Pittsburgh Pirates BDR: Wired on Go-Switch
By Matt Bower
Come on in, Pittsburgh Pirates Backer Deckers. The patio door is open.
The mailman left a mysterious package on the porch. The bubble-wrap-lined envelope measured 16” x 10”, and its contents were soft and light. As one should always do with an unexpected package without a recognizable return address, I ripped it open with the fervor of great expectations.
Those expectations were exceeded when I discovered a Pittsburgh Pirates foam finger.
I can’t confirm who gave me the finger…the foam finger, I mean. But after mentally retracing my steps of the past two weeks, and honing my Sherlock-like deduction skills, I believe I’ve reached a conclusion about the identity of my shady benefactor. Actually, my son Uri’s shady benefactor.
Sub-stories of Back Deck Reports past follow the exploits of a toddler and his obsession with the Jolly Roger flag meant to hang from the front porch. However, his tiny hands won’t relinquish it. His grandmother has witnessed the ferocity in his eyes whenever Dad attempts to barter with him and reclaim the Jolly Roger. All attempts have been in vain.
As for the finger: a familiar logo adorns the palm of the foam hand — a skull and cross bones. Perhaps Grammie has secretly supplied suitable trade-bait to induce the boy.
I demonstrated to Uri the intended use of the gifted foam finger. He pointed at the recognizable skull and cross bones on the palm. “Flag,” he said, as he dropped the actual jolly roger flag on the floor. Then he stuffed his hand inside his new toy, and excitedly darted about the living room like a ping ball on a sugar high. I assumed he had accepted the trade. I picked the fallen flag off the floor.
“My flag,” he cried, snatching it from my feeble, and defeated, clutches.
Now, Uri hordes ALL the trinkets of Pirates fandom.
Update: So Grammie didn’t send the foam finger after all. The mystery benefactor was, in fact, my clever aunt. And the foam finger itself was meant to, as my aunt worded it in a text message, “Serve three purposes 1. cover the unsightly wound (previously written about in PPBDR #3) 2. protect finger from injury and 3. support your team.”
…Now, let’s talk baseball.
The Pirates began an eight-day road trip in Arizona on Friday. I’m a big fan of West Coast start times, especially on the weekends. Why? I’m allowed time to treat the evenings like it’s still the off-season, but catch a baseball game after the hectic day has wound down (and the kid has gone to bed). Friday evening began with the family at Chuck E Cheese. I’d never been to Chuck E Cheese, but realized within five minutes of entering that the surrounding ruckus was akin to a toddler prison break. And after blowing every token, I’d hoped to return home to the Pirates game on ROOT Sports.
Instead, overtime in Game 5 of the Penguins-Rangers game greeted me. The uneasy fog of inevitable defeat blanketed the ice. Watching the overtime period was like watching a Jack-In-The-Box, while the Rangers turned the crank. Of course, Jack wasn’t in the box. Rather, a heckling Henrik Lunqvist popped out.
At least that meant the Pirates game was on.
PIRATES V D-BACKS
Every time I watch the Arizona Diamondbacks, I’m distracted by D-backs catcher Tuffy Gosewisch. The player isn’t a bother; it’s the name. Tiffy Gosewich sounds like the name of a mascot for an energy drink: Tough-Y being the mascot, and Go-Switch being the energy drink.
The tagline for the energy drink?…”HIT THE GO-SWITCH”
The Pirates starting pitching — a perceived weakness at season’s start — has a been a pleasant, and unexpectedly necessary, surprise (As of 4/26, two stats of note: Pirates starters boast a 3.07 ERA, third in the league, and 8.88 SO/9, second in the league). Gerrit Cole was no exception in game one. He went 7.2 innings, allowing one run on seven hits. He also threw 108 pitches, the most of any starter to date. The radar gun flashed velocity readings in the mid to high 90s deep into his outing. Cole is 7-0 since Sept. 7, 2014.
Diamondback right-hander Josh Collmentor was also deceptively tough. I say “deceptively” because — as I watched him pitch from the comfort of my couch — I couldn’t help but think “damn, I could hit this guy.” His pitches looked like lazy meatballs. Meanwhile, if I ever stepped into a batter’s box against him, I’d swallow my own tongue when the first fast ball whizzed a foot from my pelvis.
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The game (and the series) has featured D-Backs reliever, the submariner Brad Ziegler. Submarine-style pitchers are dope. Grantland published a fine article last year about Zielger and the advantages of the sidearm delivery.
Moreover, Grantland published a piece days ago entitled Taking Baseball’s Pulse: Checking Up on the Trends Transforming the Game. The article focuses in-depth on the hot (controversial?) topics in baseball to this point in the season: scoring, the expanding strike zone, the shift, pace of game, etc. I highly recommend giving it a look…after you finish reading this Back Deck Report, of course.
Bucs win, 4-1. After the final pitch, Neil Walker and Jordy Mercer celebrated by taking turns pulling invisible utters on each others chest. At least that’s what it looked like. Those who watched the bottom of the ninth will know what I’m writing about. Those who didn’t…trust me; it was weird.
