Chicago fails to challenge Pittsburgh

Chicago fails to challenge Pittsburgh

CHICAGO – Zach Duke’s been in the major leagues for a total of four months. To the Chicago Cubs, it seems like he’s been pitching and beating them forever.

Duke did it again Tuesday and he was better than ever against the team he’s dominated four times in as many starts.

This time, he pitched a five-hitter for his first major league shutout and complete game in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 8-0 victory over the Cubs.

“It just seems like every time I face them I’m on top of my game,” Duke said.

That’s putting it mildly.

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Duke (2-2) is now 2-0 this season against the Cubs. He also was 2-0 against Chicago a year ago as a rookie, beating Greg Maddux twice at Wrigley Field. In 32 career innings against the Cubs, he’s given up just two earned runs (0.56 ERA). And in 25 innings at Wrigley Field, he’s yielded one earned run (0.36).

“So far it’s been pretty good to me. It’s such a fun place to play,” Duke said of the Cubs’ cozy neighborhood park. “It’s just a good place as a baseball player to come.”

Duke now has a 10-4 career record, four of those wins against the Cubs, who have trouble with his assortment of lefty pitches.

“I don’t know how he does against the rest of the league, but he’s done well against us,” said Todd Walker, who had two hits for the Cubs.

“He throws that little cutter on the corner against lefties. … He’s a Greg Maddux type. He locates well and changes speed.”

And he doesn’t give away bases. Duke, just 23 and in his 20th major league start, walked one, struck out two and was backed by a pair of double plays.

“He throws a lot of strikes,” Chicago’s Juan Pierre said. “And the pitches we did get to hit, we didn’t do anything with them.”

Jeromy Burnitz homered against his former team, and Freddy Sanchez had three hits and three RBIs after being moved to the third spot in the batting order as the Pirates earned a split in the two-game series at Wrigley Field.

Burnitz batted .258 with 24 homers and 87 RBIs last season – his only one with the Cubs – but the team decided not to pick up his $7 million option and instead signed Jacque Jones to play right field.

Burnitz gave the Pirates a 4-0 lead when he hit a two-run homer in the third off Chicago rookie Angel Guzman (0-1), who struggled with his control in his second major league start. Guzman went 5 2-3 innings, allowing six hits and six runs – four earned.

“Any time we get an outburst, it’s a relief for us,” Burnitz said. “We’ve had a rough go of it this first month.”

Guzman had a rookie’s nightmare in the first inning: two walks, a hit batsman, a stolen base and a wild pitch that helped the Pirates take a 2-0 lead – just the fourth time all season Pittsburgh has scored in the opening inning.

Guzman plunked leadoff hitter Chris Duffy, who stole second and scored on a double by Sanchez, who entered the game with five RBIs. Jason Bay walked and after a fielder’s choice put runners at first and third, Guzman threw a wild pitch to allow Sanchez to score.

The Pirates made it 6-0 with four in the sixth. Ronny Paulino and Jose Castillo singled and after a sacrifice, the first run scored when Chicago reliever Roberto Novoa fumbled Duffy’s slow roller for an error. Jack Wilson then followed with an RBI single and stole second before Sanchez delivered a two-run single, prompting loud booing.

A couple of runs would have been enough for Duke.

“The thing that is so impressive about this young man is his know-how and the moxie and the command and the poise for a kid that just turned 23 years of age,” Pirates manager Jim Tracy said.