CINCINNATI -- In the end, it didn't matter so much who batted ninth for the Pirates last night because Ken Griffey Jr. batted in the ninth for Cincinnati.
Griffey drove an 0-1 changeup from struggling Matt Capps into the center-field seats for his 603rd career home run, a two-run shot that beat the Pirates, 4-3.
It was the Pirates' closer's fourth blown save of the season -- all of them coming since June 10.
"It's been a rough month," said Capps, who's now 17 for 21 in save opportunities.
- Game: Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:10 p.m., Great American Ball Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (4-5, 3.99) vs. RHP Edinson Volquez (10-3, 2.08).
- Key matchup: Duke vs. Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. The top two left-handed batters in the Reds' lineup have fared much differently against Duke. Dunn is 5 for 9 lifetime with a home run; Griffey Jr. is 1 for 6.
- Of note: Volquez has allowed just one home run in 44 1/3 innings at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
Perhaps July will be better.
"It will be," he said. "It can't get much worse."
Griffey didn't start the game because left-hander Paul Maholm was on the mound for the Pirates. Griffey entered the game in the top of the ninth inning in right field.
He got his chance to be a hero when David Ross greeted Capps with a leadoff double into left-center field.
"I gave up a homer to a Hall of Famer," said Capps, who had limited Griffey to two hits in six lifetime at-bats -- with no home runs -- before last night. "The pitch was down and it had some movement on it. He barreled it and he did what he was supposed to do with it."
The ninth inning kind of overshadowed the ninth spot in the Pirates' batting order, which was occupied by shortstop Jack Wilson -- not Maholm.
Manager John Russell wrote out the unusual lineup yesterday afternoon after talking with hitting coach Don Long and bench coach Gary Varsho.
And after deciding Doug Mientkiewicz would bat seventh.
"It just kind of came out this way," Russell said. "We're trying to see how we can take advantage of our lineup. We talked about the pluses and minuses, and for this particular day it seemed the pluses outweighed the minuses. It seemed intriguing. We thought, 'Maybe we should try it and see what it looks like."'
What it looked like against right-hander Aaron Harang was Mientkiewicz batting seventh, Maholm batting eighth and Wilson batting ninth.Capping off JuneCloser Matt Capps has given up a home run in each of his four blown saves in the month of June:
"Doug is our most patient, work-the-count, get-on-base guy," Russell said. "Doug's proved that he gives you a great at-bat every time up. We put him in front of our pitcher, and if they want to pitch around him, he'll take the walk.
"If Doug gets on, Paul can bunt him over. Or if he gets on with two outs and Paul makes the third out, Jack leads off the next inning.
"Then we have the top of the order coming up. It's mainly just to add a little more offense, maybe get a few more guys on base [ahead of Jason Bay and Ryan Doumit] and help turn the lineup around.
"There are a lot of different ways to look at it."
Bay's recent hot streak factored into Russell's decision. Bay, who bats third, entered last night's game on a seven-game hitting streak during which he'd hit two home runs and driven in six runs.
"With the way Jason's starting to swing, now we can have three position players ahead of him," Russell said.
It also doesn't hurt that over the past three-plus seasons, Bay is a .402 hitter in Great American Ball Park. And that he entered last night's game hitting .395 lifetime against Harang.
The Pirates are the third team this season to bat its pitcher eighth -- and all three teams are in the National League Central.
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, who has batted his pitcher eighth for a few seasons, has primarily used infielders Cesar Izturis and Brendan Ryan in the ninth spot.
Milwaukee began the season with catcher Jason Kendall batting ninth, but that plan has been abandoned.
"I'm not looking to follow precedent of other teams," Russell said. "I can understand why the Cardinals do it because they have Albert Pujols batting third and it gets another guy on base in front of him."
Will Russell use the pitcher-hits-eighth lineup again?
"I don't know," he said. "We'll see. I don't foresee doing it every day."
One reason for that is that Mientkiewicz doesn't play every day.
Wilson twice led off innings last night.
"It kind of worked in our favor a couple times," Russell said.
Maholm had another good start, allowing five hits and two runs in seven innings. He worked out of a first-and-third, no-out jam in the first.
Damaso Marte performed similar magic in the eighth, but Capps wasn't so fortunate.
Center fielder Nate McLouth, in the original lineup, was scratched in favor of Jason Michaels because of a sore left knee. McLouth, who fouled two pitches off his knee Saturday night, left Sunday's game after the sixth. He hit .342 in April, but just .214 in June.
Paul Meyer can be reached at 412-263-1144. First Published July 1, 2008 4:00 AM