Saturday’s match-up was a classic pitcher’s duel between Robby De La Rossa and A.J. Burnett. I’d forgo a 9-8 clobber-fest over the type of game in which pitchers’ trade textbook innings, and offenses attempt to scratch out a single run. And in the best of pitchers’ duels, one run feels like it would hold up if the game went 30 innings.
Home runs get old. I’d hate to be a fan in cities like Cincy or Colorado, where the baseball fields are springboards (Though Chase Field isn’t exactly a pitcher’s paradise).
I spent the first half of the game at Art All Night, a 24-hour art show in Lawrenceville. My wife had a painting on display. Sure, Lawrenceville reeks of hipsters and Pabst, where caterpillar mustaches and zombie retail stores abound, but the art exhibit was somewhat engaging, even to an aesthetic lay person. Out of respect for Kait, I left my handheld radio at home. Normally, during baseball season, the portable radio acts as a shield against the surrounding cultural experience.
I regret nothing.
When I began watching the game in the fifth inning, and saw the score, my immediate reaction was, “For the love of Jose Tabata‘s neck lips tattoo, why can’t the offense score for Burnett?” Batman was dominant: seven innings, five hits, and he only gave up one run. In fact, Burnett has only given up one run in each of his last three starts.
The game could have gone either way. Luckily, a few fluke plays favored the Bucs. The D-Backs were threatening in the bottom of the six, but a sharply struck ground ball biffed off the side of the mound, and into Walker’s waiting glove for an effortless double play. In the top of the ninth, Starling Marte‘s seeing-eye single plated the winning win.
…he stuffed his hand inside his new toy, and excitedly darted about the living room like a ping ball on a sugar high. I assumed he had accepted the trade. I picked the fallen flag off the floor.
Mark Melancon‘s ninth inning performance did nothing to instill confidence that the old shark retains his bite. More worrisome than his decreased velocity — he wasn’t hitting his spots. Cervelli’s glove zigzagged all over the strike zone to snag Melancon’s off-target pitches.
Concerning Melancon, it’s a catch-22. During any given game, I want him to have been used the prior three days in a row so he isn’t available for the game at hand. In other words, I want him to have been used in the past so he can’t be used in the present.
2-1, Pirates on top. The win evades Burnett again. I doubt he is too upset. He claims he re-signed with the Pirates to win. And win the Pirates did, albeit Watson got the victory.
The baseball season is 162 games for a good reason — to allow the mischievous meddling of the baseball gods to balance out. I love the quirky plays: the bizarre bounces, the wind playing havoc, balls that get wedged underneath the wall padding, Randy Johnson pelting a pigeon in flight, etc.
As a side note to Saturday’s game: I dig Fransisco Cervelli. The dude has fire. I whooped as he emphatically pointed at Aaron Hill‘s bat, and then shamelessly pivoted from umpire to umpire, when he thought the ball was tipped, and caught, for the strike out. When Hill whiffed a few pitches later, Cervelli pumped his fists with “take THAT” gusto. And don’t forget the base stealer he gunned-out in the ninth. Tight ball games seem to bring out the beast in him. Maybe he’s wired on Go-Switch.
Sunday was the proverbial lazy day, and I lounged hardcore. When the weather is warm and sunny, I feel guilty watching a ball game inside. But late afternoon was blustery.
Andrew McCutchen started the game in on 0-16 slump. For Cutch, the slump was epic. He walked the first two at-bats Sunday, and then singled to climb from the rut. Pedro Alvarez singled on a pitch on the outside part of the plate to score two runs, with two outs, in the first. The Big Bull has been covering outside pitches more efficiently this year. If he can consistently cover the plate, and hit the ball where it’s pitched, look for a memorable year. In years past, during his patented three-game tears, he smacks outside pitches into the gap.
How about a season long tear in 2015?
Defensively, Starling Marte’s throw from left field to nail Ender Inciarte at second base on a foiled attempt at a double was a sight to behold. As much as I believe in advanced metrics in scouting and player evaluation, THAT is the kind of play that can’t be fully appreciated as a number.
Jared Hughes: One pitch to entice a double play.
When the Pirates began piling runs late, I bailed from the living room and took the radio for a walk. When I tuned-in, the roof on Chase Field was beginning to close. Lacking on-field tension to discuss, Greg Brown and Bob Walk began deliberating on why one side of the roof was closing faster than other side. An impromptu brainstorming session ensued. Was the roof in need of a tune-up? Do the two sides of the roof close like overlapping cabinet doors? Bob Walk called the Chase Field hotline, on-air, to get answers. Listeners were treated to the Chase Field automatic answering service.
During blow-outs, radio commentators must hold listeners’ attention via comedy, social commentary, stories, anecdotes, etc. Anything but prolonged silence. Yet ANOTHER reason I enjoy baseball. Baseball is often about so much more than baseball.
