Pittsburgh Pirates BDR: Rabbit in the Field Lights


Apr 19, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder

Andrew McCutchen

(22) rides a scooter in the hallway as he leaves PNC Park after defeating the Milwaukee Brewers. The Pirates won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Hey Back Deckers! It’s time for another edition of Pittsburgh Pirates Back Deck Report.

Have you ever seen the video for the song Rabbit In Your Headlights, by DJ Shadow and James Lavelle (featuring Radiohead’s Thom Yorke)? The song itself is gloomy electronica, reminiscent of later-career Radiohead. But the video is what remains in the psyche after the electronic drum beats have faded. The video features a rambling transient walking through a heavily trafficed tunnel. As the man stumbles about and babbles incoherently, vehicle after vehicle lambaste him, and his limp body careens into the air and lands in a crumbled heap again and again.

The Rabbit in the Headlights video is emblematic of Jonathan Broxton‘s late-inning outings at PNC Park. Watch the video, if you can stomach a dude getting repeatedly biffed by steel ramrods. Imagine Broxton as the guy aimlessly walking in the middle of the highway. Imagine the tunnel as PNC Park. Imagine the cars as Pirates batters.

No matter the jersey, Broxton gets throttled in Pittsburgh. One famous example is the three-run home run surrendered to Russell Martin, which allowed the Bucs to overcome the hated Brewers in a late-season playoff race game in 2014. Another memorable example is Garrett Jones’ river shot that nearly clocked a biker, that helped complete an improbable comeback over the despised Reds in 2013. Add Friday’s escapades to the list.

The beefy relief pitcher’s pattern of of failure at PNC Park includes less emphatic failings too numerous to detail in this column, evidenced by his 14.50 ERA at PNC Park (as of pre-game 4/19/15). He’s not a terrible reliever. In fact, he’s a two-time All-Star, and carries a lifetime 3.13 ERA.

With any luck, ol’ crash test dummy Broxton will get battered by Pirates hitters all season long in 2015.

Disclaimer: Since this part of the column was written BEFORE Sunday’s game versus the Brewers, I may have egg on my face by day’s end if Broxton baffles Pirates bats today. Even if he does, the above commentary will remain unedited, as making sport of Jonathan Broxton is a hobby of mine.

Since the Back Deck Report is partly an account of whatever nonsense is going on in my life, I feel compelled to mention a minor inconvenience. I had a “bone tumor” — as the operating surgeon called it — removed from my right ring finger. The little bugger was benign, but my post-surgery fabric apparatus, and limited functionality of the finger, makes activities like typing a tad more difficult. So be aware, this edition of Back Deck Report is a labor of love.

At least I had the wherewithal to schedule the surgery on a Pirates off-day.

I got a late jump on Friday’s home game versus the Milwaukee Brewers due to an early jump on happy hour at Mitchell’s. A good time was had by all, especially our good-natured server who earned every penny of her tips.  After the shenanigans I walked from downtown all the way home, at the top of the hill in Greenfield. It’s the kind of walk that sobers you up but good.

I was somewhat pooped when I turned on the TV halfway through the game.

Vance Worley bounced back from his earlier rough outing, allowing two runs and six hits amid six innings of work.  The definition of a”quality” start (if you tally such a thing). Sean Rodriquez surfaced as a Pirate with a multi-hit game, and his first RBI of the young season. More importantly, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte emerged from offensive slumber.

As soon as Jonathan Broxton ran from the bullpen to the mound in the eighth inning, I began to salivate. So should’ve the capacity Free-Shirt Friday crowd, and any-and-all members of the 25-man roster of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. (see lead-in of this BDR for the gruesome backstory ) Broxton’s latest woes involved a 451 foot blast of Marte’s bat. At PNC Park, Broxton has become the definition of a dead horse, and the Pirates, the definition of boots.

One bad takeaway — Antonio Bastardo was pulled in the ninth after giving up one run, and getting two outs. I’m not too concerned since relievers, when pitching with a comfortable lead, often simply go strong after hitters. Sometimes, that backfires. Mark Melancon got the last out, and his first save, with one pitch.

I don’t give much credence to the “save” stat. Comon, one pitch=one save! Although Bastardo couldn’t make it through the ninth, he still did the majority of the work. Shouldn’t he get 2/3 of a save? Perhaps Tony Watson — who pitched the eighth — should get the save.

Saturday’s weather was gorgeous, sunny with temperatures in the low 70’s. It almost made up for, oh, say, 23 minutes of the shitty weather Southwestern Pennsylvania endured this winter. Almost. But if ever a day was ripe for taking in a baseball game outside, Saturday was the day. The radio reception was especially clear. You could almost hear the grass growing in the background behind Tim Neverett’s play-by-play.

