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ATL@PIT: Conrad pummels a go-ahead homer in the 11th

PITTSBURGH -- While rekindling some of the late-inning magic he frequently created last year and allowing the Braves to carry some momentum out of what began as a very frustrating road trip, Brooks Conrad joined Chipper Jones' list of top teammates of all time.

This is what Jones proclaimed as he and his Braves teammates celebrated a 4-2 11-inning win that came courtesy of the two-run homer that Conrad hit off Pirates right-hander Jeff Karstens at PNC Park on Wednesday afternoon.

"Wow, nice, dude," Conrad said as he heard Jones make this proclamation. "That's something to tell the kids."

While Conrad's latest clutch delivery might not prove as memorable as his walk-off grand slam against the Reds 370 days earlier, the Braves could certainly remember this two-run shot off Karstens as proving to be very important.

Instead of suffering a fifth loss on a seven-game road trip that was plagued by various injuries, Atlanta recorded its third win in its past four games and completed a two-game mini sweep of the much improved Pirates.

"It's a huge win," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "I wish we would stop playing all of these extra-inning games."

Once Jonny Venters performed an impressive escape act that led them to play beyond the ninth for the sixth time in their past 14 games, the Braves began their 11th-inning charge with McCann's one-out single to right. Conrad then came off the bench and drilled a 1-2 changeup over the right-center-field wall.

The pinch-hit blast was the first homer of the season for the gritty utility man, who hit .313 with five homers in late and close situations last year.

"All those situations up there in a tie ballgame and stuff like that, it's always so much fun, especially in the pinch-hit role," Conrad said. "Getting up there with the game on the line, you've got a chance to drive in the winning run for your team. It's just a lot of fun. It's a big emotional swing. If you get it done, you're flying high. If you don't get it done, you've got to sit on it until your next opportunity."

Conrad would not have had the opportunity to deliver had Venters not calmly reacted to the jam he faced in the ninth after second baseman Dan Uggla and shortstop Alex Gonzalez collided as they reached second to receive his potential double-play feed. This set the stage for the Pirates to load the bases with just one out.

With Venters' ability to induce ground balls with his nasty sinker, McCann at least claimed he was not worried.

"He's something special," McCann said. "There aren't too many guys with the bases loaded, one out, you feel confident they're not going to score. That's probably the No. 1 guy in all of baseball you would want in that situation."

Venters lived up to McCann's expectations when he got Steve Pearce to hit a chopper to a drawn-in Jones, who fired to the plate to begin an inning-ending double play. The Atlanta left-handed reliever said Pearce got the better of him multiple times in the Minors.

"That's a tough at-bat," Pearce said. "You want to help the team win. I was looking for a pitch to drive and felt like I got it. I rolled over it. It's unfortunate I didn't get to help the team win."

Pearce had already enjoyed a productive afternoon. He delivered a game-tying RBI single off Mike Minor in the third and tied the game again in the seventh with a two-out homer off Eric O'Flaherty, who had surrendered just two homers in his previous 82 appearances.

Just before allowing Pearce to go deep for the first time this year, O'Flaherty executed a successful pickoff move that caught Jose Tabata as he broke toward second base.

Pearce's blast off O'Flaherty erased the lead the Braves gained in the sixth when Eric Hinske drilled a no-doubt two-out homer off Pirates starter James McDonald. Hinske's fifth homer of the season briefly put Minor in position to win for the first time in since proving victorious in each of his final three August starts last year.

Minor limited the Pirates to one run and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. Capitalizing on the opportunity to take Tim Hudson's turn in the rotation, the 23-year-old lefty proved to be more impressive than he was on April 6, when he lasted 4 1/3 innings against the Brewers in what was his only previous big league start this year.

Minor, the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, will likely remain in the rotation at least until Brandon Beachy returns from the disabled list. "I didn't put as much pressure on myself this time," Minor said. "I knew I had the stuff because I've been getting guys out in Triple-A."

It appeared Atlanta's offense was going to erupt when McDonald allowed a hit to each of the first three batters he faced. Jordan Schafer opened the game with a double, advanced to third on Gonzalez's single and scored when Jones followed with a single of his own.

But McDonald escaped this rough 17-pitch stretch and surrendered just two more hits before Hinske damaged him with his blast in the sixth.

While Hinske managed to produce another key homer, the most memorable blast from this day undoubtedly came courtesy of Conrad.

"That's what he does," McCann said. "He gets big hits and drives in big runs and helps us win a lot of games throughout the course of the season."

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