Cervelli looked like a hockey goalie fending of a power play when attempting to keep Liz’s wayward pitches from pelting the green screen, where the injury law firm of Jekyll, Jekyll & Bloom shamelessly pay to splash their logo over the batter’s shoulder.
PIRATES V CUBS
Warning: 93.7 The Fan gets terrible reception on handheld radios at the Monroeville Mall.
I attempted to listen to the first few innings of Pirates v Cubs: Game 1 at the suburban retail monolith. I received a juxtaposition of Tim Neverett’s commentary…and static. Looking back, I wonder if the radio was simply trying to shield me from the offensive ghost town in which the Pirates wandered.
Cubs hurler Jason Hammels pitched eight innings of shutout ball. There’s not much to write, really. The Pirates managed a mangy four hits. Vance Worley had one of them, but that was his most noteworthy achievement of the game.
I’m beginning to worry about Andrew McCutchen. He went 0-4 last night, dragging his average to .175. Is his knee a factor? And if it is, will the injury hamper him all season? Since Adam Wainwright has sustained a possible season-ending Achilles injury, Bucs fans are shamelessly celebrating a gift from the injury gods (I have no shame, either). However, what if the injury gods have affected Cutch more subtly, and his knee undermines his performance all season to the point where he’s more of a drain on the team than a healthy replacement player would be?
The highlight of the game for me was when Greg Brown, operating in the TV side, shamed NL fans who advocate for the DH.
Looking back, I guess “shame” was the word of the night in game one.
(PS-Does anyone else miss Travis Snider during an Andrew Lambo at-bat?)
My number one distraction during the baseball season is the dreaded “prior engagement.” Who needs ’em? Don’t people understand that the Pirates are competing for a pennant?
My attention to game two was impeded by a prior engagement. I heard Marte’s home run during my car ride home from said engagement. Of course, the Bucs coughed-up the momentum the next half of the inning. I arrived home during the sixth inning and turned on ROOT Sports to watch the Pirates listlessness. Due to the stunted offense, I remained largely divorced from giving a crap about the final few innings.
Jeff Locke was decidedly Locke-luster in the start. When Morton returns, does he or Worley lose the spot in the rotation? Radhames Liz was wild in his relief appearance. Cervelli looked like a hockey goalie fending of a power play when attempting to keep Liz’s wayward pitches from pelting the green screen, where the injury law firm of Jekyll, Jekyll & Bloom shamelessly pay to splash their logo over the batter’s shoulder.
Fun Fact: The Pirates are 1250-1175 lifetime versus the Cubs.
Are the Cubs for real? Maybe.
I also was late to the living room box seat for the final game in Chicago. I turned on the television at a key point in the game – just as Marte worked a walk after being down in the count 0-2. After all the fishing he does in the batter’s box, I was astounded when he kept his rod on his shoulder when those down-and-away breaking balls whizzed by. Maybe he’s regaining the keen eye, and plate discipline, he displayed in the final months of 2014.
Gerritt Cole would not allow the Pirates to be curb-stomped for three-in-a-row. Instead, he laced up his own steel-toed boots, and played the lead role of true ace. He lowered his ERA to 1.76 after game three, having gone six innings and dealing eight strikeouts. He retired 14 of the last 15 he faced.
Other noteworthy items amid the 8-1 Bucs win:
-Cutch got his 1,000th hit.
Apr 17, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Fans holds up a sign in support of Pittsburgh Pirates shortstopJung Ho Kang
(not pictured) before the Pittsburgh Pirates host the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
-Bob Walk shared his much-celebrated pea coat with John Wehner. (Perhaps Mr. Baseball Bob Uecker will don it next?)
-Caminero placed a 100mph fastball on the outside corner for a strikeout.
Now, if Caminero can locate…
-Greg Brown guaranteed that Cutch will put up Cutch-like numbers as the season progresses. I laud him for being so confident, I guess.
-Despite Cole’s dominance, give the game ball to Jung-Ho Kang. He went 3-4 with a walk, along with 2 RBI and a (weirdly-timed) stolen base. In his final at-bat he knocked a 93 mph fastball off the ivy in right center.
Still, he never smiled during his memorable game. Not once. However, I expect big things the moment Kang actually shows enjoyment. I bet, the first time he smiles during a game, it’ll have the same effect on his Pirates teammates that spinach has on Popeye.
Before I sign-off, I implore you to read the Grantland article The State of the Shift: Why Won’t More Teams Move Their Infielder? I won’t rehash the article, but the following excerpt is of interest: “Over the past few years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been one of the most aggressive shifting clubs in the majors. Part of that stems from a baseball operations staff that’s one of the most analytically oriented in the game, but it’s also a wise move by a team saddled with a bunch of pedestrian infielders; Neil Walker, Jordy Mercer, and Pedro Alvarez aren’t winning Gold Gloves any time soon. According to BIS data, the Pirates have saved 18 runs more than the average team through the use of shifts since Opening Day 2013.”
Until next week, godspeed Back Deckers.
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