Pittsburgh Pirates BDR: “Go up there and miss another one”


Pittsburgh Pirates Back Deck Report: a hearty “welcome back.”

Last Thursday evening I lowered the Jolly Roger. Not because the Reds’ sweep of the Pirates doomed the season. Because my son Uri has become infatuated with the jumbo skull and crossbones flag that hung from the porch roof.

After the hammering rain and thunder-and-lightning blitz last Thursday evening, Uri peered out the front living room window to where the Jolly Roger had blown-up and landed in the gutter – like the Pirates’ series in Cincy. He shouted, “Flag gone. Flag gone.”

I pulled the drenched Jolly Roger out of the porch roof gutter, and once again it flapped in the post-storm breeze – albeit dripping wet and looking kinda pathetic. How emblematic!

All of the sudden, Uri points at the Jolly Roger and begins pouting, a-la Tiger Woods after slicing a tee shot. He wants the flag. Of course, I caved. I unhooked the blasted thing rather than attempt to reason with a two-year-old/Tiger Woods. Uri has had the Jolly Roger in his clutches ever since. He drags it everywhere. Sometimes his feet get dangled in it and he crashes on the hardwood floor. He won’t board his car seat without it. He took it to the in-laws for dinner and taunted the cats with it. He hugs it in his stroller during walks. He cuddles with it at night in his crib like it’s a teddy bear. He drapes it over his shoulders like he’s Rocky Balboa after defeating Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, and ending the Cold War.

“If I can change. And yews can change. Everybody can change.”

Anyway, on to baseball.

I’d like to start with my personal highlight of last weekend’s series in Milwaukee. I began watching Sunday’s game — the third of the three-game-set — in my living room. Scant natural light finds its way inside the windows; we live on the dark side of the street (“There is no dark side of the street really. As a matter of fact it’s all dark.”). The game seemed lackluster from the first pitch. I really began feeling a creeping sense of malaise when Carlos Gomez uncorked a third inning home run off Pittsburgh Pirates’ starter Casey Sadler. That shot was especially insulting because Gomez swung-and-missed so hard at the first pitch, a fastball, that his helmet jumped off his head; his usual routine. ROOT Sports showed a slow motion reply, and Gomez looked foolish. It was like watching someone slip on a banana peel in slow motion. No sooner did I finishing snickering did Gomez turn on the next pitch — another fastball — and pulverize the thing.

Since the sunlight outside seemed so inviting, I finally decided to honor this column’s namesake. I grabbed my beat-up Sony radio, plucked the lingering Dogfishhead 90 Minute from the fridge, and headed to the back deck. Good vibes surged through me as soon as I turned on the radio to unleash Greg Brown’s voice 360 degrees into the spring air, popped the cap on the world’s best IPA, and felt the warm sunlight on the back of my neck. Moreover, I felt better about the Bucs chances to win immediately. I really did. And the first time the Bucs came to bat since I arrived on the back deck, Gregory Polanco hits an opposite field double, Jordy Mercer hits an opposite field single, and Andrew McCutchen invited the conga line of base runners to home plate when he belted an opposite field home run.

My neighbors must’ve known by my spontaneous outburst that big news was afoot.

10-2 Pittsburgh Pirates’ win. Kyle Lohse hangs his head in shame. Not to mention, Arquimedes Caminero rebounded after a lead-off walk to pitch a scoreless seventh inning. He hit 101mph on the gun.


Now, I’m not a superstitious guy, but I’m  99.9% sure that my decision to abandon the cave-like living room, and TV therein, and step unto the back deck, caused the Pirates to wrest the game into their favor.

The first two games of the series weren’t as earth-shattering, at least insofar as my seemingly inconsequential decisions rearranging the planetary alignment that forecasts the Pirates fortunes. I spent most of Friday’s game with the wife at The Silk Elephant in Squirrel Hill (The curry is loaded with sodium. After dinner, my heart pounded like a Keith Moon base drum, and Kait’s feet swelled like the Grinch’s heart — three sizes that day). I periodically, and discreetly, checked the MLB.com At Bat app. Same deal when we patronized a nearby sports bar, Silky’s (no relation); the Pens were on every screen. The mood in a Pittsburgh sports bar while the Pens collapse live in HD on fourteen televisions must be akin to the mood of the survivors in the lifeboats who watched the Titanic sink.

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Jeff Locke allowed only two runs in six innings. A good sign.

I was at the in-laws during Saturday’s game, watching my father-in-law change brake pads on a Hyundai Elantra rather than follow the ball game. A wise decision. The most dope pitcher in the world, Vance Worley (#FlexTheSpecs) got roughed-up. Now, we shall never speak of that game again.

Monday’s Pirates’ home opener brought a bizarre moment. I caught the first few innings on my Durabrand cassette radio during lunch break, but turned it off when I begrudgingly clocked back in to work.

So here’s what happened…a client is in my cubicle while I’m on the phone amid an important call, okay. Suddenly, the Pirates radio broadcast blares. I immediately check the Durabland’s power switch.  It’s off. I continue the phone conversation but Greg Brown’s voice is blanketing my cubicle. I stick my idle ear against the Durband speaker. It’s indeed silent. I briefly wonder which rude co-worker is listening to the game SO LOUDLY, until I figure that the play-by-play must be coming from inside my man purse, which is resting in the corner behind me. Somehow, my handheld radio had mysteriously powered on by itself. I rapidly pressed the power button on my handheld radio while I un-tactfully carried on the phone conversation. But the damn thing wouldn’t turn off. Meanwhile, Bob Walk is LOUDLY yammering on. Eventually, I excuse myself from the phone conversation, and pluck the batteries from radio.

