Pittsburgh Pirates BDR: About Schmidt

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies

The field correspondent from ABC’s Good Morning America* asked 10-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I saw my reflection in the lens of the hulking television camera bearing down from above; I had a burly moustache and spit chaw, while clad in mid-80’s Phillies home pinstripes. All I needed was about twelve more years developing superior glove-wizardry while harnessing colossal raw power.

“I want to be Mike Schmidt,” I answered.

*Why was Good Morning America interviewing me? My Little League team was coached by Fred Heaps, who’d been coaching little league teams for nearly 40 years. He led a local team to the LL World Series in 1969, and was known for doing kindhearted things like buying baseball gloves for poor kids. Once, he gave me a quarter for answering “Tony Gwynn” when he asked who was the purest hitter in baseball. ABC put together a segment on Fred Heaps, which aired during the MLB All-Star break in 1988. Coach Heaps passed away two years later, during my final year in Little League.

I was indoctrinated as a Phillies’ fan by my father when I was still hitting balls off a tee. I fondly remember unearthing Mike Schmidt’s baseball card in a 1986 Topps wax pack, and the powder blue glow — the same hue as the Phillies 80s’ road uniforms — emanating from the dial on the monstrous living room radio that broadcast Phillies’ home games, via Harry Kalas’ voice, and Dad and me occasionally leaving our rural home to embark on a bus ride through downtown Philadelphia en route to Veteran’s Stadium. One of my most cherished childhood memories took place in 1987, when I witnessed firsthand Greg Gross break-up a Ron Darling no-hitter in the eighth. An inning later, Mike Schmidt hit a walk-off single to left, completing a 4-3 comeback victory.

My favorite tee-shirt as a three-year-old, and my Phillie Phanatic doll with missing eyes. It got into fisticuffs with my son’s Pirate Parrot.

The Phillies maintain residence in my baseball heart. I still harbor a smidgen of guilt for having evolved into a Pirates’ fan in my adulthood. When the Pennsylvania rivals collide, I kinda feel like I’m rooting against the 10-year-old me that announced to the world he wanted to be Mike Schmidt.

Ah, screw the Phils…Let’s Go Bucs!

Game 1:

Philadelphians have a great nickname for Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr.: Ruin Tomorrow Jr.

Why couldn’t anyone come have bestowed David Littlefield with such a clever nickname while he was clobbering the Pittsburgh Pirates fan base with his unique brand of senselessness?

The Pirates squared off against Phillies’ right-hander Jerome Williams (who wears a different color glove game-to-game for awareness of every cancer imaginable) in game one of the four game set. Williams reminded me a lot of Diamondbacks’ starter Josh Collmenter, in that he appeared eminently hittable from my living room couch. Besides plucking Neil Walker in the ass, Bucs’ bats flailed at several pitches well out of the zone in an inauspicious first inning. “Why the hell can’t you hit that?” I repeatedly shouted at the television.

Nor did Gerrit Cole instill confidence from the gate. His plant foot kept slipping on the mound, and his pitches were left down, resulting in a walk and solidly hit balls. I thought Chris Stewart might emerge from the dugout with a shovel in the second inning. But Cole found his footing, in more ways than one, and ultimately pitched seven innings of six hit, two-run ball. Cole is now 5-1 on the season.

Starling Marte was the hero. His three-run rocket shot in the third inning, and eighth home run of the season, lifted the Pirates to a 4-3 victory. Believe it not –and you best believe it, Ripley – Marte’s dinger was the first Pirates’ home run with runners in scoring position since 4/18/15.

Sometimes, an excitable Tim Neverett call reminds me of Harry Doyle, Bob Ueker’s character from the movie Major League. Listen for similarities next time Neverett calls a Pirates’ home run.

