Aid for Madre Laura

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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — One of the best things about my job is, you sometimes never know what will happen from one minute to the next.

I began today by greeting Pirates owner Bob Nutting and prez Frank Coonelly over scrambled eggs on the top floor of an ocean-side hotel in the capital city of the D.R.

Eight hours later, I was riding in a van down a rutted, twisty road in the middle of nowhere during a tropical rainstorm. Coonelly was in the seat behind me, Nutting a row in front. Roberto Clemente Jr. and his brother Luis also were aboard.

Riding shotgun was the Pirate Parrot.

Like I said, expect the unexpected.

After celebrating the opening of their Academia de Beisbol in El Toro, D.R., the Pirates brass piled into the van for a 30-minute trip to Escuela a Primaria “Madre Laura” — a public school which received $125,000 worth of materials through Pirates Charities.

Madre Laura handles more than 900 students, who attend classes in two shifts. The students come from 25 rural towns, including Estorga, Bani, La Gina, La Catalina and the sugarmill towns of La Amelia and Santa Lucia.

Money from the Pirates has paid for new computers and desks, and construction of a classroom, a perimeter wall and a dining hall. When the Pirates’ spring training home of Manatee County, Fla., donated a school bus, the team found a way to ship it to the Dominican.

This afternoon, a group of students and one of the nuns who teaches at Madre Laura rode that bus from the Pirates’ baseball academy to the school. The rest of us followed behind in the van.

As we were about halfway there, it began to pour. Still, everywhere in the streets there were children, playing in the rain. The Parrot did … well, he did that stuff he usually does with his beak and the gesturing and everything. As you might expect, none of those kids had ever before seen a 7-foot-tall green Parrot zoom through their neighborhood. They were delighted.

We toured the school — again, the Parrot was a big hit — then returned to the van. “You are a blessing to us,” one of the nuns said in Spanish as we packed up. “We have nothing to offer you in return but our thanks. Hopefully, the Lord will return your good works to you — and the Pirates will be champions!”

On the ride back to the hotel, vice president of community and public affairs Patty Paytas said the Pirates plan to have a long-term relationship with the school. The partnership is still very much in its infancy.

“No (other MLB team) really is doing something like this,” Paytas said, noting that San Diego Padres officials are taking notes on the Pirates’ progress. “So it’s, ‘How do we begin? How do we get people in Pittsburgh involved?’ We’re still trying to figure out (the school’s) needs, then we can decide who to go to and what to ask for.”

For starters, the school needs improved Internet access and various educational supplies. Another visit from the wacky Parrot would be more than welcome, too.

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Scouting the Dominican

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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — John Grupp has been handing beat duties the past couple of days while I’m here, working on stories about the Pirates’ new Latin American headquarters.

The $5 million complex will be christened tomorrow during a ceremony attended by owner Bob Nutting, team president Frank Coonelly and Dominican President Leonel Fernandez Reyna. Look for an update in Thursday’s Trib.

This afternoon, the front-office braintrust — GM Neal Huntington, farm director Kyle Stark and director of Latin American scouting Rene Gayo — held an invitation-only workout for unsigned prospects at the complex.

This morning, Gayo also conducted a more general workout. About 80 players showed up, but the event was cut short by a sudden, strong rainstorm. The day wasn’t a total loss, though — Gayo got a “verbal commitment” from a shortstop who will be eligible to sign with the Pirates in July. That’s all I can divulge at the moment. More on that in a later Trib story.

• Stark told me prized outfielder prospect Jose Tabata will miss the next four to six weeks with a right hamstring injury. Tabata was hurt a couple of days ago in his first game as the leadoff hitter for Double-A Altoona. Why put Tabata, who has good but not tremendous speed, in the top hitting spot? “Just wanted to shake up the lineup,” Stark said.

• Altoona’s Jim Negrych had his nine-game hitting streak snapped Sunday. He got back on track Monday, going 3 for 4 and boosting his average to .381, second-best in the Eastern League.

• Relief pitchers have notched the wins in eight of Class A Lynchburg’s 13 victories. … Pedro Alvarez has hit four homers. Three of them gave Lynchburg the lead, including a walk-off shot. The other one tied a game with two outs in the ninth inning.

