Pittsburgh Pirates BDR: The Fear


St. Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates

The Fear cannot be traced to a patient zero (read: Andrew McCutchen). It is not so simple an ailment to map. The Fear often befalls an entire community (read: team roster) at once. The onset is quick, sometimes overnight (read: plane ride to St. Louis in early May). Its symptoms barely present themselves, and are often mistaken for simple crimps of normalcy (read: misplayed bloops, two mph off a cutter, inability to square up a breaking ball). A patient appears normal 99.99% of the time, but The Fear courses through his psyche every second, even if he is not aware of it (read: Josh Harrison as he steps from the box and nonchalantly taps his cleats with the bat). The Fear cannot be diagnosed in a lab. Only the keen eye of one who follows closely (read: you and me) those suspected to harbor The Fear can rightly diagnose it.

Sometimes, in rare instances, The Fear spreads into the general population (read: Bucco Nation). I’ve witnessed unknowing carriers roam about the great big world (read: PNC Park concourses) like a tourniquet has cut off the neuron receptors millimeters above the brain’s pleasure center.

The Pirates, and their fan base, have The Fear.

Game 1:

Basically, here is what happened: Starling Marte singled in a run in the bottom of the first. 1-0 Bucs. Then the Cardinals immediately tied the score on a Jhonny Peralta dinger. Then some crap happened before Matt Holliday blasted a 441-foot three-run home run. Then a bunch more crap happened before Kolten Wong thumped his own three runner home run in the seventh. Then more crap happened before the game ended like a tree falling in the deserted forest.

The Cardinals didn’t collect singles; they collected doubles and three-run home runs. Earl Weaver would’ve been proud.

8-5 Cardinals. The Pirates scored more runs in this game versus the Cards then in last weekend’s entire series in St. Louis. But the Bucs still collapsed at the clawed feet of the Redbirds.

The Fear shrouds the Pirate clubhouse.

The Pirates’ disheartening escapades versus the Cards so far this season were despicably, yet eloquently, epitomized in a sort of poetic injustice metaphor in the top of the third inning. Greg Brown and Bob Walk — broadcasting on the radio side — were interviewing Shawn Campbell, the ten-year-old Make-A-Wish honoree who’d earlier tossed the first pitch. Walk was asking Shawn about him having met his favorite Pirate, Andrew McCutchen, in the locker room before the game. Shawn was answering excitedly, and the mood in the studio was understandably upbeat. During a pause in the light-hearted banter, the listener heard the proverbial crack of the bat, followed by Brown delivering the deflating news of Matt Holliday’s three-run home run. Another pause ensued — this one quite awkward. But good ol’ Walkie and Brownie, now tasked with masking their disenchantment, forged ahead…”Can you hit the ball as far as Holliday?” Walk asked. Classic!

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Because Shawn Campbell had also signed a one-day contract with the Pirates, I wondered if Clint Hurdle might call him from the booth to replace Josh Harrison at third base. Jay-Nay was 0 for his last 19 when I turned off the radio after Wong’s home run.

I wouldn’t have been shocked if Harrison had struggled mildly early this year, since the league was bound to adjust and punch back after Harrison’s mostly-terrific 550 plate appearances in 2014. But for him to struggle this mightily is somewhat shocking, and quite disconcerting. His 2015 stats are downright rotten. No stathead could’ve predicted this. Maybe Jay-Nay does prove that the gambler’s fallacy — essentially, the notion that if a quarter lands on heads five flips  in a row, then it is due to land on tails the next five flips — is the baseball gods’ way of punishing Harrison, and only Harrison, for the 1919 Black Sox’s original sin.

The Pirates did manage 12 hits and Francisco Liriano did strike out ten, but still…the second Friday in a row that a perfect evening for sampling IPA’s and listening to Pittsburgh Pirates’ baseball on the back deck was turned sour by the Yankees of the National League.

Game 2:

Nothing helps cure The Fear like a historic 4-5-4 triple play.

Of course, a win helps too.

Game two was both bizarre and exhilarating, often at the same time. In the top of the second, the Cardinals had runners at second and third with no outs. Neil Walker leaped and snared a Yadier Molina liner, and then rifled it to third for a force. Jung Ho Kang, apparently already thinking the triple play was complete, sought to toss the ball to the third base umpire. The infield, and boatloads of fans at PNC Park and at home, yelled, in English, “THROW IT TO SECOND.” Even if the words meant nothing to Kang, the frenzied look in everyone’s eyes pointed towards second base. Kang threw the ball back to second to kill Jason Heyward, who was caught between second and third. Trip-trip-triple play.

The best part was the stunned look frozen on Mike Matheny’s face as ROOT Sports faded to black.