I had migrated to the back deck, and monitored the charcoal-colored mushrooming clouds on the horizon as they inched toward Greenfield. As the outs accrued on the field, the time between lightning flash and thunder shortened. There’s romance and tranquility in watching a faraway spring thunderstorm creep closer, knowing the damn thing will gash its teeth when it befalls the neighborhood. Add a radio baseball broadcast as the soundtrack to the storm’s approach, and the scene is whole.

A few notable occurrences: 1. Paul Wahner raised a good point. If the MLB rulebook states that pitchers can’t fake to third base or first base, why can they fake to second base? (And why do you park in a driveway, and drive in a parkway?) 2. Andrew McCutchen danced a shuffle between innings. Again, Greg Brown referred to him as “frisky.” 3. Speaking of Brownie, when asked what he thought of fans who raise the Jolly Roger prematurely, he said, “It bothers me greatly.” A superstitious Bob Walk concurred. 4. Mark Melancon pitched a shaky ninth, allowing Odubel Herrera‘s first career home run, and a base hit before, finally, raising the Jolly Roger at the appropriate time.

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Game 2:

Finally, a comfortable victory. Pirates win 7-2, and have won five of the last six. A.J. Burnett and Josh Harrison get the virtual pies in the face.

Phillies fans witnessed the worst of Burnett in 2014. Last year’s faux (Philly) Batman led the league in losses (18), earned runs (109), and walks (96). It’s a small wonder he wasn’t pelted with car batteries tossed from the nosebleed seats at Citizen’s Bank Park. Even Santa would have at least took aim with a snowball (most likely with a battery hidden in the center). An off-season move back to Pittsburgh has Burnett back in his formidable cape and cowl. He’s been stellar so far this year. In game two of the Phillies’ series, he tossed seven innings, and only surrendered one earned run. After six starts this year, his ERA is 1.66.

So what is the difference between last year’s Burnett and this year’s Burnett — there’s a P on his hat. Well, there’s that, and “the ball is down,” A.J. told Travis Sawchik of the Tribune-Review. A repaired sports hernia doesn’t hurt, either.

Perhaps some of the positive mojo that a “frisky” McCutchen has been conjuring lately with his newfangled bizarre dugouts rituals has wafted Josh Harrison’s way. Jay-Nay (remember, I proclaimed in an earlier BDR that I shall refer to him as J-Nay until his average climbs above the Mendoza line), hit a fourth inning three-run dinger, which supplied all the offense the Bucs needed to conquer the meager Phillies. An excitable Harrison was greeted in the dugout post-HR as the prodigal son returning from an arduous journey in the land of sub-mediocrity.

But does a single home run bestow confidence? And does confidence bestow a hot bat? And does a hot bat bestow better fielding? Jay-Nay committed his sixth error later in the game — the same number of errors he committed all of last season.

John Wehner, providing color commentary on the TV side, imparted a cautionary tale. A few times during his playing days, he lost a contact lens in the field. Assuming it simply fell out of his eye, he inserted a new lens, and played on. Days later, a crusty mangled contact dislodged from his eye socket; the lens had been stuck behind his eyeball. These, my friends, are the hazards of baseball. I witness athletes — usually in the NHL or NFL — sustain concussions, tear ACL’s, and break bones in real time, again and again. I normally just shrug. Hey, it’s part of the game. But as a contact wearer myself, I winced when Wehner mentioned that a friggin’ contact was unknowingly trapped near the middle of his skull. Who says baseball is for wimps?

One mind-boggling fact about the Phillies: their team OPS is sub-.600 vs. right-handed pitching. The Philadelphia Phillies should be DFAd.

Game 3:

Pirates lose 3-2 thanks to a bottom of the fifth inning trifecta of a thicket of bloops hits, a Carlos Ruiz single turned double thanks to a lollygagging Starling Marte, and Corey Hart possessing the defensive range of a gargoyle.

