SPECIAL Pittsburgh Pirates BDR: The Redbirds are Dead. Long Live the Redbirds


May 3, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) is unable to catch a ball hit by St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta (not pictured) during the seventh inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

This Pittsburgh Pirates Back Deck Report was originally slated to be published at its regularly scheduled time on Saturday at noon. But, as I wrote to the Rum Bunter editor in an email, “I’m so ticked about this weekend’s charades in St Louis that I went bonkers writing today and I’d rather not let this weekend’s BDR cool down.”

Pirates v Cardinal

With Adam Wainwright out for the season with an Achilles injury, (unsympathetic) Pirates fan rejoice. I’m among the celebrants. Sure, we wish the guy wasn’t hurt, and we hope the pain is minimal, but we toast the news that Wainwright is on the proverbial shelf.

What Pirates fans fail to realize is the St. Louis Cardinals organization is like the Italian mafia; the Godfather keels over with a heart attack, but another, possibly more ruthless, Don immediately takes the helm.

In other words, until St. Louis sustains a long-term descent in the standings, the other teams in the NL Central are tied to chairs, and the Redbirds are standing behind them with a Louisville Slugger.

…and thus begins the season’s first three-game set against the criminal organization that is the St. Louis Cardinals, whose only true crime against the Pittsburgh Pirates has been a sustained beating season-after-season. Before the season, many baseball pundits predict that 2015 will showcase a blow-for-blow bout between the Redbirds and Bucs for the NL Central crown. Perhaps the Cubs wouldn’t stand idly by, though. But now, with Wainwright lost for the season, many view the Bucs as the front runner.

Time for the first of many “most important series of the year”…

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Game 1:

I predict that A.J. Burnett will win the NL Cy Young Award with an 0-22 record.

Burnett is on-pace for such a distinction after pitching another gem on Friday night. But, from the cold, cold bench, he watched as Matt Adams singled in the winning run. Burnett allowed zero runs on two hits through six innings. He finished the game touting a 1.45 ERA for the season.

I listened to the repulsive walk-off base hit from my seasonably warm (yet cold, cold) wicker chair on my deck. Not to complain, however. Whenever I write about the joy of listening to Pirates baseball from my back deck, I’m writing about nights like Friday’s. The weather was warm, and the sky cloudless. Tim Neverett and John Wehner provided a soundtrack to the constellations that inched across the celestial sphere. Imperial IPA’s where in the cooler. But the Pirates game was the epicenter of it all.

As for the game, Burnett himself knocked in the only Pirates run of the game in a 1-2 defeat. If the game were a cartoon: When Burnett was in the batter’s box in the sixth inning, a thought-bubble would’ve appeared over his head, stating “Screw this. I’m going to win this damn game all by myself.” And he almost did.

Later in that inning, the Bucs had the bases loaded and nobody out. Players other than the pitcher were in the box…you know the paltry outcome.

Of note, Andrew McCutchen struck out in said situation. “Cutch” may seem like a fitting nickname for the superstar, but Cutch also has zero hits in bases loaded situations since 2012. ZERO. Considering his performance thus far this season, and the lingering knee issue, I’m beginning to wonder if he is the Pirates version of a walking Wainwright.

Footnote-Hey, does anyone else get an eye tic when the broadcast is interrupted when the announcers derail the onward chugging of game action to fulfill a network obligation and read a fan Tweet? On Friday, the Tweet was “What stats should be tracked?” Not that this particular Tweet is irrelevant, or simple-minded, but really… Who cares, @Bucsfan4live? (Disclaimer: I made that Twitter handle up. I’m not shaming you, @Bucsfan4live, if you actually exist.) Track whatever stats you want. Or Google stats after the game. Just stop interrupting the action.

I despise in-game pandering to lay baseball fans. Lets the announcers call the game as they see fit.

I also learned that Adrian Gonzales’ nickname is A-Gone. What a lame baseball nickname! You want a badass baseball nickname? How about Spanky, or Oil Can?

Off the soapbox, Matt. It’s wobbly and the wooden joints are cracking from overuse.

The St. Louis Cardinals organization is like the Italian mafia; the Godfather keels over with a heart attack, but another, possibly more ruthless, Don immediately takes the helm.

Game 2:

See Game 1.

Actually, the second game of the series was more nauseating than the first.  I also listened to this game, splitting time between lounging on the deck, tackling overdue lawn work, and lounging in the hammock. Not only was the ghost of the prior night’s sputtering offense nipping at my heals, Saturday’s game was tough to stomach in real-time.

Since the game started at 2:10 EST, Josh Harrison‘s ballyhooed .417 batting average in day games was a talking (Tweeting) point. Me thinks his .202 batting average (at game’s start) supersedes the “convenient ‘make him look good’ stat-of-the-day.” These types of nook-and-cranny stats often appear in the big screen at PNC Park. They especially did during The Streak. Oh look! Brian Bixler is batting .332 every other Tuesday in cloudy weather. Holy cow! John Grabow is 7-1 when pitching in the Bible Belt after playing pinochle the night before. What’s this!? John Van Benschoten is…well…ahhh…he’s alive, at least.

