published Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Punchless Pirates fall to Jurrjens, Braves 2-0

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens returns to the dugout after giving up a two-run home run to Atlanta Braves' Brooks Conrad in the 11th inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, May 25, 2011. The Braves won 4-2 in 11 innings. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens returns to the dugout after giving up a two-run home run to Atlanta Braves' Brooks Conrad in the 11th inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, May 25, 2011. The Braves won 4-2 in 11 innings. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH — Instead of leaving PNC Park elated after one of the best days of his career, Pittsburgh's Steve Pearce was disappointed that he didn't come through in the clutch.

Pearce homered for the first time in 20 months and went 3 for 5 with two RBIs Wednesday.

But he grounded into a double play with the bases loaded and one out in a tie game in the ninth inning and the Atlanta Braves earned a 4-2 win in 11 innings.

"I'm looking to a get a ball in the air there to get at least one run home but I rolled over on a pitch," said Pearce, who matched career bests in hits and RBIs.

"It was frustrating. We were all set up to win the game and I did the last thing you'd want to do in that situation. The tough part is that I'd been swinging the bat well all day, but I couldn't come through when I needed to the most."

Brooks Conrad hit a pinch-hit two-run homer in the 11th inning off Jeff Karstens (3-3) to lift Atlanta.

That capped a two-game sweep and handed the Pirates their third consecutive loss, despite another strong outing from James McDonald.

McDonald gave up hits to the first three batters of the game — including Chipper Jones' RBI single that scored Jordan Schafer — but retired 11 of the next 12.

"You don't want to let the game get out of hand," McDonald said. "It's my job to compete and allow the team to stay in the game."

McDonald, who hadn't allowed a run in either of his previous two home starts, allowed two runs and six hits and a walk with six strikeouts. Twenty of the 32 runs McDonald has allowed this season have come via the home run.

After watching his team having not scored a run since Saturday, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle shuffled his lineup, dropping Andrew McCutchen from leadoff to No. 3 in the order, bumping Jose Tabata to leadoff and inserting Pearce into the No. 2 spot.

Pearce drove in Pittsburgh's first run in 22 innings in the third with a single to left after Tabata had led off with a single and stole second.

But he didn't come through when he could have ended the game in the ninth after Lyle Overbay walked, Ronny Cedeno reached on an error and Tabata was intentionally walked with one out.

Just needing to get the ball a reasonable distance into the outfield against Jonny Venters, Pearce chopped a 1-1 pitch to Jones at third, who got the force at home before catcher Brian McCann relayed to first.

"It was a snapshot of what could have been," Hurdle said. "It was set up for us to win the game and we didn't do it."

Pearce made his fourth career start at third base, the Pirates patching the hole left with Pedro Alvarez on the disabled list. Pearce has reached safely in nine of his 10 starts this season.

Conrad's homer, into a sliver of seats in right-center with pinch-runner Wilkin Ramirez on first and one out, was his fifth career pinch-hit homer.

"He came up in the perfect spot and did what we all know he can," Jones said.

Eric Hinske had a solo homer earlier for the Braves, who have won three of four and got a strong outing from rookie Mike Minor in a spot start for Tim Hudson.

Five of Conrad's 11 career home runs have been on pinch hits, including three — two of them grand slams — last season. He had a walk-off single against St. Louis on May 1, and his only hit since then drove in the tying run with him scoring the go-ahead run in the seventh inning May 18.

"It's just so much fun, especially in the pinch-hit role, getting up there with the game on the line and you've got a chance to drive in the winning run for your team," Conrad said.

Minor allowed one run in 5 2-3 innings, George Sherrill (1-0) pitched a perfect 10th for the Braves and Craig Kimbrel retired the Pirates in order in the 11th for his 14th save.

Hinske, whose .370 batting average in May ranked second in the National League entering the game, gave Atlanta the lead in the sixth with his homer deep to right, his fifth of the season.

Pearce's homer down the left-field line in the seventh off Eric O'Flaherty prevented Minor from getting his first win of the season.

Minor, recalled Tuesday night to start in place of Hudson (stiff back), was making his second start of the season. Minor, the No. 7 overall draft pick in 2009, allowed seven hits and two walks with five strikeouts.<

Notes: Atlanta has four pinch-hit home runs this season. ... Overbay and OF Matt Diaz each had two hits for the Pirates. ... Normally Pittsburgh's fifth starter, Karstens was in the game because the Pirates pushed his next scheduled start back two days to Sunday. ... A day after 2B Dan Uggla was not in the Braves' lineup for the first time this season, teammate OF Martin Prado did not start for the first time. Similar to Uggla the day before, Prado entered the game in the eighth inning. Prado struck out in the 10th. ... The struggling Uggla had a rough game, going 0 for 5 with three strikeouts, an error and being part of a miscommunication that was called an error on SS Alex Gonzalez in the ninth.

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