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Bucs blow lead, lose on walk-off in 10th

July 10, 2010

MILWAUKEE — Even All-Stars have an off night once in a while.

If there was one thing Pirates manager John Russell thought he could count on, it was the performance of relievers Joel Hanrahan, Octavio Dotel and Evan Meek.

Unfortunately for Russell and the Pirates, those three were the ones that surrendered the lead over the final three innings on Friday night as the Pirates lost, 5-4, to the Brewers at Miller Park.

“The three guys that we bring in in the eighth, ninth and 10th are guys that have done that job for us all year long and each one of them gave up runs,” Russell said. “It’s not something we see very often. Unfortunately, it happened. It’s a shame.”

With a 4-2 lead in the eighth, Hanrahan came on in relief of left-handed starter Paul Maholm, carrying an 11-inning scoreless streak with him. Brewers slugger Prince Fielder ended that streak with one swing of the bat, crushing a 1-2 slider deep into the second deck in right field.

In the ninth, closer Octavio Dotel came on looking to end it and snap the Pirates’ four-game losing skid. Dotel had converted seven consecutive saves since June 13, but he struggled after starting the inning with a groundout to third base.

Despite a bunt single, stolen base, throwing error, triple and wild pitch — all with one out — Dotel escaped with the game tied, leaving the contest in the hands of Meek, who entered the game with just a 0.94 ERA.

Meek (4-3) battled for two outs through the first three hitters, including an impressive strikeout of fellow All-Star Corey Hart. With that, it looked like Meek would escape unscathed.

But Meek was bested by fellow All-Star Ryan Braun, who drove a first-pitch slider to the wall in right, plating Rickie Weeks and giving the Brewers the walk-off win.

“To put it simply, the No. 1 priority with Braun was just to keep the ball down, and it was a bad pitch,” Meek said. “It was a breaking ball and it was up right where he was looking to hit it, and that’s really it.

“It was just a poor pitch. You’ve got to keep the ball down with all these guys, especially Braun, and the ball was up. And he did what he should’ve done to it.”

Braun got the opportunity to deliver the game-winning hit after the Pirates chose to walk Fielder with first base open.

“Of course, you always want to make the team pay when they walk Prince,” Braun said. “I’m just glad to contribute.”

Perhaps most disappointing about the bullpen’s performance on the night were the good performances that it wasted.

Before Friday’s game, Russell talked about the need for good pitching and extra-base hits to change the Pirates’ fortunes on the road.

They got some of each in the series opener against the Brewers, but unfortunately, the hitting faltered after the fifth as did the pitching following the seventh.

Maholm overcame early struggles to toss seven strong innings, allowing just two runs on three hits while giving up two walks, hitting three batters and recording four strikeouts.

After walking Weeks to lead off the game, Maholm surrendered a two-run opposite-field blast to Corey Hart, his 20th of the season. Aside from some issues with hit batters, Maholm effectively limited the Brewers the rest of the way, giving up just two hits.

“I just got [upset] and started throwing, that’s what it boils down to,” Maholm said. “It wasn’t any mechanical change. I’ve had a couple bad outings, but I just told myself that was going to be it. It was going to stop there and I was going to get deep into the game.”

Maholm had plenty of support early, as the Pirates picked up five extra-base hits — three doubles and two home runs — the first four of which contributed to the club’s four runs on the night.

They couldn’t score after the fifth inning, though, as the Brewers’ bullpen combined to toss five scoreless innings to pick up lefty starter Doug Davis, who struggled in his return from a nearly two-month stay on the disabled list.

The Brewers may have caught a break in the eighth inning, when Lastings Milledge’s single struck second-base umpire Chris Guccione in the foot on its way to center field. Garrett Jones might have tried to score from second on the play had it not struck the ump and been moving fast enough to elude second baseman Weeks, but Jones instead had to return to his base and was stranded there.

Brewers closer John Axford (4-1) picked up the win, throwing a scoreless 10th.

As the home team walked off to victory, snapping a five-game losing streak, the Pirates added a fourth game to their losing skid, and Pittsburgh came out on the losing end for the 22nd time in its last 24 road games.

“It’s just frustrating to play well and not be able to close it out,” Maholm said. “But you give those guys the ball every night and they’re going to have an off night. But you come back tomorrow and expect them to do well.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs

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