The game began on an odd note — Ryan Braun being the first batter in the box. Braun had never led-off before. Apparently, Ron Roenicke was hoping to kick-start the Brewer’s soggy offense. No dice this day. Jeff Locke threw one of the best games of his career: one run on four hits in eight innings. No walks! This isn’t your grandfather’s Jeff Locke. His (Locke’s, not your grandfather’s) ERA is just 1.93 this year.

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Some other quick takeaways from Saturday’s game:

Steve Blass recounted how he went for a swim in Bradenton, during Spring Training, with his flip phone unknowingly in his pocket. These are the kinds of stories, however short and silly, that aren’t often told on television —  pandering crowd shots normally break-up the action instead — which make listening to games on the radio a more authentic, and personal, experience.

Starling Marte smacked his second home run in as many days. Perhaps the slump has vanished from the rearview mirror.

-When Arquimedes Caminero appeared, late swings abounded and right-handed batters hit foul ball after foul ball down the right-hand side. Although he tosses up to 100 mph+, most of his pitches are down. As mentioned on TV, he needs to elevate.

-Speaking of Steve Blass and cell phones, he claims he sent his first ever text message on Saturday.

-Raise the Jolly Roger!

The highlight of the weekend…BUCS SWEEP BREW CREW.

Since my beautiful wife Kait took Uri to visit the in-laws Sunday afternoon, leaving me to my druthers, I crashed on the ratty futon in my den (Fun Chamber) and watched the final game of the series on the big television. (As opposed to the small television, which is in the family room. I know; it’s unfair.) Also, since Uri surprisingly left the Jolly Roger on the living room floor, I hung it from the porch roof — its rightful place — in hopes that he’d somehow forget his bizarre obsession with it while he was away.

Another fine start by Gerrit Cole, allowing two runs in six innings, while whiffing six. Pirates pitchers faced the minimum after the third inning. Cole’s counterpart, Matt Garza, threw about 835 pitches by the fourth inning. A solo home run surrendered to Pedro “The Biggest of ALL the Bulls” Alvarez  in the third – off a pitch directly down Broadway’s throat – turned out to be the difference.

Chris Stewart made his season début, and added two RBI with a single in the six. Also, in that inning, Garza cracked Jordy Mercer in the left ribs with a pitch. Mercer was in obvious discomfort for an extended time.

Is the Jung Ho Kang experiment nigh? Perhaps not, as Mercer’s X-rays are (thankfully) negative. However, Kang will be starting Monday night at shortstop.

Uri was sawing logs when the wife arrived home and carried him through the front door, halfway through the game. No sooner did the first living room floorboard creak under her heal…”Want flag! Want flag!” Uri cried. Then he pointed out the front window to the flapping Jolly Roger on the porch.

It’s back in his clutches again.

A great weekend at PNC Park! Uri should’ve pointed to the broom, too.

I’m writing this next section in the present tense.

The Cubs are in town for a four-game set. Game one has already seen some oddities, including two delays (one for rain and another for spectator injury) and a manager challenge to a previously manager challenged, and overturned, call at home plate. (I thought that the big brother umpire in New York considered all perspectives when a play is originally challenged, in this case whether Francisco Cervelli blocked the plate.)

I’m listening to the game as I write this. Kris Bryant just belted one off the wall, scoring three runs. The throw home hit Bryant’s bat, which was lying in the grass in front of home plate. The play itself was a bit of a circus, and reminiscent of the slapstick Pirates’ teams of The Streak.

Switch back to the past tense, written post-game.

I listened to parts of the Pirates game on the radio, as mentioned, while I simultaneously watched the Penguins game on ROOT Sports. The difference in the pace of the two sports was made extremely evident, almost comical. Hockey announcers are constantly either playing catch up to the on-ice action, or gasping for air. Tim Neverett and Steve Blass sound like two townies shooting the breeze at the corner pub, and occasionally saying things like “breaking ball in the dirt,” and “dribbler…foul.”

Joe Madden is a dweeb. Because he wears those scholarly hipster glasses, pundits speak of him as if he’s some kind of brainiac — Steven Hawkings in a jock strap. If Madden wore clown shoes instead of those glasses — but he managed exactly the same — people would’ve said that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (yeah, I said DEVIL Rays) won in spite of him that doofus, and not because of that genius. Anyway, he certainly isn’t a brainiac because he bats the pitcher eighth. Historical stats show that batting the pitcher eighth offers negligible advantage, if any. But hey, it’s cool because it’s different.

dweeb, circa 2014

The transcendent mind behind those quirky glasses must be a bubbling hotbed of masterful strategy.

Or not.