Vance Worley surrendered five runs in five innings, with zero strike outs. But the infield defense was especially sharp; Pedro Alvarez and Jordy Mercer flashed the leather. And the shark tank — Rob Scahill, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, and Mark Melancon —  was airtight in securing the victory. Rejoice, for “The Shark’s” fastball touched 92 mph.

The offense managed seven runs on nines hits, including four doubles, and a home run from Walker. Though Andrew McCutchen owned only one of the hits, he’s been barreling the baseball. After a well struck line-out to Jon Jay in center field, Cutch raged at God above  — or maybe a cumulonimbus cloud, I can’t be sure — whom he apparently blames for positioning Jay in a hot zone on his spray chart. But immediately sensing The Fear creeping about his silver-slugging soul, McCutchen repented and flashed the sign of the cross. I don’t know if the cloud accepted the apology.

The Fear did claim Starling Marte, who left the game with dizziness. No wonder; the whole game was dizzying.

Let’s hope game three — and taking two of three — is an exorcism.

Game 3:

Yesterday’s hectic family activities challenged my ability to follow the action. My travails led me as follows: back deck (radio) — den (tv) — living room (tv) — back deck (radio) — hammock (radio). I followed a game, and a two-year-old. Little bugger never quits.

May 9, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang (27) smiles at the batting cage before playing the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Know who else never quits…Jung Ho Kang. Kang batted second on the Neil Walker-less lineup today, and hit a BB over the left field wall to give the Bucs an early 1-0 lead. And who else but Kang hit a tie-breaking single in the seventh inning to give his team the slim one run lead that held until the end?

The Fear may be breaking. See picture of Jung Ho Kang smiling for proof.

Andrew McCutchen desperately attempted to rid himself of the The Fear by performing some kind of ancient Fear self-exorcism. After another well-struck liner snagged by Jhonny Peralta, Cutch found enough room in the dugout to lay flat on his back and cross his arms over his chest like a five-tool mummy. Then he waved his arms wildly and chanted. Once back on the bench, Neil Walker made the mistake of placing a Gatorade towel over Cutch’s head. I can’t speak to the negative juju of the towel, but Cutch immediately flung it on the dugout floor, and barked incantations. If I read his lips correctly, and I probably didn’t, he said, “Tonight we dance to the death rattle of our enemies.” The whole scene was bizarre.

Later in the game, McCutchen snagged a fairly routine deep fly. For giggles, he kept running backwards and partly scaled the padding on the center field wall. I guess the knee is fine. That, or running up a 90 degree wall during game action for no apparent reason is part of his knee discomfort rehab.

As Steve Blass rightly said, Cutch was “frisky” yesterday.

Both the offense and defense were just frisky enough to pull out a grinding 4-3 win, and take the series against the Cardinals. Locke pitched 6.2 innings, a few of those very quick. He allowed five hits and three earned runs before giving way to the vaunted Hughes-Watson-Melancon combo. The offense put up nine hits, and managed to battle back twice after the Cardinals tied the game twice.

Josh Harrison is now batting .173 after going 0-3. He recently offered the lamest, and most clichéd, excuse imaginable for a player in his situation. He’s “trying too hard to justify his contract.” I’ve heard that excuse before, and it doesn’t make any sense. If Jay-Nay has been “trying too hard” since his big deal, how hard was he trying before the deal? Based on his words, I must assume he wasn’t “trying” to his potential when making a league-minimum salary. He managed to play well enough to finish tenth in the 2014 NL MVP voting. Imagine if he “tried” harder.

You can’t “try too hard,” Josh. You can, for instance, become over-anxious and swing at pitches you’d otherwise lay off because you want to be a big shot while making millions.

Just admit it: you’re not playing very well, Jay-Nay. It happens. Don’t worry though. Josh Harrison Bobble Head Night is still on the schedule.

May 10, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals third baseman

Mark Reynolds

(12) tags out Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli (29) as third base umpire Paul Emmel (50) makes the call after Cervelli overslid third base during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Lastly, why didn’t Francisco Cervelli slide feet first into third base in the fifth inning? Instead, he over-slid the bag and got tagged out, his hand about a foot and a half off the base. Had he slid head first, he could’ve used the base to stop himself. In fact, had the throw gotten away, he could’ve popped back up and darted home without pause.

Not to mention sliding feet first avoids one’s head from colliding with a knee or a leg.

Clint Hurdle once told the media that he allows his players to slide however they feel comfortable. Well, Hurdle should heed the advice of my little league manager, Fred Heaps: “Fundamentals. Fundamentals. Fundamentals.”

Anyway…to heck with The Fear. Let’s go to Philly and beat up on the nobodies.

Godspeed, back deckers.

Next: Pittsburgh Pirates hand St. Louis Cardinals first series loss of year, win 4-3