive Sunday, the Pirates almost didn’t have to face former teammate Jon Lieber. This time, the weather didn’t cooperate.
Sure, it poured enough to delay the game three times for a combined 3 hours, 53 minutes. But when Lieber is on the mound, the best antidote is a rainout, and the Pirates couldn’t get that lucky yesterday.
Lieber kept his perfect record against the Pirates intact, pitching an abbreviated five-inning stint that was just long enough to secure the win in the Cubs’ 5-1 rain-shortened victory at PNC Park.
The game was called in the bottom of the eighth after a 41-minute wait, the third such delay.
“To lose in this fashion is frustrating,” Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said after watching his team lose for the fourth time in the past five games.
The game was delayed 1:39 at the outset and for 93 more minutes with one out in the bottom of the fifth. The interruptions were so lengthy that the Pirates managed to show the entire third game of the 1979 playoffs against the Cincinnati Reds on the Jumbotron.
“It was a tough day,” McClendon said. “But I’m sure it wasn’t tough on the Cubs because they won.”
Lieber (2-0) returned from the second delay, got the requisite two outs needed for a victory, then headed to the bench.
“I told (manager Don Baylor) I’d like to go back out, but I didn’t know for how long,” Lieber said.
It turned out to be long enough. The Pirates trailed 4-1 at the time and got only one more hit the rest of the way.
Donovan Osborne and Joe Borowski finshed for the Cubs.
In holding the Pirates to one run and four hits, Lieber improved his record against the Pirates to 7-0 in 10 games. His ERA against them is a sparkling 2.64.
“I have no idea why that is,” Lieber said. “I don’t know what to say. I guess I’m lucky. I never take them for granted. I don’t take anybody for granted. I’ve played with a lot of these guys, and I know how aggressive they are.”
Perhaps too aggressive against Lieber, who is one of the game’s quickest workers.
“He’s always around the plate, and he works fast,” Pirates first baseman Kevin Young said. “Those things allow him to be successful. He was that way even when he was here.”
Which is one reason why the Pirates didn’t fret too much April 7 when the 32-year-old right-hander’s scheduled start against them at Wrigley Field was washed out.
All it did, though, was merely postpone the inevitable.
On the other hand, Lieber doesn’t pick on his ex-teammates exclusively. He did craft a breakthrough season in 2001, going 20-6 with a 3.80 ERA.
“He’s always been one of my favorites,” McClendon said.
McClendon didn’t want to see Lieber get away when the Pirates traded him before the 1999 season, getting outfielder Brant Brown in a trade that goes down as one of the worst in the Cam Bonifay regime.
“I thought he had a chance to be a 20-game winner,” McClendon said. “He was a very competitive pitcher for us.”
Still, Lieber went 19-28 in his final two seasons with the Pirates, losing 14 games each year.
“We were still a young team and not that good,” McClendon said. “I always thought if he got an offense behind him, he could win games.”
Lieber needed all of 57 pitches, only 15 of which were balls, to complete his five innings yesterday.
That Lieber returned from the lengthy second delay to get his final two outs was hardly a surprise. Last year, he came back from a 1:37 delay in the fourth inning of a May 24 game against the Cincinnati Reds to complete a 78-pitch, one-hit shutout.
“I just did a lot of walking around so I could stay loose,” said Lieber, who wore heat packs on his right arm during the delay yesterday.
Lieber’s start was a contrast to the performance given by Pirates starter Ron Villone (1-2).
Making his first start since pitching 7 1 / 3 shutout innings in the home-opener, Villone lasted only three innings. The Cubs touched him for four runs in the third, and Villone didn’t return.
“He just didn’t have his stuff,” McClendon said. “Those things happen.”
The damage would have been greater if right fielder Armando Rios hadn’t thrown out Mario Encarnacion at the plate to end the second.
The Cubs, however, bounced back with four runs in their next at-bat.
Shortstop Alex Gonzalez and second baseman Mark Bellhorn drove in two runs each, as the Cubs sent nine batters to the plate.
The Pirates scored their only run off Lieber in the fourth. Abraham Nunez singled to right and moved to third on Aramis Ramirez’s one-out single to right. Nunez scored on a fielder’s choice grounder by Rios.
The Cubs scored their final run in the sixth when Sammy Sosa hit an RBI single off Brian Boehringer. It was Sosa’s first RBI this season that didn’t come on a home run.
Brian Giles’ two-out double in the sixth represented the Pirates’ only hit after the second rain delay. They had two runners aboard to open the seventh but couldn’t score a run.
The Pirates never got a chance to bat in the eighth or ninth. The game ultimately was called at 7:44 p.m., which was six hours and nine minutes after the scheduled start.
McClendon, however, wanted to ride out the storm.
“That’s safe to say,” he said. “I sure wasn’t saying to go ahead and call the game.”