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Late home run sinks Pirates |

Late home run sinks Pirates

| Friday, July 9, 2004 12:00 a.m

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Kris Benson reached one of his goals Thursday night. Within three weeks, he should know how much he has helped the Pirates reach one of theirs.

The Pirates have been trying to trade Benson all season. He did nothing to hurt those chances last night by pitching seven strong innings in a game the Pirates lost to the Montreal Expos, 2-1, on Brian Schneider’s eighth-inning homer off reliever John Grabow.

It was just the second loss in the past 13 games for the Pirates, who dropped the opener of a four-game series before 7,746 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

Benson’s last start of the first half resembled the six the preceded it. He dominated the Expos, shutting them out on two hits through six innings before giving up a run in the seventh. Trouble was, the Pirates mustered only five hits and an unearned run against Tony Armas and two relievers.

It was the seventh consecutive start that Benson worked into the seventh inning. He has a 2.92 ERA in those games and hasn’t allowed a homer in 52 innings.

“I had a goal to pitch seven strong games to finish up the first half,” Benson said. “I feel good about the way things went the last couple of starts.”

The Pirates’ goal is to deal Benson before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, save as much of the remaining $3 million on his contract as they can and receive a ready-to-produce offensive threat.

With the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies searching for pitching, it’s no longer a given that Benson will be around to make his next start — which is scheduled for the first day after the break, July 16 against the Florida Marlins.

“I don’t know what to think anymore,” Benson said. “I just know I’m pleased with the way I’ve been able to throw at the end of the first half. I’m looking forward to taking a little break, resting my arm a little bit and getting ready for the second half. It should be just as exciting.”

Particularly if a bidding war erupts for Benson. Aside from Randy Johnson, he’s the hottest pitching commodity on the market.

“It feels good considering the way that it was at the beginning of the season,” Benson said. “My first 10 games of the season, everybody pretty much was X-ing me out. I wasn’t performing as well as I should be. I knew that.”

After his start May 31, Benson was 4-4 with a 5.64 ERA. He made a few changes in his delivery and hasn’t looked back.

“Now that I’m throwing up to my capability, it’s nice to know people are showing interest in me,” Benson said. “But I’m going to keep on doing things necessary to help this team win. I’d like to get a couple more wins before I end up getting traded, if that happens.”

If not for one play in the seventh inning, Benson could have pocketed a win in his Puerto Rico debut and evened his record at 7-7. Moments after Craig Wilson scored an unearned run to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead, he helped give the run back to the Expos.

Wilson got turned around on Endy Chavez’s deep fly ball, and it carried over his glove for a leadoff triple. Tony Batista lashed a single through the left side of a drawn-in infield to tie the score.

“I took a bad route to it,” Wilson said. “Magellan would have been proud of the route I took.”

The score was tied when Grabow relieved in the eighth. After getting the first out, he threw a 3-2 slider to Schneider, who deposited it into the right-field seats. It was just the fourth home run for the Expos in their 19 “home” games here.

“I threw everything I had. He just won the at-bat,” Grabow said.

It was a night of missed opportunities for the Pirates.

Expos first baseman Nick Johnson robbed Tike Redman and Rob Mackowiak of potential extra-base hits with sensational leaping grabs. Batista, the Expos third baseman, took a hit away from Tony Alvarez, and the Expos middle infielders turned two early double plays.

Jack Wilson tried to take an extra base but was thrown out at second for the third out of the eighth. And the Pirates had three cracks with a runner at second base in the ninth, but couldn’t produce.

It wasn’t exactly the way the hottest team in the majors wanted to open a series against the one with the worst record.

“We made some mistakes and it cost us,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We lost a real good game that we should have won.”

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