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Halladay snaps Phillies losing streak as Phils top Bucs 7-3

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Roy Halladay pitched seven effective innings and Phillies avoided a sweep by beating the Pirates 7-3 on Sunday.

A crowd of 35,505 went down the rabbit hole at PNC Park on Sunday afternoon.

The Phillies avoided a sweep and stopped a four-game losing skid with a 7-3 victory over Pittsburgh during a bizarre matchup featuring a pitching meltdown by James McDonald, an umpire getting drilled by a grounder to save the Bucs runs, a 409-foot sacrifice fly to the Northside Notch by Ryan Howard with the bases loaded, failed scoring chances for the Pirates in the seventh and eighth innings and a bullpen letdown by the home team.

The Phillies (35-24) tied a season high by stranding 16 runners on base during 3 hours and 35 minutes of insanity. But the Bucs (28-30) scraped just one run off Philadelphia's bullpen in the final game of a showdown between in-state rivals that attracted 108,807 total fans, the fourth-largest crowd in PNC Park history for a three-date series.

"I think [the Phillies] left a small village on base at the end of the day," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "But in the eighth inning, we still had the go-ahead run at the plate. We threw everything we had at them, but it just wasn't enough today."

The sun-soaked afternoon started off promisingly for the Pirates. Walker gave McDonald a two-run head-start on Halladay in the bottom of the first, crushing a high-and-inside cutter from the 2010 NL Cy Young Award winner over the right-center field fence for a home run after Xavier Paul had singled to start off the game.

McDonald did his best Halladay impression through three innings, punching out three Phillies while tossing 30 of his 40 pitches for strikes.

In the fourth inning, however, McDonald's control abandoned him faster than the speed boats zipping by in the Allegheny River behind him.

He issued a lead-off walk to Utley, threw his second wild pitch of the game with Howard at the plate and then walked Howard on four straight pitches, prompting pitching coach Ray Searage and catcher Dusty Brown to visit McDonald on the mound.

With Raul Ibanez batting, Brown was then charged with a passed ball on a 1-2 changeup that bounced off his glove, advancing Utley to third base and Howard to second. Ibanez hit a sac fly to deep left-center field to score Utley, advance Howard to third and collect his 1,000th career RBI.

McDonald got ahead of the next batter, Carlos Ruiz, but then plunked him with a 1-2 curveball to put runners on first and third base.

The Pirates got a huge break with Domonic Brown batting. Brown scorched a grounder up the middle, but the ball hit second base umpire Chad Fairchild, who was standing in the infield grass. Since the batted ball hit Fairchild before it reached any of the infielders, the ball was ruled dead. Brown was given a single, with Polanco advancing to second base and Howard remaining at third.

With the bases juiced, McDonald nearly hit Wilson Valdez with a curveball. But he got Valdez to chop a ground ball to Walker, who stepped on second base and tossed to Overbay to complete the double play.

In the fifth, McDonald walked Halladay to lead off the inning. He then sailed four straight fastballs wide of the plate against Victorino. Searage and Brown came to the mound again, buying time for the bullpen to scurry into action. Polanco then walked on four straight inside fastballs to load the bases.

Hurdle then took the ball from McDonald, who looked back over his shoulder at the field as he took a slow walk back to the dugout.

Chris Resop came on to face Utley and induced a ground ball to Overbay, who threw home to force out Halladay.

Then, even with the bases loaded and the speedy Victorino at third base, the Pirates put the shift on the lefty-hitting Howard. Brandon Wood, standing by the second base bag, was the closest Bucs defender to Victorino.

Resop and Howard engaged in an epic, 13-pitch at-bat during which Howard fouled off eight fastballs. Resop threw just one breaking pitch during the sequence.

On Resop's 13th offering, a 95 MPH fastball on the outside corner, Howard ripped the ball to the deepest part of the park in left-center field. McCutchen darted after the drive and made the catch at the 410 marker in the Northside Notch, giving the Phillies slugger a sacrifice fly instead of a grand slam. Polanco advanced to third, and Utley to second.

With two outs, Ibanez was intentionally walked to load the bases and give the Pirates a force out at any bag. Resop then beaned Ruiz with a fastball off his left wrist, bringing Polanco home and putting the Phillies up 3-2.

