- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 1, 2009

PITTSBURGH | It was sheer coincidence that Lastings Milledge happened to make his debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday against his former club, a Washington Nationals team that earlier in the day had traded away two key veterans.

The Pirates, who have done quite a roster overhaul themselves, were in need of another position player, and Milledge fit the bill. Since the Nationals sent him packing a month ago along with Joel Hanrahan in exchange for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett, the 24-year-old outfielder had made a strong case for a ticket back to the big leagues.

And once he arrived on the grand stage again Friday, Milledge looked every bit ready to seize the moment. In his Pirates debut, he had a pair of RBI singles, the second of which produced the decisive run in Washington’s 5-4 loss at PNC Park.

So after the Nationals traded Nick Johnson to Florida and Joe Beimel to Colorado, the guy who had been dealt a month ago wreaked havoc on his old team. It made for a strange scene, to say the least.

“I mean, you could say that,” said Milledge, who started in left field and batted second. “It’s always good playing against the team that traded you away. But at the same time, you’ve got to keep a level head and play the game and not try to get too caught up in the hype.”

The Lastings Milledge who spoke before a small group of reporters after this game was in many ways not the same guy who arrived in the District to fanfare before the 2008 season and departed under unceremonious circumstances this season. This Milledge was gracious and humble and admitted this debut felt far different from his previous ones with the Nationals and the New York Mets.

“Just for the simple fact that I really earned my way to be here,” he said. “I really deserve to be here. I worked just as hard as anybody around, and I really felt good about what I was doing. That was the first time I didn’t have a chip on my shoulder at Triple-A, and I really took that time to develop my skills.”

In 17 games with the Pirates’ Indianapolis affiliate, Milledge hit .333 with a .425 on-base percentage. And in his first big league game with his new employer, he joined the rest of Pittsburgh’s remade lineup in dealing Washington starter John Lannan a rare blow.

Lannan entered Friday night having allowed three earned runs or fewer in 17 of his past 19 outings. But he was not in top form against the Pirates’ unheralded lineup, giving up five runs on nine hits in seven shaky innings. There was only one big blast in there - Steve Pearce’s solo homer in the fourth - and several clutch hits contributed most of the damage, including Milledge’s two RBI singles.

“I just really had to battle tonight,” Lannan said. “I kept it as close as I could with the stuff I had.”

Lannan’s teammates didn’t supply him with much offensive support, producing just two runs off Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf on an RBI double by Willie Harris in the second and a solo homer by Ryan Zimmerman in the seventh.

The Nationals did make things interesting with a couple of runs in the eighth off Hanrahan, who had not been scored upon in his previous seven appearances. But they could not push across the tying run, with Morgan popping out with two on and two outs in the ninth.

Morgan, batting .388 with 14 stolen bases since the trade, has certainly held up his part of the deal. But on this night, the spotlight belonged to Milledge.

“Lastings is a good player,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “He’s going to do a good job for Pittsburgh, just like our guys are going to do a good job for us that we got from Pittsburgh.”

If Friday night was any indication, Milledge plans to make the most of this situation.

“It’s always good to have another opportunity,” he said. “I feel like I’m going to be more precious with it, not take anything for granted.”

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