Something had to give. The Indians, sitting in last place in the American League Central, came to Pittsburgh sporting a 4-game losing streak while the host Pirates, last in the National League Central, were riding a season worst 11-game losing string.
But for the first six innings, nothing changed as Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona matched scoreless innings with Pirate left-hander Paul Maholm.
Each had given up two harmless hits through six innings in the scoreless battle of last place teams in front of 28,478 fans at PNC Park.
But the seventh inning for both was much different as the Tribe put up four runs that held up for a 4-3 win despite Pittsburgh scoring three times in the bottom of the frame.
RBI singles from Jason Donald, Trevor Crowe and Shin-Soo Choo along with an RBI double from Carlos Santana proved to be just enough to end the Tribe’s losing streak and give Cleveland just its third win in 10 tries at PNC Park dating back to 2001.
The big inning for the Indians began with a double from Jhonny Peralta. One out later, Anderson Hernandez singled to put runners on the corners. Donald then pushed a hit to right to score Peralta. Maholm struck out Carmona but Crowe and Choo delivered back-to-back run scoring singles to end Maholm’s night.
Joel Hanrahan gave up an RBI double to Santana that scored Crowe for a 4-0 Cleveland lead but Choo was out at the plate on the play.
The Pirates, who have not won since a 6-3 victory over San Francisco on June 5, woke up in their seventh, loading the bases on a single from Neil Walker, a walk to Andrew McCutchen and a single by Garrett Jones.
Ryan Church, who entered the game 2-for-35 with runners in scoring position, drilled a 3-run double to cut the Cleveland lead to 4-3.
Carmona, who went 6-plus innings with five hits and three runs with a walk and seven strike outs, gave way to Rafael Perez with no outs and the tying run at second.
Perez got Pedro Alvarez on a fly ball to center that advanced Church to third but the Tribe left-hander got Ryan Doumit to pop out and retired Ronny Cedeno on a fly to center.
Pittsburgh had one more shot at getting the game even in the eighth when Jose Tabata doubled with one out against Chris Perez. But Perez retired Walker on a fly to right and McCutchen on a pop up to end the inning.
Kerry Wood pitched a hitless ninth for his fifth save.
Maholm (4-5), who did not give up a hit until Santana singled in the fourth, gave up all four Tribe runs on seven hits with a pair of walks to go with five strike outs. The loss snapped a string of four wins by Maholm against American League opponents.
The 3-game series continues at 7 p.m.Saturday with David Huff (2-8, 5.82 ERA) against Pittsburgh’s Jeff Karstens (1-2, 4.50). At 1:35 p.m. Sunday, Cleveland goes with Justin Masterson (2-6, 5.02) while Brad Lincoln (0-1, 7.50) is Pittsburgh’s starter.
* 1960 Revisited: Prior to Saturday night’s game, the Pirates will celebrate their 1960 World Series Champions. Among those to be honored include general manager Joe L. Brown and players Dick Groat, Bob Oldis, Vernon Law, Bob Skinner, Dick Schofield, ElRoy Face and Joe Christopher.
* Big crowd for PNC: Friday’s crowd of 28.478 was Pittsburgh’s fourth largest of the season. The Pirates drew 39,024 for their home opener on April 5 with the Los Angeles Dodgers and 31,061in their second game of the year, April 7, against the Dodgers. The other larger crowd was June 5, when 36,687 saw the Pirates defeat San Francisco. That was followed by the start of the current 12-game losing streak.
* Stat fact of the day: Cleveland has yet to win a game on Monday, sitting at 0-8. That will remain unchanged this week as the Tribe is off on Monday.
* Series openers: Cleveland’s win over the Pirates in the series opener is the third time in a row the Tribe has won that game on the road and raised the Indians’ overall record in series openers to 6-17.
* Winless against AL: The Pirates, who did not play an inter-league game in May, are 0-7 this season against the American League and has not scored more than four runs in any game against an AL team.
Pittsburgh was swept in 3-game series by both the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox.
Cleveland improved to 4-6 against the National League with two games left with the Pirates and 3-game road series with both the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds.