Pirates' best relievers blow lead, run by run

Meek serves up hit by Brewers' Braun in 10th for 'tough' 5-4 loss



MILWAUKEE -- One might think the Pirates would discard this one right away.

Their three best relievers, one by one, run by run, turned what seemed an extra-safe lead into an excruciating 5-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers Friday night at Miller Park: Joel Hanrahan served up a home run in the eighth, Octavio Dotel blew the save in the ninth, and All-Star Evan Meek took the loss on Ryan Braun's walkoff single in the 10th.

Given that the Pirates were 23-0 when leading after the eighth, this probably was the last way they had not lost all summer. As a result, it might have been the easiest to forgive and forget.

Not for Meek, apparently.


Today

Game: Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 7:10 p.m., Miller Park.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: RHP Jeff Karstens (1-2, 4.65) vs. RHP Dave Bush (3-6, 4.23).

Key matchup: Against Karstens, Milwaukee's big three of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Corey Hart are a combined 7 for 35, a .200 average, with Braun owning four of those hits and the lone home run.

Of note: In eight July games, the Pirates have struck out 68 times, walked just 18 times. That includes eight strikeouts and three walks Friday night.

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For several minutes after the game, he sat at a laptop in the silent clubhouse, staring at a frozen video display of Braun's point of contact with his hanging slider. When he finally stood, he asked for a printout.

"I'm going to put it up in my stall," Meek explained later. "I'm better than that. I'm better than that pitch I made to him, and I want to remember it."

Recalling the whole mess ...

Paul Maholm, following the bad-good-bad-good trend, was quite good this time, rebounding from Corey Hart's two-run home run on Milwaukee's second at-bat to keep the Brewers from further damage over his seven innings.

What happened after Hart's shot?

"Mainly, I just got [ticked] off and started throwing," Maholm replied.

Far more surprising, the offense contributed by scoring four runs off Milwaukee's Doug Davis, who lasted five innings in his return from missing two months to inflammation around his heart: Lastings Milledge and Andrew McCutchen each hit solo home runs, Jose Tabata reached base three times, and Pedro Alvarez's two-out RBI double in the fifth brought a 4-2 lead.

Extra-safe?

The Pirates had been 18-1 leading after seven and, again, undefeated after eight.

"I'll give the ball to those guys any day," Maholm said of the bullpen.

Hanrahan got two quick outs in the eighth, then zipped ahead of Prince Fielder, 1-2. But the hanging slider that came was launched deep beyond right field, and the Brewers were within 4-3.

"Terrible pitch," Hanrahan called it.

There went Hanrahan's streak of 11 scoreless appearances.

Dotel, seeking his 20th save in the ninth inning, found trouble with Carlos Gomez's one-out bunt single. Gomez stole second and took an extra base when Ryan Doumit's throw sailed into center. George Kottaras tripled into the right-field corner, where Ryan Church struggled to collect it, to tie the score.

Another hanging slider.

"Not my best pitch," Dotel said.

There went Dotel's streak of eight saves without one blown.

Kottaras nearly scored the winning run when Dotel's next pitch, a slider in the dirt, crawled about 25 feet behind Doumit. But Doumit recovered to flip to Dotel for the tag at the plate.

Last was Meek.

Pinch-hitter Jim Edmonds led off the 10th with a single. After Rickie Weeks bounced into a forceout, he stole second. Meek struck out Hart and intentionally walked the left-handed Fielder to get to the right-handed Braun in a pick-your-poison choice.

Meek's first pitch was the last of the Pirates' hanging sliders, and Braun drilled it over Church's head and off the base of the fence to end Milwaukee's losing streak at five and extend the Pirates' latest to four.

There went Meek's 0.94 ERA, best in Major League Baseball, now at 1.11.

"My No. 1 priority with Braun is to keep the ball down," Meek said. "It was up, right where he was looking to hit it and ... that's really it. A poor pitch. Bad location. And he did what he should have done to it."

For Braun, long a nemesis of the Pirates, it brought a joyous end to a career-worst slump in which he was 0 for 19 before a sixth-inning single.

"It felt really good," Braun said of the winner. "It's been a tough stretch for me, a tough stretch for the team."

All three of the Pirates' relievers have represented the heart of the team's only consistent strength in this otherwise moribund 30-56 season, and that had been especially true of late: In the 12 games before this, the bullpen a 2.05 ERA and opponents batted .189.

Seemed to be of little solace.

"It's frustrating," Meek said.

"It's tough anytime the bullpen loses a game," Hanrahan said. "Paul held down a good-hitting team, and we come in and give up a run in each of the last three innings. That's not us."

"We've already been losing, and to lose like this when we have a chance ... it's not really nice," Dotel said.

There was more to it.

For one, the Pirates could have fared even better against Davis, leaving bases loaded in the third, then mustering only three hits after his exit.

For another, they lost an apparent run in the eighth to lousy luck: Two outs after Garrett Jones doubled, Milledge grounded sharply up the middle, and it looked to be an RBI single that would have put the Pirates ahead, 5-2. But it ricocheted off the foot of second base umpire Chris Guccione and, by rule, Jones had to return to second even though Milledge got the single.

"That's unfortunate," manager John Russell said.

He said the same of the finish.

"Those three guys have been so good for us all year ... it's unfortunate, but it happened. It's a shame."


Dejan Kovacevic: dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Find more online at PBC Blog . First Published July 10, 2010 4:45 AM


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