Of all the places for Boston to cool off, few were probably thinking it would have happened in the Steel City.
Hoping to capture a sweep of an American League team for the first time since 2001, the Pittsburgh Pirates take aim at a season-best fifth straight victory in today's finale of a three-game set with the humbled Red Sox.
Playing in front of a packed house has suited the Pirates well, even if many of those fans made the trip to support the Red Sox. In taking the first two games of this set, including last night's 6-4 win in front of the largest home crowd in PNC Park history, Pittsburgh has now won five of its six home sellouts this season.
With 39,483 baseball fans in attendance on Saturday, Lyle Overbay hit a three- run homer and starter Jeff Karstens outpitched Boston's Tim Wakefield while also helping himself out with an RBI single.
Karstens picked up the win in 6 2/3 innings and the Pirates bullpen held on behind him, throwing 2 1/3 scoreless frames. Pittsburgh has now sandwiched a pair of season high-tying four-game win streaks around a four-game slide and moved two games over .500 at 39-37.
"A big ballgame, a good win and another packed house," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "It's a great feeling right now. The guys are really embracing it and playing with a lot of energy."
The Red Sox did threaten in the ninth inning, getting the trying run to the plate after a Dustin Pedroia double, but Joel Hanrahan struck out Adrian Gonzalez for his 22nd save in as many chances.
The Red Sox, who have dropped four in a row on the heels of a 14-2 stretch, got solo homers from Gonzalez, Josh Reddick and Jacoby Ellsbury, but Wakefield, who began his career with the Pirates, struggled in his first ever start as the visitor in Pittsburgh. He allowed five runs in six innings of work.
"Obviously it's in my mind," Wakefield said about playing the team he came up with. "It's just another opponent to me and I just went about my business and tried to help us win."
While Friday's series-opening 3-1 setback didn't cost the Red Sox in the standings, last night's defeat dropped them a half-game back of the Yankees for first place in the AL East.
So, it is tough to say which starter is under more pressure today. Boston's Andrew Miller makes his second start with the club in place of the injured Clay Buchholz and will try to prevent the Red Sox from falling further down in the standings, while James McDonald gets a chance to guide the Pirates to a possible season-changing sweep.
One pitch spoiled Miller's Red Sox debut last Monday. Stepping in for Buchholz versus the Padres, Miller did not allow a run over his first five innings, but yielded a three-run homer to Orlando Hudson in the sixth frame that tied the game. That left Miller with a no-decision after his 5 2/3-inning outing even though Boston later exploded for a 14-5 win.
"It was probably the worst fastball I threw," Miller told Boston's website. "It didn't come out as good as some of the other ones had earlier. It wasn't in enough. I think, if I throw a better pitch, the situation doesn't come up. Unfortunately, I left it out there for him and he made me pay."
The 26-year-old former Marlin has faced the Pirates twice in his career, splitting two decisions while posting a high 5.56 earned run average.
With the Pirates opting to skip Charlie Morton's turn in the rotation due to fatigue, McDonald closes out this set with his first ever outing against the Red Sox, but will still do so on four days' rest because of a previous off day.
McDonald had notched consecutive wins before a no-decision versus the Orioles on Tuesday. The 26-year-old righty lasted just 4 2/3 innings and 104 pitches after being charged with three runs on seven hits, two homers and four walks.
McDonald is 5-4 with a 4.86 ERA in 15 starts this season, but is 2-1 with a much more manageable 3.43 ERA in seven outings at home.
These two clubs have now split eight all-time meetings in the regular season after the Red Sox previously won sets at Pittsburgh (2003) and Boston (2005).