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Pirates lost in Milwaukee again

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MILWAUKEE – Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo tossed eight scoreless innings and provided the game’s only run with a seventh-inning homer as the Pirates lost their 18th game in a row at Miller Park, 1-0, on Wednesday afternoon.

The Pirates have lost 15 in a row to the Brewers dating to last May.

Gallardo’s homer off Ian Snell (1-2) in the seventh broke open a pitcher’s duel between the two right-handers.

Gallardo allowed two hits — a double by Andy LaRoche in the fifth and a double by Robinzon Diaz in the eighth – while striking out a career-high 11 and walking one. Carlos Villanueva pitched a perfect ninth inning, striking out Adam LaRoche to end the game, for his second save.

No Pirate baserunner advanced past second base, as the Pirates were shutout for the second time this season. Snell, who threw a career-high 131 pitches, allowed one earned run on five hits in seven innings.

The Pirates, who dropped to one game above .500, are off Thursday before playing the Reds in a three-game series beginning Friday at PNC Park.

— By John Grupp

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Pirates-Brewers pre-game, lineups

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MILWAUKEE — Nate McLouth will miss his sixth game in a row with a strained right oblique muscle in this afternoon’s 1:05 p.m. game with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Pirates, as well noted, have lost 14 in a row to the Brewers and 17 in a row at Miller Park.

PIRATES — 1. Nyjer Morgan cf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Brandon Moss lf, 4. Adam LaRoche 1b, 5. Eric Hinske rf, 6. Andy LaRoche 3b, 7. Ramon Vazquez ss, 8. Robinzon Diaz C, 9. rhp Ian Snell (1-2, 4.50).

BREWERS — 1. Rickie Weeks 2b, 2. Chris Duffy cf, 3. Ryan Braun lf, 4. Prince Fielder 1b, 5. Corey Hart rf, 6. J.J. Hardy ss, 7. Bill Hall 3b, 8. Jason Kendall c, 9. rhp Yovani Gallardo (2-1, 3.71)

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Post-game notes from Pirates-Brewers

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Here are some notes from the Pirates’ post-game locker room following the 6-5 loss to the Brewers:

· It took only one batter Tuesday night to realize Paul Maholm wasn’t at his best.

Rickie Weeks ripped a line-drive to left that happened to find Brandon Moss’s glove. Maholm has been virtually unhittable in the first inning this season, retiring 12 of the 13 batters he’s faced. The only blemish was an Opening Day double by Albert Pujols.

So, when Corey Hart followed Weeks’ liner with a sharp double and Ryan Braun singled for a 1-0 lead, it was clearly not going to be Maholm’s night. The left-hander escaped bases-loaded jams in the third (on a Prince Fielder foul out) and in the fourth (on a Weeks pop out). But Bill Hall turned on a meaty, over-the-plate change-up on the first pitch in the bottom of the sixth and Maholm’s night ended one batter later.

He ended up throwing a season-high 111 pitches and walking a season-high five. He had walked only seven in his first four starts of the season.

“I didn’t feel comfortable the whole time,” Maholm said. “It was a game where I didn’t have it. Overall, it was just bad. The team gives you a 5-1 lead and you let them down. It’s pretty tough to take. We needed this game to get back in the series, and I didn’t go deep in the game. I just didn’t have it. It’s tough to take.”

Maholm has allowed nine earned runs in the past 11.1 innings. His ERA has climbed from 0.87 to 3.09.

· A night after Jeff Karstens tattooed Ryan Braun between the shoulders in the all-star’s first pitch after a home run, three different Pirates were hit with pitches, prompting home plate umpire Wally Bell to warn both teams.

Dave Bush barely grazed the jerseys of Eric Hinske and Andy LaRoche in the fifth inning, drawing a lot of boos from the crowd of 26,594, but clearly not dangerous beanballs. Bell approached the mound and waved to both dugouts. That was the end of it, until Jason Jaramillo hit a two-run double for a 5-1 Pirates lead.