“I’m sorry, Miss, you’ll have to start over. All the way over.”

Reminder to self: Put in a work order for poltergeist removal.

To the game itself — the Bucs certainly tried to blow their lead late and send the largest regular season crowd in PNC Park history home in despair.

The Pirates’ offensive game began auspiciously enough. Josh Harrison went yard off Anibal Sanchez‘s first pitch. I simply laughed aloud while wearing my discount Headart Big Lots ear phones, and probably disturbed serious business in surrounding cubicles.

As majestic as Harrison’s home run was, Steve Blass’s call of “You can’t make this stuff up. You can’t make this up,” bothered me. Yes, Steve, anyone with the tiniest shred of imagination can make that up. How about this result of an at-bat, “…deep fly ball to left and…holy God, it strikes a Mongolian carnival barker riding the back of a flying grizzly bear.” Guess what? I made that play up. And even Steve Blass must admit that the fly ball pelting the Mongolian carnival barker on the flying grizzly bear is more likely to be an imaginary scenario than the Josh Harrison first pitch dinger.

Anyway, Gerrit Cole threw six scoreless innings. But not without stress in the seventh.

I pulled the drenched Jolly Roger out of the porch roof gutter, and once again it flapped in the post-storm breeze – albeit dripping wet and looking kinda pathetic. How emblematic!

My job demanded that I temporarily disengage myself from the broadcast when Cole had loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh. Sure, he was pitching to the umpire’s squeezed strike zone, but he clearly needed to relinquish the mound. I shut off the radio as Jared Hughes began trudging across the outfield. Several minutes passed before I could listen again. I expected the Bucs to be trailing, or the Tigers to still be batting. But the first call I heard was “Clear the deck. Cannonball coming. Pedro Alvarez gets that run right back.”

Maybe I should stop listening whenever the Bucs are in a jam.

Corey Hart quickly followed up with a two-run shot. “Welcome to the ‘Burgh, Mister Corey Hart.” I figured victory was in the bag when I left work and began the mile-plus journey to my car.

When I turned on my handheld radio, Ian Kinsler was already on second and Miguel Cabrera was about to double. Then more bad things happened. Next thing I know, the score is 5-4 and Yoenis Cespedes is on first base with nil outs. But a second miracle double-play ball, and an emphatic swinging K of Victor Martinez, sealed triumph in the home opener.

Give the game ball to Jared Hughes.

The following bullet points snagged my attention during game 2, which I caught in its entirety on the 42” TV in my den/The Fun Chamber. Forget the obvious; that the Bucs were three-hit amid eight impeccably pitched innings by Tigers hurler Shawn Green.

A.J. Burnett struck out 8 in 6.2 innings, a second string start. Two walks hurt though. Regardless, seeing him swing a fist and bark emphatically after a punch-out of Cabrera was a golden oldie.

-Not to mention, Miggy is a big huge chump for childishly knocking the baseball out of Francisco Cervelli‘s hand after the strike out.

-“Go up there and miss another one.” I think that’s what Clint Hurdle barked at home plate umpire David Rackley in the eighth when Arquimedes Caminero unfairly didn’t get a called strike three.

-Speaking of Rackley, his strike zone for both Burnett and Caminero, at key moments, was about the size of an unfolded napkin.

-I dug Bob Walk’s press box example of how some especially capable catchers try to catch a pitch on the outside corner, or just off the plate, in the tip of their mitt so that most of the mitt remains in the strike zone. At times, pitched balls will nip off the end of the catcher’s mitt. Likely, the catcher is attempting to present an optical illusion to the umpire. Sure, Walk visually illustrated his point using his mitt-sized hands and a coffee cup as props, but his point is well taken.

-One of Cervelli’s walk-up songs is Dean Martin’s version of “That’s Amore.” The lyrics “Bells will ring. Ting-a-ling-a-ling. Ting-a-ling-a-ling,” must cause quite the adrenaline rush.

Batter walk-up music > original sin.

Game 3: Blah! The vaunted Pirates offense produced a mangy two hits. The Bucs were smothered in Alfredo sauce.

I took in the first few innings of the game at Hough’s — a sports pub with beaucoup beer options — in Greenfield. My mother was in town from the Bower family’s home town of Williamsport, PA: The Home of Little League Baseball. My only takeaway was, when McCutchen was on first base in the first inning, he was caught on ROOT Sports having a laugh with Cabrera. I know it may seem pretentious, but I’m bothered when on-field enemies share a smile. I’d rather see Cutch and Miggy go fisticuffs between pitches. Old style Ty Cobb baseball, my friends.

On the same play, Mom’s immediate reaction was, “Whoa! What happened to McCutchen’s hair?”

Furthermore, I lamented Russell Martin‘s arm bazooka when Cervelli attempted to gun down a runner from his knees. Cervelli’s throw sailed into center field. I imagine that Martin’s would’ve been a laser-guided missile.

So it goes. 1-0; Bucs lose.

Things will get better. They better get better, anyhow.

I’m having surgery on my right ring finger so expect the next Pittsburgh Pirates Back Deck Report to have plenty of typos — at least among words that include letters on the right-hand third of the keyboard.

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