Let’s start with the telling, depressing line of the game: The Pirates managed 12 hits but stranded 18 base runners in another 1-2 loss. The Pirates haven’t stranded 18 base runners and lost since June, 1946 against the Dodgers.

June, 1946.

On paper, the Bucs should’ve won 45-3. Fransisco Liriano’s fantastic start — eight innings pitched, one run on three hits — was wasted. Everything about the game was repulsive. Moreover, the Cardinals won in walk-off fashion, again, after a few lucky seeing-eye hits in the 11th inning, punctuated by Mat Carpenter’s sac fly. Even the gift-wrapped air-headed base running blunder by Peter Bourjos –“That was dumb.” deadpanned John Wehner — wasn’t enough for the Pirates to take advantage of the 3,058 opportunities to win.

And Bucco nation can’t necessarily blame home plate umpire Mike Winters’ crummy strike zone. However, Winters’ called third strike, which was 8”-12” inches off the plate, during Corey Hart‘s key at-bat in the eight didn’t help.

Of note during the game:

Gregory Polanco batted first? Is this permanent? His speed lends itself well to the lead-off position. He’s batting .331 with a .330 OBP thus far.

Pedro Alvarez threw the ball over Fransisco Cervelli’s head on a play at the plate, allowing the Cardinals crucial first run to score. Not only was the game Deja vu all over again, so was Alvarez’ wayward throw.

Josh Harrison is not living up to his weeks-old, four-year, $27.3M contract. Yes, I know; the season is a fetus. But still. Until his batting average leapfrogs the Mendoza line, I’m calling him Jay-Nay.

I think I’ll get sick if I write another word about this game.

 Game 3:

Before Jung-Ho Kang’s first major league home run in the in the ninth inning to tie the game 1-1, the Game 3 recap was going to read See Game 1, and Game 2.

Andrew McCutchen lost his glove on failed catch attempts as many times as the Pirates scored.

The result of the game was another soul-crushing Cardinals 3-2 walk-off win in 14 innings. I wish Kang would not have hit that home run. I really, really don’t. I would’ve been spared two more hours of my life, in a weekend when so much time had already been wasted waiting and hoping for a single godforsaken Pirates victory.

I set aside three hours to watch a (regulation-length) game in my den. The first eight innings of the game were so agonizingly familiar to the two preceding games, I laughed in spite of some Pirates mishaps. Early in the game, Kang lost a pop-up in the sun. However, he never bothered to flip his shades down. “The problem here is the location of the sunglasses,” said Bob Walk.

A crafty color guy, that Walkie.

Vance Worley pitched six strong. His only blunder was a home run surrendered to Matt Carpenter. Before that, Pirates pitchers had gone 97 innings without allowing a dinger.

This game had all the hallmarks of the past two defeats until the ninth inning…”Going..Going…Kang!” (It reads better than it looks on the page). Believe it or not, Kang displayed an iota of emotion — albeit a weak fist pump —  when the ball cleared the left field wall. So, the man is human after all. But alas, the Pirates lost another heartbreaker after a big hit by Kang — a la the loss versus the Cubs in which Kang hit a bases-clearing double.

No wonder he didn’t smile. again.

By the start of the tenth inning, my alone time in my den had expired. I spend the extra innings with my handheld radio held to my ear, and chasing Uri about the yard…and the garden, around the neighbor’s yard, and up the street on the sidewalk, and to Giant Eagle. Meanwhile, I’m quietly cursing failed top halves of innings.

I thought Pedro Alvarez’s home run in the 12th was the clincher. I mean, the Cardinals had only scored one run in the prior 11 innings. Surely, Radhames Liz could retire three Cardinals batters before one could cross the plate. NOPE. A Peter Bourjas single knocked in the tying run.

So the game — and my life — slogged on. Hey, I least I got to witness Josh Harrison go 0-7, the first Pirate to manage such a feat since Kevin Young did so in 1998.

I can’t help but notice my own creeping tinge of resentment about Jay-Nay’s recent contract. He’ll hit better as the season progresses, yes. But honestly, Pirates management have made a relatively expensive long-term bet on Josh Harrison after a mere 5 months of All-Star level play. In 2015, he did not make any mechanical adjusts, or alter his playing style in any way from his replacement-level years prior, which suggests that last year’s break-out campaign was partly a mirage. For an organization being praised for keeping a cool head, and not making knee-jerk decisions to appease fans, I can’t help but feel Harrison’s signing goes against the grain.

If Harrison falters — I don’t necessarily believe he will — he’ll be both a financial (and on-field, of course) anchor. Just like Jose Tabata. Sure, he’ll be a much more likable anchor than Neck Lips, but an anchor none-the-less.

Jay-Nay, not today.

Anyway, Kolton Wong ended the game in the 14th with a walk off…ah, who gives a crap, anyway. If you’re like me, you just want your life back.

I’m relieved tomorrow is an off-day.

Godspeed, Back Deckers.