For Pirates, better late than never

| Friday, April 26, 2013, 8:36 p.m.

The Pirates' bullpen has done a remarkable job of keeping the team in games this season. Its 1.80 ERA — second in the majors — is testament to that.

Over the previous four-game series in Philadelphia this week, the offense also shined in the late innings.

The Pirates won three of four against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park — including three straight — and entered this weekend's series a half-game behind their opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the National League Central.

They rallied in the seventh and eighth innings in the final two games of the Phillies series. It marked the first time the Pirates won consecutive road games after trailing in the seventh inning or later in each game since July 4-5, 1997, at St. Louis, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

The Pirates are 2-8 when trailing after seven innings and 1-1 when tied after seven — they had been tied in the seventh Thursday before scoring the go-ahead runs in the eighth.

In 2012, they won only three games (3-69) when trailing after seven.

“I think we've just been playing good, quality baseball,” said Garrett Jones, who doubled in two runs in the eighth inning of Thursday's series finale.

“Our bullpen's been outstanding keeping us in games when we're behind, and we're just never giving up knowing we're in the game and battling back. It only takes a couple hits or one swing to tie it up and put us in the lead.

“We've been in every game, our pitching's been outstanding, and our offense has picked it up and gotten some key hits.”

The Pirates entered Friday's game third in the National League in runs (34), second in on-base percentage (.349), third in hits (59) and second in batting average (.269) in innings seven through nine.

In 2012, they were last in the National League in each of those categories: runs scored (168), on-base percentage (.277), hits (348) and batting average (.214) in the last three innings of games.

“I feel like every time I watch a game now I know we're going to be in it in the ninth inning,” pitcher James McDonald said. “We're either going to be one run away or we're going to be playing good baseball, swinging the bats well, putting together good at-bats, playing good defense, and the bullpen's been doing a great job. Late in the game we feel no pressure.”

Their only late-inning comeback win prior to Wednesday was against Cincinnati on April 14 when, trailing 5-0, they scored four runs in the seventh inning and six in the eighth to win, 10-7.

The Pirates are outscoring opponents, 34-12, from the seventh inning on.

“I think as a team we know even though we're in the seventh inning, eighth inning and down by two we know what type of team we have and that we can come back if we put good at-bats together,” Gaby Sanchez said. “We're not thinking about tomorrow. We're thinking about the present and going out there and trying to win today.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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