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PIT@MIL: Jones crushes a solo shot to right-center

MILWAUKEE -- If a guy having a hitless season rolls out a three-RBI game that includes his first home run in 10 1/2 months, you know it must be happening to the Pirates in Milwaukee.

A team does not lose 39 of its last 44 games in a location without a heavy dose of the paranormal, and essentially that is what happened to the Bucs and left-hander Erik Bedard in a 5-1 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park on Saturday night.

Well, the extraordinary along with the less-than-ordinary. That was manager Clint Hurdle's evaluation of Bedard's effort, and he was willing to give him that.

"Every starting pitcher is gonna have a sideways game," Hurdle said. "That was his so far this season. The curve wasn't in play at all. The overall command ... just below-average across the board."

A couple of lightweight Brewers infielders did all the heavy lifting, with shortstop Cody Ransom and Brooks Conrad, the first baseman, combining to drive in all their runs. The larger part of the damage was by Conrad, who had neither a hit nor an RBI all season until he drove in three, a pair on his first home run since last July 21.

The Bucs were counting on some fresh blood to keep alive hopes for their first sweep here in eight years. Bedard was making his 176th Major League start, but the first against the Brewers, making him immune to any Pittsburgh complex against the club's division foes. The lefty, however, joined the long list of Pirates victims.

In his shortest of 10 (healthy) starts this season, Bedard was chased in 3 2/3 innings, having allowed five hits and five runs. He also struck out five to put him back on a strikeout-an-inning pace (56 in 55 2/3), but that was no consolation.

"Timely pitches I couldn't get," Bedard said, showing some frustration over plate umpire Gerry Davis' moving strike zone, "then I hung some at the wrong time and they took advantage of them."

The Pirates had spent a few hours in second place in the National League Central, with the Cardinals' afternoon loss in New York lowering them percentage points behind the Bucs.

After Bedard helped the Brewers to a 1-0 lead, following Aramis Ramirez's second-inning double with consecutive walks of Rickie Weeks and Ransom to load the bases and set up Conrad's sacrifice fly, Garrett Jones bombed the Bucs into a brief 1-1 tie.

Jones' 453-foot blast to begin the fourth gave him six homers, as well as some bragging rights with the tape-measure job.

"It definitely felt good. I got a fastball up over the plate and I felt like I took a swing I've been trying to find all year," Jones said. "It felt nice and short and relaxed."

Rather than being unhinged by the long blow, Milwaukee starter Shaun Marcum quickly collected himself. He completed his seven innings without further trouble, allowing a total of five hits while striking out eight without a walk.

Hurdle was not thrilled with how his lineup approached Marcum, despite having been cautioned to gear up for the right-hander's offspeed stuff.

"Marcum was the same guy I've seen for three years," Hurdle said. "I prepped him for the Rangers [in 2010, when Hurdle was Texas' batting coach]. He hasn't changed. You have to make a commitment to hit the soft stuff, they were aware of what they had to do going in, and that was the disappointing part.

"You're gonna get the fastball early for strike one, then he's going to shave [speed] or spin and go soft. He continues to challenge hitters' discipline and bite -- and we bit."

Bedard and Conrad teamed up in the bottom of that inning for further evidence that their sport is an unpredictable marvel that often strays from the most logical path. Ransom had already drilled a two-run single for a 3-1 lead when Conrad yanked a two-run homer -- his first hit of the season in 28 at-bats.

"Two curves I hung, and they took advantage of them," Bedard said of the two-run hits. "The homer ... I do not know how it went out, but it went out."

Bedard made a sour face when informed that Conrad's fly had settled into a picnic area that was added in front of Miller Park's old right-field wall, hence shortening the dimension, a few years ago.

"Darn ... I'm late," Bedard said.

Bedard had been aware of Conrad's hitless status "since [Friday] night. It's not something you think about. Until he got it. Then you're, 'Well, he was due. And he got it.'"

Pittsburgh had one huge opportunity to slash its way back into the game. Singles by Jose Tabata and Jones opened the sixth, with the heart of the lineup due up. Andrew McCutchen pummeled a liner that was snared by Ramirez at third. Pedro Alvarez popped weakly to short left. Then, the killer: Neil Walker's hard grounder up the middle was gloved by Ransom, whose feed to Weeks speeding across the second-base bag was in time to force Jones.

"We had a shift on with the lefty up, so I was really hoping he'd get there," Ransom said of Weeks. "He's fast. It worked out great."

Jones had hit a changeup for the single, but Marcum used most of the others to his advantage.

"We made a couple of adjustments in that inning, but they laid out for those two balls, and we weren't able to do anything," Hurdle said.

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