PITTSBURGH – David Ortiz walked to the plate representing the go-ahead run in the eighth inning Friday night, and the thousands of Boston Red Sox fans who crammed PNC Park waited for Big Papi to send the ball over the right-field wall, into the Allegheny River.

Mother Nature and Pittsburgh reliever Jose Veras had other ideas.

A sudden — and very brief — downpour forced Ortiz to constantly wipe the top of his batting helmet and Veras made Ortiz flip his bat in frustration after meekly grounding out to shortstop to help the Pirates to a 3-1 victory. It provided Pittsburgh with a signature moment in a season quickly growing full of them.

“What’s wrong with Mother Nature?” Ortiz said. “I just walk up to the plate and it starts pouring. What’s up with that?”

Ortiz was joking. He knows Veras and the rest of Pittsburgh’s bullpen had more to do with Boston’s third straight loss than some rain.

“I thought I put a good swing on it,” Ortiz said.

Veras made an even better pitch, the two runners stranded representing the last of the 11 the Red Sox left on as Pittsburgh (38-37) crept back above .500.

“There’s a time when you’ve got to make a decision to face a guy like David Ortiz,” Veras said. “You’ve got to know what he does. He’s a great hitter power-wise, so you’ve got to have a plan for those guys you’ve got to make quality pitches to that guy so that you don’t pay for it.”

Jose Tabata and Lyle Overbay each had two hits and an RBI for the Pirates, and Paul Maholm (4-8) beat an American League team for the first time in nearly two years by surviving 51/3 eventful innings.

Joel Hanrahan worked a perfect ninth to pick up his 21st save in as many chances, his three easy outs capping an effective performance from five Pittsburgh relievers, who made a slim lead stand up by shutting down baseball’s best offense over the final 32/3 innings.

“We had some work to do once Paul left the game, and we were able to match up well to get the guys in to face the guys that we felt that we might have had an advantage,” Pittsburgh Manager Clint Hurdle said. “We made the good pitches when we needed to.”

Boston starter Jon Lester (9-4) pitched six solid innings but failed to become the AL’s first 10-game winner, giving up three runs, two earned, striking out five and walking one.

“I threw the ball pretty well, kept it down,” Lester said. “Other than two hits tonight, nothing else was squared up. I’ll take my chances with that every time.”

Adrian Gonzalez had two hits to bump his major league-leading average to .360, but the Red Sox couldn’t get the big hit.

The Pirates and their $45 million payroll are off to their best start in a dozen years. They saw the weekend series against the Red Sox, whose $160 million payroll nearly quadruples Pittsburgh’s, as an opportunity to make a statement.

For a night, they managed to hang with the AL East leaders.

Still, the Red Sox had plenty of chances, none better than the eighth inning when two singles and a sacrifice put runners at second and third with one out.

After Marco Scutaro struck out, Ortiz came up as a pinch hitter.

His seven-pitch duel was as close to playoff-like atmosphere as the Pirates have seen in years.

“We had the right guy up,” Manager Terry Francona said. “It was a good at-bat and a tough at-bat because of the rain.”

 


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