Another trait about Madden that annoys me: He spends more time on the field on any given night than most of his bench. Up the stairs…down the stairs. Up the stairs…down the stairs. Rinse and repeat.

The Pirates defense was excellent for about half the game. Two double plays bailed out Burnett, and Marte pegged a runner at home. However, Pedro is still clearly learning first base. He tossed to the pitcher rather than easily beat a runner to the bag. He also didn’t attack a grounder in his range, expecting it to be fielded by a friend.

5-2, Chicago wins. Andrew Lambo is 0-9 on the season. Kang stinks.

Game two’s write-up was supposed to be a jolly remembrance of Jung Hi Kang’s first game winning hit, a well-struck base-clearing double to the wall in the seventh. Instead, it’s a sad story about how The Shark chewed off his own dorsal fin, and then puked it back up in front of a home crowd.

That loss stings!

I began watching the game at Rialto Pizza. Recently, Rialto stocked their coolers with single-serve craft beers, including a few IPA’s. The Flying Dog Raging Bitch, a Belgium-style IPA, is a winner.

The game had an unsteady beat as far as pace goes. I took plenty of notes before Kang’s double, and Mark Melancon‘s meltdown. Albeit, two of the hits surrendered by Melancon were choppers, and another a bloop. Regardless, the top of the ninth was so disappointing I’m not in the mood to try to decipher the scribble in my little black book, or coherently organize them into keen insights, or clever puns. (or doltish insights, or un-clever puns). I did give a golf clap when home plate umpire Joe West sarcastically appealed to the first base umpire after a check swing-and-miss, at the behest of resident dweeb Joe Madden. I cheer umpires with personalities, unless it’s a “look at me” personality, as I would and any other subset of humans.

One other thing, if Kris Bryant plays the rest of the season like he played to the first two games of this series, Mike Trout will be his pool boy by the All-Star break.

Hockey announcers are constantly either playing catch up to the on-ice action, or gasping for air. Tim Neverett and Steve Blass sound like two townies shooting the breeze at the corner pub, and occasionally saying things like “breaking ball in the dirt,” and “dribbler…foul.”

Game three…SNOOOW DAAAY!!!

I toiled at the day-job well into the evening Wednesday, so I missed the first seven innings. Once home, I again turned on the baseball game on the radio, which provided the soundtrack to the Penguin’s choke-job on the television.

The first commentary I heard was Greg Brown and Steve Blass fussing about the driving sideways flurries, and how the granulated sugar –apparently Blass’ nickname for small snowflakes – was lying on the player’s shoulders.

After Jared Hughes mangled his responsibilities in the eighth, Tony Watson appeared for damage-control. Watson went on to complete a two-inning save. Brownie punctuated each inning with an “It’s elementary my dear Watson.”

Reminder: We, the collective worldwide Pirates fan base, do not have to employ the “elementary” pun every single time Watson’s name is evoked in positive terms.

Vance Worley, this staff writer’s favorite player, was the stopper after a gut-wrenching two-game slide. One of the color commentators earlier in the game – I can’t recall who – mentioned that many of the players wore cold-weather gear akin to snowsuits. But not the rugged Vanimal. He donned the minimum amount of uniform allowed by MLB law, essentially directing an insulting crotch-chop to both the mid-spring cold snap, and the surrounding, less masculine, players.

The win felt good.

Getaway-day afternoon games, likes today’s, can’t command my attention as my ears are usually bent towards the corporate grindstone rather than the radio. But I was able to catch one corny Bob Walk joke: “Polanco wears the (cold weather) mask. So you know he’s a base stealer.”


Speaking of the masked man, in a crucial late-inning at-bat he came back from being down 0-2 to work the count full, and then managed a tie-breaking RBI single — against a leftie no less. He also hit an RBI double earlier in the game. Today’s heroics bode well for Polanco’s see-sawing reputation.

Here’ hoping Polanco’s recent offensive outburst is not an aberration, but the arrival of the future.

Arquimedes Caminero minced the meat of the Cubbie’s line-up. And…how poetic…Mark Melancon came in to pitch the ninth-inning with a one-run lead. Thankfully, he also had a 1-2-3 outing. However, his velocity remained a few mph slower than hoped. Bob Walk explained in no uncertain terms that Melancon is still lacking; something remains off.

Than why is he closing? Hell, why isn’t he on the DL?

Doesn’t matter what I think. He got the save. To me, Caminero did the heaviest lifting, and only gets some cheesy stat called a “hold.”

In my correct opinion, the “save” should be considered the appendix of stats…useless.

Until next week, Back Deckers. Godspeed.

(And don’t be afraid to scroll back to the header and follow me on Twitter @boweratbat. Or, be afraid. It’s your choice.)