Domonic Brown then came to the dish, intent on reaching those boats the Allegheny River. He drove a first-pitch changeup to right field, but the ball hooked into foul territory. Brown grounded out to first base on a Resop curveball later in the at-bat, ending the peculiar inning.

That closed the book on McDonald's nightmarish afternoon -- four-plus innings pitched, three hits, three runs, five walks, two wild pitches and three strikeouts. With the loss, he fell to 3-4 on the season.

"For whatever reason, the ability to repeat the delivery, the command..." Hurdle trailed off. "Sometimes you get out there, you're feeling good and the ball is coming out of your hand good, but it just looked uncomfortable for him there for a while.

"There's a lot of growth going on there," Hurdle continued. "We've got some guys who are probably experiencing playing in some games with some heightened awareness and importance that maybe they haven't been in before. No excuses, but he definitely lost his command."

"I let the game speed up on me a little bit instead of maybe stepping back, taking a breath and focusing on the things that I need to do to be successful," McDonald said. "Instead of getting the ball and keeping on firing, I could have slowed the game down."

Hurdle doesn't think that a lack of familiarity between Dusty Brown and McDonald contributed much to the Pirates' fourth and fifth inning woes.

"[Brown] caught the outing in New York [against the Mets on May 31, when McDonald gave up one run in six innings] and there was no disconnect there," Hurdle said. "There was one-cross-up, there were the wild pitches and Dusty didn't make a play on one ball that was a passed ball. But other than that, command of the strike zone is the pitcher's [responsibility]."

After Halladay retired the Pirates in order in the bottom of the fifth, Evan Meek came on the pitch the sixth for the Pirates. He retired Valdez on a ground ball, but Halladay helped his own cause by singling to right field. Halladay advanced to second on a Victorino ground out to the mound and then lumbered around to score on a soft single to left field by Polanco, sliding in safe at the plate.

After Utley singled to put runners on the corners, Daniel Moskos came on in relief of Meek and got Howard to strike out swinging to end the inning.

Moskos kept the Phillies off the board in the seventh, too, but just barely. Domonic Brown belted a pitch to right-center field that bounced off the top of the wall at the 375 foot marker. The umpires upheld the initial call of a double after an instant replay review. After an intentional walk to Valdez, Halladay struck out swinging.

Jose Ascanio couldn't keep the high-wire relief act going in the eighth, though. Ascanio allowed three straight singles to Polanco, Utley and Howard to pad the Phillies' lead to 5-2. Jose Veras replaced Ascanio and managed to escape the inning without further damage, despite an Overbay error that loaded the bases. Veras got Ruiz to foul out and then struck out Brown.

The Pirates, meanwhile, got robbed in the seventh and then whiffed at a prime chance to put crooked numbers on the board in the eighth.

Overbay grounded out against Halladay to begin the seventh and Garrett Jones popped out, but Brandon Wood singled to center and pinch-hitter Matt Diaz reached on an infield single to third base, with Wood advancing to third on a fielding error by Polanco.

Jose Tabata pinch-hit for Moskos. Friday night's hero seared a first-pitch cutter from Halladay that looked destined for right field, but Utley lunged at the liner and made a fully-extended, diving catch to quell the threat.

Halladay (8-3) lasted seven innings on Sunday, giving up six hits and two earned runs while striking out six and walking one. He threw 74 of his 114 pitches for strikes (68 percent).

"He's the best pitcher in baseball," Walker said. "Guys like that don't get rattled easily, and you don't see many pitches over the heart of the plate when you got a guy like that on the mound. We knew we were in for a battle today."

With Halladay out of the game, the Bucs got a run off Jose Contreras in the eighth. Josh Harrison doubled to deep center field and McCutchen brought him home to make it 5-3 Phillies with a single to left.

Phillies manager called on Antonio Bastardo. Walker flied out against the lefty for the second out of the inning. Overbay then reached on an infield single to third base to put runners on first and second, but Jones swung through a Bastardo fastball on the outside corner for strike three.

Victorino and Howard each hit RBI singles against Daniel McCutchen in the top of the ninth, stretching the visitors' lead to 7-3.