— By John Grupp

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Pirates lose 17th in a row in Milwaukee

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MILWAUKEE – The Pirates have lost to many teams in many ballparks during their 16-year losing skid.

But there is nothing like Miller Park.

The Pirates frittered away a four-run lead – with ace Paul Maholm on the mound – and saw their miseries against the Milwaukee Brewers continued with a 6-5 loss on Tuesday night.

“It’s tough to play here,” Maholm said. “But we’ve got to get over it. We’ve got to win.”

The Pirates’ losing streak against the Brewers extended to 14 games in a row dating to last May and 17 in a row at Miller Park, dating to May 2007.

Their struggles mark the longest losing streak on the road against the same opponent by any major league team in at least two decades. The Mariners lost 16 in a row at Oakland from 1990-93.

One night after allowing five runs in the eighth inning of a 10-5 loss, the Pirates blew a 5-1 lead in the fifth inning.

“This team is swinging the bat very well right now,” Pirates manager John Russell said of the Brewers, who added to their NL-leading home run total. “If you make mistakes, they are going to hit them hard.”

Trailing 5-3, the Brewers homered twice during a three-run sixth-inning – one by Bill Hart off Maholm and a two-run drive by Rickie Weeks off reliever Jesse Chavez (0-1) – to take a 6-5 lead.

“I made a mistake,” Chavez said of his 93-mph fastball that Weeks lined over the left-field fence. “It’s unacceptable.”

The Pirates failed to reach base in the the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Ramon Vazquez led off the ninth with a single off Trevor Hoffman, but the major’s all-time save leader got Freddy Sanchez to ground into a game-ending double play for his first save with the Brewers.

Jorge Julio (1-0) got the win for the Brewers, who have won six of their past seven.

The three-game series concludes at 1:05 p.m. today when Ian Snell (1-2) meets Yovani Gallardo (2-1).

“We just have to bear down and hang in there,” outfielder Nyjer Morgan said. “We have dig a little deeper. It’s a long season. There are going to be many other times where we will be in this situation.”

— By John Grupp

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Pre-game notes from Pirates-Brewers

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· Center fielder Nate McLouth, who will miss his fifth consecutive game, threw for about 10 minutes in the outfield at Miller Park on Tuesday afternoon. Manager John Russell said McLouth could possibly hit off a tee Wednesday, if he continues to progress.

· Brewers reserve outfielder Chris Duffy, who spent seven years in the Pirates’ organization, spoke about his experience in Pittsburgh and the emotions of facing his former teammates last night.

“It was a little tough, rooting against those guys,” he said. “Coming up, years of having their back and wanting them to do well. It was weird.”

· Shortstop Jack Wilson, on the 15-day disabled list, will not resume any hitting or fielding activities before this weekend. The veteran, who had another visit with hand specialist Dr. Mark Baratz in Pittsburgh earlier this week, is eligible to come off the DL the second weekend in May.

· Brewers manager Ken Macha, a graduate of Gateway High and the University of Pittsburgh, is back in the dugout after two years as a TV analyst with the Red Sox.

Macha, who managed the Oakland As from 2003-06, will return to Pittsburgh as a manager for the first time when the Brewers swing by PNC Park for a brief two-game series beginning Monday. Macha, 58, lives in Latrobe.

“I’ve got a nice team,” Macha said before Tuesday’s game. “A great group of guys, hard-working and a very together group. Low maintanence. A whole bunch of positives.”

— John Grupp

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Pirates-Brewers lineups; McLouth out again, Moss batting third

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Brandon Moss, who has one RBI in 51 at-bats, will bat third for the second time this season and Nate McLouth will miss his fifth straight game with a sore right oblique, as the Pirates try to snap their 16-game losing streak at Miller Park.

Ace Paul Maholm takes the mound at 8:05 tonight against the Brewers. Dave Bush (1-0, 3.86 ERA) will start for the Brewers, who have won 15 of their past 16 games against the Pirates.

One night after going 0 for 4 with four strikeouts, Brian Bixler gets another start at shortstop.

