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Thome hits 25th homer, but Pirates rally

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PITTSBURGH — No team named the Pittsburgh Pirates had lost this many games in a row. Nobody wearing a Pirates uniform wants to be part of the next one that does.

Freddy Sanchez led off the ninth inning with a home run, his fourth hit of the game, and the Pirates rallied to end a club-record 13-game losing streak by beating the Chicago White Sox 7-6 Thursday.

“You hope you never see anything like that happen to us again,” said Sanchez, who raised his NL-leading batting average to .363. “Now we’re looking forward to starting to win some games. Let’s do something and turn it around and hope it’s over.”

The Pirates stopped their longest skid in the modern era of baseball that began in 1900, and the second-longest in franchise history to a 23-game slide in 1890 — when the city’s NL team was known as the Pittsburg Alleghenies.

But they barely came out on top.

They led 6-4, only to see Jim Thome tie it with his 25th homer in his only at-bat of the game, a pinch-hit, two-run drive off Roberto Hernandez that bounced into the Allegheny River in the eighth. The night before, the White Sox rallied from a three-run deficit to win 4-3, the World Series champions’ 11th win in 12 games.

“Pinch-hitting, it’s a different role for sure. You’ve got to be aggressive and try to get a pitch to hit, that’s it,” Thome said.

It’s the kind of game the White Sox have won and the Pirates have lost so many times this season. Only this day was different.

Mike Gonzalez (2-3) pitched out of a two-on, two-out jam in the top of the ninth by striking out former teammate Rob Mackowiak. Sanchez then hit an 0-1 pitch from Cliff Politte (1-2) into the first row of the left-field seats for his fifth homer, giving the Pirates their first victory in 15 days.

“I knew it felt good, but I couldn’t assume anything,” Sanchez said. “I think it’s the first time since junior college I hit a walk-off homer.”

Politte hadn’t pitched since June 4 because of right shoulder inflammation and was activated from the disabled list earlier in the day.

“It was a fastball down and in and he hit it out,” Politte said, letting out a long and audible sigh. “It’s over. It’s not the way you want to come back, have that kind of stuff happen to you, but it’s part of the game and you’ve got to move on.”

Like the Pirates say they have to do.

“I didn’t look at it as a 13-game losing streak — I looked at it as 13 games we wanted to win and we weren’t winning, and we needed to find a way to win,” Sanchez said. “It felt good.”

The Pirates, winning only their second in 16 games, stopped one streak but couldn’t halt Jose Contreras’ White Sox-record 16-game winning streak despite getting six runs and 12 hits off him in 5 1-3 innings. Not that they really cared.

Sanchez and Jason Bay, about the only Pirates who have done much in an already lost season, contributed most of the offense as they ended a losing streak that matched the longest in the majors this season. The Royals also lost 13 in a row, a year after losing 19 straight.

“It will be very difficult to completely erase it,” manager Jim Tracy said. “But there’s no question we’re capable of competing against the best teams in the American league and the National League, because we’ve proved it the last three days.”

The Pirates must have let out a “Here we go again” after the first four White Sox batters singled in the first, with those by Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye driving in runs. It was a customary start by Pirates left-hander Zach Duke, who has allowed 12 runs in the first inning in his last nine starts and 18 in the first this season.

But the Pirates, winless since beating the Cardinals 9-7 on June 14, came back with two in their half on Bay’s RBI double and Jeromy Burnitz’s sacrifice fly.

Bay struck out and stranded two runners to end Wednesday night’s game, then urged management to make changes with a team he said isn’t yet ready to win regularly.

Bay, his average down nearly 20 points since the Pirates launched an aggressive, get-out-the-vote campaign to make him an All-Star game starter July 11 in Pittsburgh, also singled. It was only his second two-hit game in his last 10.

The White Sox, already assured of winning an eighth consecutive series, came back with Alex Cintron’s two-run double in the second to make it 4-2. But the Pirates tied it again by scoring in the second on Jose Bautista’s sacrifice fly and Jose Hernandez’s RBI single.

Sanchez and Bay singled again to start the fifth, and Jose Castillo’s two-out RBI single made it 5-4. Sanchez, running his hitting streak to 13 games (28-of-64), added an RBI double against reliever David Riske following a 25-minute rain delay in the sixth.

Notes: Thome had been 5-for-18 with no homers and seven strikeouts against Hernandez. … Duke allowed at least three runs for the 11th consecutive start. … Bay, who homered in six consecutive games earlier this season, has one homer in 18 games. … The Pirates avoided falling 28 games below .500, or where they finished last year (67-95). … The White Sox lost for only the third time in 15 games. … Pittsburgh is 2-10 against the AL.


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