PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Pirates went weeks without
winning earlier this season. Now, during a little-noticed and
totally unexpected turnaround, they seem to invent different ways
to win nearly every day.
Rob Mackowiak came around to score on a bizarre, bases-loaded
double when Atlanta catcher Johnny Estrada made two errors in a
span of seconds, and the Pirates rallied with a five-run seventh
inning to beat the Braves 8-4 Tuesday night.The comeback -- Pittsburgh once trailed 3-0 -- was the Pirates'
third in four days and gave them their 15th victory in their last
17 home games. They rallied from three runs down to beat Cincinnati
14-4 Saturday and four runs down to beat the Reds 6-5 Sunday."We're getting better, we're starting to pick it up, but we got
lucky tonight," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "We weren't in it
at all ... until we got some breaks."Not only did Atlanta's four-game winning streak end, so did J.D.
Drew's 22-game hitting streak as he went 0-for-3. The streak tied
for the fifth-longest in Braves history.The Pirates moved out of last place for the first time since
early May and are within two games of .500 (48-50) after being 15
games under on June 22, following a dismal stretch of 21 losses in
25 games."Now when we make a mistake, we say, 'Oh, well,' " Bobby Hill
said. "Earlier, we would say, 'Oh, we're in trouble.' We know our
pitching will pick us up or we [the hitters] will pick them up.
We're picking each other up when we get behind, and that's what
good teams do."Atlanta's problem during a brief but pivotal span was being
unable to pick up the ball at all.Paul Byrd was cruising with a 3-0 lead before allowing Jason
Kendall's two-run homer in the sixth, then left after Hill and
pinch-hitter Abraham Nunez singled with one out in the seventh and
the Braves up 4-2.That brought on Kevin Gryboski (1-2), who gave up Kendall's
infield single before shortstop Rafael Furcal booted Jack Wilson's
potential double-play grounder for his 16th error, scoring Hill.Mackowiak then hit an opposite-field drive over the head of left
fielder Charles Thomas. As Mackowiak pulled into second, Kendall
and Wilson arrived at the plate within a few steps of each other.
Kendall scored standing up, but Wilson slid across safely only when
Estrada mishandled the relay throw.Estrada hurried to pick up the ball and, realizing third base
wasn't covered, tried to hold up his throw. But the ball slipped
awkwardly out of his hand and skidded in front of the Pirates'
dugout, sending Mackowiak home with a Little League version of an
inside-the-park homer."It was a weird play, the way it happened," Mackowiak said.
"I'm just glad it worked out for us. "An inning later, Estrada's passed ball also scored the Pirates'
final run."I've never seen Johnny have a bad night behind the plate,"
manager Bobby Cox said. "We haven't had a night like that since
the first month of the season."The two errors and passed ball ruined another big night at the
plate for Estrada, who homered to make it 4-1 in the top of the
seventh and doubled to start a three-run fourth against Pirates
starter Kip Wells. The All-Star catcher had three hits, giving him
five in the first two games of the four-game series."Debacle," Estrada said. "I've never used that actually, but
we went from having a two-run cushion to just falling apart. ... It
was a debacle."Andruw Jones also had a run-scoring double and Thomas added an
RBI double in the fourth among his three hits.Wells gave up nine hits and three runs in six innings and has
won only once in 12 starts. Byrd yielded seven hits and four runs
in 6 1-3 innings, the first time he has allowed more than three
earned runs in his seven starts."I really don't know what to say," Byrd said. "It's pretty
frustrating for me and for us. The game meant a lot, and I really
don't know what happened. It was weird what was going on."Mike Gonzalez (3-0) allowed Estrada's homer but still was
credited with the win. Salomon Torres pitched the eighth before
Jose Mesa finished up in the ninth in a non-save situation.
Thomas is among six Atlanta left fielders who have combined
to hit .315. ... Drew went 33-for-87 (.379) during his streak. He
did reach base for the 41st consecutive game. ... Atlanta lost for
only the second time in 12 road games. ... Pittsburgh has won nine
of 12 and 21 of 28. ... Atlanta is 31-16 against the NL East but
22-30 against all other opposition.