Here are the starting lineups

PIRATES – 1. Nyler Morgan cf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Brandon Moss lf, 4. Adam LaRoche 1b, 5. Eric Hinske rf, 6. Andy LaRoche 3b, 7. Jason Jaramillo c, 8. Brian Bixler ss, 9. Paul Maholm (3-0, 2.03 ERA)

BREWERS – 1. Rickie Weeks 2b, 2. Corey Hart rf, 3. Ryan Braun lf, 4. Prince Fielder 1b, 5. Mike Cameron cf, 6. J.J. Hardy ss, 7. Bill Hall 3b, 8. Mike Rivera c, 9. rhp Dave Bush (1.0. 3.86 ERA)

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Post-game tidbits

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· Manager John Russell said Jeff Karstens was just trying to protect the inside of the plate when he hit Ryan Braun between the shoulders in the all-star leftfielder’s first at-bat after homering off the Pirates right-hander in the first inning. Braun glared at Karstens for a moment before heading to first.

“He’s trying to come in,” Russell said of Karstens. “(The Brewers are) very aggressive. You’ve got to be able to pitch inside. The ball got away from him. It looks bad because he hit a home run (in his previous at-bat). We’ve got to be able to throw at both sides of the plate.”

Umpire John Hirschbeck warned both benches. Later in the game, former Pirate Jason Kendall was hit by a pair of pitches.

· John Grabow, who had allowed no earned runs in 10 innings this year, allowed two earned runs in the loss. He gave up two hits, including a double by Corey Hart and a two-run single to Prince Fielder past a drawn-in infield.

“It’s a hitter’s ballpark,” Grabow said. “You have to come in here and make your pitches. We didn’t do that today.”

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Pirates falter late in 10-5 loss to nemesis Brewer

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MILWAUKEE – The Pirates are off to their best start in seven years, but beating the Brewers will have to wait.

The Pirates fell to their nemesis again, this time, 10-5, on Monday night to extend their losing streak to the Brewers to 13 in a row dating to last May.

It was also the Pirates’ 16th consecutive loss at Miller Park, Both streaks lead the majors for active futility against one opponent.

This one wasn’t as lopsided as many of their recent meetings, as the Pirates fought back from a 5-2 deficit to tie the game in the eighth, before the Brewers scored five runs in the bottom of the inning to pull away in front of 32,198 fans.

Nyjer Morgan went 2 for 4 with three runs scored, Freddy Sanchez was 2 for 4 with two RBI and Andy LaRoche increased his hitting streak to 11 games.

The Brewers took a 5-2 lead after four innings on homers by Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Mike Cameron. But the Pirates showed resolve, tying the game at 5-all on Sanchez’s two-out, two-run double in the eighth inning.

The Pirates bullpen wavered and the Brewers answered with five runs in the bottom of the eighth off reliever Tyler Yates and John Grabow.

“I’m proud of the way we came back,” manager John Russell said. “It’s unfortunate we gave up five runs in the eighth inning. Other than that it was a pretty solid game.”

The go-ahead run scored when Bill Hall, who had walked to lead off the eighth, scored on Weeks’ sharp grounder to Sanchez and a drawn-in infield. Sanchez’s throw had no chance, and the Brewers led 6-5. A double by Corey Hart and a two-run single by Prince Fielder off Grabow and a sacrifice fly built it to 10-5.

“I committed the Cardinal Sin,” Yates said. “I walked the lead-off batter. I didn’t make him earn it. I gave it to him.”

It was only the third loss in the past 10 games for the Pirates, who have clinched their first winning April in seven years despite a rash of recent, high-profile injuries.

Trevor Hoffman, activated from the DL on Sunday, made his first appearance with the Brewers after 16 seasons with the Padres. He retired the side in order in the ninth.

Yates (0-1) took the loss in relief, while Todd Coffey (1-0) got the win.

“It was a great comeback,” Russell said. “I thought we had a lot of chances early that we didn’t capitalize on. Freddy came up with the big hit.

“We brought the guys in that we rely on heavily all the time and just didn’t get it done tonight. Tyler and John are two guys that we will go to every time in that situation and most times they come through all right. It was just one of those nights.”

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