Torres, Bucs shut down Mets |

Torres, Bucs shut down Mets

Joe Rutter

NEW YORK — And now we head back to the meaningful portion of our regularly scheduled baseball programming.

After wrapping up a who-cares series Thursday night with a 3-1 victory over the New York Mets, the Pirates departed for Chicago and the frenzy that will engulf their season-ending three-game set at Wrigley Field with the first-place Cubs.

The Cubs enter the final weekend tied with the Houston Astros for the National League Central lead. The Astros have three more games remaining with the Milwaukee Brewers.

“It should be a lot of fun,” Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said after watching his team snap a three-game losing streak. “I’m sure the Cubs are going to come at us with everything they’ve got. We’ll do nothing different than we’ve been doing, and that’s prepare the way we always have and try to win baseball games.”

The Pirates split a four-game series with the Cubs last weekend at PNC Park. A pair of wins this weekend at the friendly confines probably would be enough to give the division to the Astros.

The Cubs rearranged their rotation one more time yesterday. After having Mark Prior and Matt Clement switch days, manager Dusty Baker changed his mind and again reversed the order. Prior will start this afternoon against Josh Fogg, with Clement starting Saturday against Ryan Vogelsong. The Sunday matchup, Kerry Wood versus Kip Wells, remains the same, but could change if the Cubs wrap up the NL Central title before then.

“Anytime we play the Cubs, it’s a tough matchup,” McClendon said. “It will be a good experience for my young players. The atmosphere, the tension, everything that’s on the line, it will be good to go through. The closer we can get to that action, the better off we’ll be in the long run.”

Actually, the Pirates were in a similar situation four years ago — trying to play spoiler on the road. They entered the final weekend of the 1999 season needing one win to ruin the Mets’ chance of a wild-card berth. But the Mets swept the series, winning the first game in extra innings, the second on a shutout and the finale on a wild pitch in the ninth inning. The Mets then won a one-game playoff with the Cincinnati Reds to determine the wild-card entry.

“Playing a spoiler role is not what we want. You’re not in this game to be a spoiler,” said catcher Jason Kendall, who had two RBI. “Every player’s goal is to win the World Series. But it has played out this way, so we’ll go and play hard and see what happens.”

Someone asked McClendon if he planned to throw the kitchen sink at the Cubs.

“There aren’t many utensils in the sink,” he said, laughing.

The Pirates have seven rookies on the roster and have few faces remaining from the opening day lineup. Moreover, Reggie Sanders’ status is doubtful because of a left oblique strain, and Matt Stairs continues to be day-to-day with a right Achilles injury.

Both teams will go into the series on short rest. The Pirates were scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 1:30 a.m., and the Cubs also were returning from a night game in Cincinnati.

“We’re going to go out and play hard and give it a shot with what we’ve got,” McClendon said.

The Pirates will head into the series with some slight momentum. Salomon Torres (7-5) won his second consecutive start by holding the Mets to one run, Ty Wiggington’s solo homer, and four hits in 6.2 innings. Brian Meadows pitched 1.1 scoreless innings and Julian Tavarez worked a perfect ninth for his 10th save.

Kendall drove in two of the Pirates’ three runs, with RBI singles in the third and eighth innings.

Abraham Nunez’s pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the seventh inning snapped a 1-1 tie. Nunez was 1 for 26 with no RBI as a pinch-hitter before scoring Jason Bay with a fly ball to left.

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