Before the fifth the game revealed itself to be a pitcher’s duel, as expected. The Pirates scored a pair in the top of the inning when McCutchen smacked a single. The at-bat marked the first time since 2012 that Cutch managed a base hit with the bases loaded. The third out was awarded after Phillies’ manager Ryan Sandberg challenged a Marte bang-bang play at first that would’ve given the Bucs a three run lead.  The game soured shortly thereafter.

Pirates lose 3-2 thanks to a bottom of the fifth inning trifecta of a thicket of bloops hits, a Carlos Ruiz single turned double thanks to a lollygagging Starling Marte, and Corey Hart possessing the defensive range of a gargoyle.

Francisco Liriano appeared to have the Phils under his boot heel until the bottom of the fifth inning, when the first paragraph happened. Overall, Frankie pitched seven innings and allowed three earned runs on three hits. Not bad, but Cole Hamels bested him.

Rob Scahill has been solid in his 14.1 innings this season. He’s carrying a 0.63 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP. If Mark Melancon continues tossing the ball where the catcher’s glove ain’t, perhaps Scahill can swim further to the surface of the shark tank.

Although the Pirates’ bats didn’t show up last night, the Ball Collector did. Because the Bower family spent the first few innings of the game at Rialto Pizza – a weekly tradition. I could not hear much of the riveting interview with, or commentary on, the Ball Collector. As best I could tell, the Ball Collector attends a plethora of baseball games, solely for the purpose of…collecting baseballs. He races through aisles of empty seats all over ball parks, and changes tee shirts and ball caps –  rotating between team logos – to trick the ball girls and players into thinking he’s a different dude whenever a used ball is tossed into the stands. During an in-game interview, he said he’s collected over 7,000 balls between games and batting practices.

I can’t decide whether the Ball Collector is totally awesome, or completely lame. First of all, where does he get the time and money to travel about ballparks and attend so many games? Perhaps collecting foul balls is his full time job. What a gig! I wonder what the pension plan is like. I believe he said something about donating to charity for every ball he collects, so good for him. To increase his donations, he may want to move to the right field bleachers during Pedro Alvarez‘s batting practice, but move to either the right side of the infield, or the catcher’s mitt after strike two, when Pedro bats during the game.

Finally, a high point of the game on the TV side was when Clint Hurdle tried to call the bullpen, but the phones weren’t working. The camera showed a perplexed Hurdle and the bullpen coach staring at dead phones. Bob Walk suggested that Hurdle called the wrong number. “He called the cheese steak place instead,” Neverett replied.

Hurdle should’ve phoned Jeff Francoeur and politely asked that he not throw a ballistic missile to nail Steve Lombardozzi at home plate for the final out in the bottom of the ninth.

Game 4:

I’m almost certainly putting more effort into writing this sentence than the Pirates put into the getaway game against the Phillies.

May 14, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; The Phillie Phanatic watches game play between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates from the top of the dugout at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Luckily, I was at work during this quagmire, and was snippets of the (in) action on the diamond. What I heard on the Durabrand radio was disturbing. The theme for the Pirates seemed to be: runners making outs on the base paths, infielders making errors, and Vance Worley suffering on the mound. Hell, the Phillies, the Phillies, were not retired in order until the seventh inning. Aaron HarangAaron Harang, got ahead of 21 of 28 Pirate batters. If you want the grisly details, go to the box scores. But be warned, the numbers are NSFW.

Although Jay-Hay (his batting average at game’s end was at an even .200, so I can’t call him Jay-Nay for the time being) was 3-4 at the dish, but was 0-1 in the base nabbing department. Starling Marte was also caught stealing. I didn’t agree with the choice to send Marte. The Bucs were already down by three and Pedro Alvarez was batting late in the game. Why not avoid risking the out and hope Alvarez can crack a long ball?

Okay. I’m firing my amnesia ray at the dark corner of my mind where memories of this game are stored. If my next Back Deck Report is from the perspective of a Phillies’ fan, I misfired and zapped every memory of adulthood.

Godspeed, Back Deckers.

Next: Series Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates travel to Chicago to face second place Cubs

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