Wood singled off Ryan Madson in the bottom half of the ninth. The Pirates went quietly after that, though, as Chris Snyder (who came into the game in the eighth to catch) popped out, pinch-hitter Ronny Cedeno fanned and Paul took an inside fastball for a called strike to end the game.

While the loss kept the Pirates from cracking .500, Hurdle was highly encouraged by his team's effort against the Phillies, who have the best record in the National League.

"I spoke with the guys just before the off day and I told them, we're pushing this thing forward," Hurdle said. "We just played a weekend series here that's about as good as you ever want to get in the regular season against a very good ball club."

"We're growing up. We've got a lot of work to do, we've got a lot of areas that we still need to improve upon. But everything that we had planned coming out of spring training, we're in the right direction."

"Regardless of today, this was a great series for us and for this city," Walker said. 'This is something that we're going to carry into the off day and into next week."

With a scheduled off day on Monday -- one of just three that the Pirates have during the month of June -- manager Clint Hurdle took the opportunity on Sunday afternoon to give Ronny Cedeno an extended rest. Cedeno started 50 of the Pirates' first 57 games this season. Brandon Wood got the start at shortstop and batted seventh for Cedeno.

Jose Tabata was also out of the lineup, with Xavier Paul leading off and playing left field in his place. Tabata has  started 49 games for the Bucs, missing time in early May with a right hamstring injury.

Neil Walker, who has started all but one game, is expected to sit Tuesday night versus the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who fouled a Charlie Morton pitch off his right knee in the first inning of Saturday night's game and left the contest in the third inning, was out of Sunday's lineup for the Phillies. Rollins is day-to-day with a right patella contusion.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle hinted that a roster move to add another left-hander to his bullpen could come soon. With Joe Beimel [elbow] back on the DL, the Pirates have just one southpaw -- Daniel Moskos -- in the 'pen.

"We might need to look at re-arranging our bullpen a little bit," Hurdle said. "We're facing a lot of teams with a lot of left-handers, and the one left-hander out there is not really as many options as I'd like to have."

Despite a wild end to Sunday's start, Pirates starter James McDonald is going to stick with the same routine that allowed him to turn his season around in May.

"I'm going to go out there, get my work in, throw my side and prepare the same way as if I threw seven shutout [innings]," McDonald said. "Stay confident."

"And don't forget," McDonald added, "that I got a hit off Halladay."

McDonald, a one-time outfielder in the Dodgers' system, singled off the Halladay to lead off the bottom of the third inning.

Fangraphs.com keeps track of a stat called "Pace," which measures how much time a pitcher takes between his pitches. Phillies starter Roy Halladay doesn't dawdle when he's on the mound. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner takes an average of 18.7 seconds between his pitches, which is three seconds less than the major league average.

James McDonald also works quickly, with an average of 20.5 seconds elapsing between his pitches.

The Phillies optioned LHP Mike Zagurski to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after Saturday night's game. RHP David Herndon was recalled from Lehigh Valley to take Zagurski's place in the 'pen.

Triple-A Indianapolis outfielder Alex Presley was forced to leave Saturday night's game after getting hit by a pitch on his right arm and was out of the lineup on Sunday. Presley, 25, is batting .336/.381/.518 with the Indians this season.

The lefty's hot hitting, along with Pittsburgh's tepid production from its right fielders and games at Cleveland and Toronto later this month during which the Bucs will need a designated hitter, have fueled speculation that Presley could get a promotion. Pirates right fielders have combined to bat .251/.326/.391, well south of the .269/.344/.446 major league average for the position.

Following an off day Monday, the Pirates host the NL West-leading Diamondbacks for a three-game set at PNC Park. RHP Daniel Hudson (6-5, 4.22 ERA) takes on RHP Kevin Correia (8-4, 3.40).

While Correia isn't missing many bats (he ranks third-lowest among starting pitchers in K/9, with 3.99), he is doing a fine job of getting ahead in the count. Correia is throwing first-pitch strikes 62.2 percent of the time this season, well above the 59 percent MLB average. That has helped him limit opponents to a career-best two walks per nine innings pitched.

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