PITTSBURGH - James McDonald takes the mound every five days with a chip on his shoulder, eager to prove the Pittsburgh Pirates are legit.
"I want to be the guy that shows other teams that we're for real, that we do have quality players here," McDonald said.
He definitely made a statement on Saturday, scattering four hits over seven innings to win his fourth straight start and lead the Pirates to a 3-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants.
Mike McKenry hit a solo homer as the Pirates won for the ninth time in 11 games. They are guaranteed at least a share of the NL Central lead through the All-Star break, heady stuff for a franchise with 19 consecutive losing seasons.
Pittsburgh has a pair of All-Stars in center fielder Andrew McCutchen and closer Joel Hanrahan, but McDonald made a pretty good case that he should be in Kansas City next week too after striking out 10 against no walks and lowering his ERA to a sparkling 2.37.
"(McDonald) had it all working today," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said.
Today: San Francisco Giants at Pittsburgh Pirates, 1:35 p.m.
Pitchers: Giants RHP Tim Lincecum (3-9) vs. Pirates RHP A.J.Burnett (9-2)
On the mound and at the plate.
McDonald, who had Pittsburgh's only hit in a 5-0 loss to Matt Cain and the Giants on April 13, led off the third with a walk against Ryan Vogelsong (7-4) and made it all the way home on Neil Walker's double to deep left-center field.
A visibly winded McDonald slowly made his way to the dugout after racing 270 feet on the hottest day in the 12-year history of PNC Park. He was briefly worried he wouldn't be ready to head out for the next inning when the skies opened up.
A 27-minute rain delay followed, cooling things off and giving McDonald a chance to regroup.
"The baseball gods must really like me right now," said McDonald, who added a single to in the fifth.
Hey, for once it's good to be a Pirate.
Walker finished with two doubles to extend his hitting streak to 11 games and Hanrahan worked the ninth to pick up his 23rd save.
Vogelsong was solid but not quite spectacular. He allowed three runs and eight hits in seven innings.
"It happens," Vogelsong said. "Obviously he's having a good season and throwing the ball well. Going in you know it's going to be a tough game. He just pitched a little bit better than me today."
Ryan Theriot and Gregor Blanco had two hits apiece for the Giants, who have dropped six of eight.
"We got a good start from Vogelsong but we ran into one of the better pitched games we've seen," Bochy said. "They got some key hits there. We had trouble getting guys on base."
Bochy declined to speculate whether McDonald and Vogelsong - who began the day fourth and first in the NL in ERA - deserved to be All-Stars.
"You can't take 'em all," he said.
No matter, McDonald will certainly welcome the break after developing into a workhorse.
The 27-year-old right-hander who only made it through seven innings five times in the first four years of his career has now done it eight times in the last 14 starts.
Masterfully mixing his curveball with a fastball that rarely missed the strike zone, McDonald had little trouble with the Giants. He threw 77 of his 106 pitches for strikes and the Giants only managed to get the ball to the outfield five times against him.
"Straight As once again," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "He was very efficient. A couple of times when he got into jams, he found a way to get out of them."
McKenry's seventh homer of the season and fourth in his last 11 games gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead in the fourth and it was more than enough for McDonald.
McDonald's only hiccup came in the sixth when Blanco singled with two outs, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a liner up the middle by Theriot, who hung in there after falling behind 0-2.
"Those things help you win ballgames," Bochy said. "But we just couldn't do much."
Pedro Alvarez provided some insurance in the sixth when he doubled home McCutchen.
McDonald quickly retired the side in order in the seventh before walking off to a loud ovation from the ninth sellout crowd of the season in a city that is quickly warming to the thought of Pittsburgh as actual contenders.
"Every day is a statement day," McDonald said.
Jason Grilli struck out the side in the eighth before Hanrahan - who was knocked around a bit recently - took advantage of some brilliant defense by shortstop Clint Barmes.