Andy LaRoche Continues to Lead Pirates; Bucs Win 3-2 over Cubs

Andy LaRoche started the season 1-for-13, but in his last 15 games he is hitting .393 with 22 hits, three HR, seven RBI, and eight runs.

Andy LaRoche has been in the lineup for nine of the the Pittsburgh Pirates eleven wins.  He has missed seven games mainly due to back trouble.  That awful 36-1 drubbing from the Brewers?  Yeh, LaRoche wasn’t available. 

When the Bucs took two of three from the Brew Crew a week later?   LaRoche had seven hits in fifteen at-bats.  Maybe we are imagining things, but last night surely wasn’t a mirage.  He was impressive with a glove on his hand and with a bat in his hands against the Chicago Cubs.

LaRoche had a first inning homer off Chicago Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, who was pitching a day after his 33rd birthday. Dempster threw heat right down the plate twice, it didn’t happen a third time.  It was gone.  Kiss it goodbye! 

But it was the glove of LaRoche that stole the show.   Especially, his sparkling, diving play in the ninth inning that saved the Bucs and new proud papa Octavio Dotel from implosion.  Outs are so in right now. (Thank you Perry Hill.)

Behind starter Paul Maholm, who retired the Cubs in order only once, the Bucs played some solid defense.  And a strong bullpen allowed the Pirates to earn another one run victory, despite striking out seven times, by the score of 3-2. The Pirates opened a nine-game homestand with an important win and put the brakes on their three-game skid.

Dotel had allowed runs in his past six straight outings.  LaRoche made certain that streak ended too. In the past ten games LaRoche has been sizzling hot Benihana style with an OPS over 1.000.  For the young season, LaRoche has an OPS of .881 which easily leads the Pirates. [Video of LaRoche solo homer]

LaRoche, the RBI leader for the Bucs last year, leads the team in OBP and batting average.  Also, take a look at a cool stat called True Average at Baseball Prospectus.  LaRoche is well above the major league average for third baseman. 

The Bucs were helped immensely by Ryan Theriot booting a Garrett Jones grounder with two outs which set up a clutch two-run homerun in the sixth inning by Ryan Church. The homer cleared the Clemente wall by inches and sent all ten fans in the right field seats scurrying for the souvenir.  The Pirates radio broadcaster, Greg Brown missed the call momentarily because the ball was hit so sharply.  (Heh, I am a nice guy.)  [Video of two-run homer by Church]

The Pirates bullpen made it stand up. Evan Meek, who pitched without command and had nothing on his slider, was able to rely on his insane gas.  With one out, he walked Marlon Byrd and then plunked Aramis Ramirez.  But Meek struck out Alfonso Soriano, despite falling behind on a 3-0 count, and also got former Pirate Xavier Nady to strikeout to end the inning.  In spite of his troubles, Meek would fall behind every Cubs hitter, but he was able to keep the Cubs off the scoreboard and lowered his ERA to 0.56 on the season.

Joel Hanrahan threw a perfect eighth.  Hanrahan lowered his ERA to 8.64 ( 20.25 ERA vs left-handed hitters including six runs given up to the Brewers in an inning of ‘work’; but he has been strong versus righties with a respectable 3.18 ERA.)   

Octavio Dotel earned his fourth save despite a one-out walk because LaRoche came up with a diving stop of a Marlon Byrd groundball that was scorched near the hole. LaRoche fired to Aki Iwamura for the second out.  Dotel then got Aramis Ramirez to foul out to the backstop to end the Pirates three-game losing skid.

Paul Maholm earned the win and allowed two runs, both home runs, on eight hits over six innings. Alfonso Soriano blasted his homer into the left-field rotunda which greatly impressed the Pirate radio broadcasters.  Soriano has homered in his last four games and just missed his second of the game in the sixth inning. 

 Geovany Soto hit the other solo blast for the Cubs  in the exciting sixth inning, but that was all the Cubs could muster despite hitting numerous deep blasts that were turned into flyball outs and line drives such as the one that ended the rally in the sixth that Ronny Cedeno snagged. 

So it wasn’t pretty, but Maholm has lowered his ERA to 4.06 by stranding seven runners in scoring position.  The Pirates will take winning ugly any day.  Keep penciling LaRoche on that lineup card cutie pie.

[Pitch F/X Courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net]

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For a much better recap of the game, check out what A.J. wrote at Goat Riders about the crucial strikeouts the Cubs had tonight.  Hell he ranks them!  It’s very well done, but don’t fall in love with it, I can’t write that good well.

But I’m even more pissed about a strikeout that happened much earlier.

1) In the top of the fifth inning, with Marlon Byrd on 2nd, Aramis Ramirez, our cleanup hitter — the artist formerly known as Clutchy McClutcherson — struck out swinging on the fourth pitch of his at bat.

Foul tip. Called strike. Ball. Swinging strike.

A perfect demonstration of ineptitude.

Aramis Ramirez looks straight up terrible, folks. He’s never slumped like this.

And the worst part is, it’s not even bad luck really. It’d be one thing if his line shots were finding gloves, or if his hard hit grounders were all being hit right at people. But Aramis is just swinging and missing WAY TOO MUCH, and hitting weak crap every time else. He’s hitting .149 on the season.

Charlie Morton pitches today against Ted Lilly.  Check out this detailed report ala Crime Scene Investigations from PLC on the interesting question of Morton tipping his pitches from the stretch.

Cubs Manager Lou Piniella mentioned he may move Ramirez down in the order and Fonz up.

Topics: Andy LaRoche, Evan Meek, Goat Riders, Goat Riders Of The Apocalypse, Joel Hanrahan, Octavio Dotel, Paul Mahol, Ryan Church

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