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Eighth-inning troubles are hurting Pirates

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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.

Friday, Aug. 7, 2009
 

The ninth often is baseball's most pressure-packed inning. Yet, for the Pirates, the eighth has been the deadliest inning.

The Pirates have been outscored, 62-37 — a dramatic margin — in eighth innings this season. They are 37-6 when they lead after seven.

"It's a tough inning," manager John Russell said Thursday. "If you have guys coming in with good stuff who can really locate the ball, it's going to make those late innings easier."

By the third or fourth time through the lineup, batters have acclimated their swings. Any misstep by a relief pitcher or the fielders can spark a rally.

"If you get those clean innings late in the game, it really shuts down the opposing team," Russell said. "They don't get the momentum; they don't get the right people to the plate.

"But if you start giving them opportunities, like we did last night ... usually bad things are going to happen."

Wednesday, the Pirates led the Arizona Diamondbacks, 2-1, going into the eighth. Before the inning was over, the Pirates had used three relievers and the Diamondbacks had scored three runs.

Joel Hanrahan, a one-time closer for Washington, created the mess with a walk and a throwing error.

"They always say the walks are gonna kill you," Hanrahan said.

Evan Meek blew his first save by yielding a pair of run-scoring singles. The rookie right-hander has allowed six of 10 inherited runners to score.

Russell does not have the luxury of a veteran bullpen. Hanrahan and Steven Jackson are newcomers, Jesse Chavez is a rookie, Jeff Karstens is a converted starter and Donnie Veal is a Rule 5 newbie.

"It's where we're at right now," Russell said with a shrug. "We've got a young bullpen, and the stress of those innings is not always conducive to a young pitcher. I think our guys have handled it pretty well and will continue to get better."

Trouble spots

A look at the inning-by-inning run totals for the Pirates and their opponents this season:

Inning: Pirates — Opposition

1st: 57 — 53

2nd: 48 — 46

3rd: 50 — 54

4th: 55 — 63

5th: 38 — 54

6th: 54 — 60

7th: 57 — 40

8th: 37 — 62

9th: 40 — 39

Extra: 4 — 4

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