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Pirates notebook: Bucs producing more power

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Pirates catcher Michael McKenry (9) is congratulated by teammate Clint Barmes after McKenry's two-run homer scored Pedro Alvarez (24) during the fifth inning on Friday, July 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Eric Kayne)

Going deep

Pirates total home runs:

Year HR NL rank

2011 107 14th

2010 126 14th

2009 125 14th

2008 153 12th

2007 148 12th

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, July 28, 2012, 6:24 p.m.
 

HOUSTON — Starling Marte's home run in the first inning Thursday was No. 108 by the Pirates, surpassing their total from last season in just 98 games this year.

This knack for going deep was not there in April and May, when the Pirates had one of the worst offenses in the majors. It has emerged in the past two months and enabled them to pull out some improbable victories.

Friday's win was a perfect example. The Pirates went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position, yet set up their ninth-inning rally with Alex Presley's solo homer and Michael McKenry's two-run shot.

The Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of this season raises the question: Are the Pirates relying too much on home runs?

“Did you ever think you'd have that conversation with me this year after the first two months?” manager Clint Hurdle teased. “It's been impressive. It's not like they're going up there trying to hit them. They're just hitting them.”

Still, Hurdle said the team must be careful not to expect a homer to save them every night.

“When you don't get them, the droughts are much more pronounced,” he said.

Hurdle loves the longball, as long as the Pirates continue to be patient at the plate to wear down pitchers.

“If you don't have those kind of guys in your lineup, it's a high-risk, high-reward (situation) and it's hard to be consistent,” Hurdle said.

Never say die

The Pirates notched their 29th come-from-behind win Friday, tops in the National League. They also have won 19 games in which they trailed by two or more runs, the most in the majors. Eleven of the 19 comebacks happened on the road. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Pirates had 10 road comeback wins over the past three seasons combined.

“We keep doing it,” Drew Sutton said. “We've fallen (behind) early, then fought back. You know you're not completely out of it, so you get used to staying in the game all nine innings.”

Fast starts, slow finishes

Marte is the 28th player to hit a home run on the first pitch of his first at-bat in the majors. He gave the ball to his grandmother.

Will Marte have a lot of other home run balls to distribute to his family and friends? Being a member of the first-pitch homer club is no guarantee a player will become a slugger. Of the other 27 players, only Jay Bell (195) and Marcus Thames (115) finished their careers with more than 100 homers.

Former Pirates manager Chuck Tanner went deep on the first pitch he saw while playing for the Milwaukee Braves in 1955. Tanner hit 21 homers in eight seasons in the majors.

The first player to do it, according to the Society for American Baseball Research, was the Pirates' Walter Mueller in 1922. Mueller homered again three days later, then played another 160 games in the majors without hitting a home run.

Around the horn

Infielder Brian Friday was traded to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Christian Marrero. Friday, a third-round pick in 2007, hit .232 in 66 games this season at Triple-A Indianapolis. Marrero, 25, hit a combined .248 with five homers and 35 RBI in 79 games at Double-A and Triple-A this year. Marrero was assigned to Indy. ... The Astros claimed Steve Pearce off waivers, and he is expected to be in uniform for Sunday's game. Pearce played for the Pirates from 2007-11 and recently was released by the Baltimore Orioles.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or 412-320-7811.

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