Pittsburgh Pirates BDR: A Long Strange Trip

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Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs

“I got it. I got it. I go…WHOOPS!” Gregory Polanco‘s gaffe was a metaphor for the season to this point.

“The Bucs will win the World Series. The Bucs will win the World Series. The Bucs will wi…WHOOPS!”

Pittsburgh, you host a fourth place baseball team. Be thankful the Brewers are in the NL Central. The Pirates own one of the worst records in the league. Only one position player is in the top 5 in OPS at their position. That would be left fielder Starling Marte, who is fourth.

I’ve reached my yearly quota on watching, and writing about, dramatic games in which the Pirates lose in excruciating walk-off fashion. The Reds series to start the season was bothersome, but at least baseball was finally back. Then the disgusting Cardinals series happened; although those were “good” games I never felt so cheated out of my time in all my years of fandom. But now, the Polanco banana peel game. “Careful. There’s ice on the steps. Don’t Polanco yourself.” If the team loses one, just one, more game in a walk-off, be Saturday afternoon or the middle of August, I’m going to give up the ghost.

Remember the famous scene in The Shining when Jack Torrance manically chops down the door with an ax? You know, “Heeere’s Johnny!” The next time the Battlin’ Bucs battle to the ninth inning only to be walked-off, I’m going full-on Jack Torrance on the television set.

Game 1:

Well, there was the godforsaken Polanco thing, of course. But stuff happened before that. Stuff that allowed the Polanco thing to be so memorable.

First of all, what’s this crap with starting a Friday game in the afternoon? I understand it’s Chicago, but still, it’s not convenient to for us working folk. Get your head out of the ivy, schedule makers.

I turned on the car radio after work in the middle of Steve Blass‘ explanation about why Clint Hurdle wasn’t going to the bullpen so early in the game while a shell-shocked Jeff Locke remained on the mound. Figuring the game would be a dud, I distanced myself from the action and only periodically checked the score online. 7-1 Cubs!!! Never mind!!! But I returned to the game later. I figured I’d witness a lily-white Locke hunkering in the corner of the dugout behind the Gatorade cooler, shaking like an alcoholic in a dry town as Danse Macabre played on repeat in his head.

Whoa! 7-5 Cubs, bases loaded, and Andrew McCutchen at the plate.

Cutch popped out, but the game was now, you know, a game. To that point, I’d only jotted a few notes in my little black notebook: Blass’ impeccable memory of his home run in Wrigley field, “The wind was blowing 2 mph out of the Southeast,” and a few depressing Pirates stats. Needles to say, by game’s end I’d filled three pages with scribbled blurbs and assorted raves.

I don’t particularly want to organize my notes into paragraphs and complete thoughts — all that absolutely necessary stuff. I don’t want to relive the game. In fact, I mostly regret that the Pirates fought back to blow our souls to smithereens in the 12th inning. So, I’m going to spare the shattered remnants of baseball soul the disservice of conjuring such brutal memories. Here are my notes, in order and verbatim:  “Don’t feel like Pirates will overtake them.” “Cervelli three-run hit.” “Hart single.” “Dinger-Harrison.” “Marte flails at three pitches.” “I’m not going to trick myself into getting excited about a comeback win. Cubs will score seven next inning.” “Kang is 0 for friggin five.” “I yelled ‘Swing Pedro. That’s right down the middle,’ at the first pitch. The next pitch I yelled ‘What the hell are you swinging at Pedro. That was eight feet off the plate!’ Good lord.” “Jay-Hay double in ninth.” “Holy crap. Cervelli singles and scores Jay-Hay.” “400+ pitches thrown in the first nine innings.” “Top 10th-Why isn’t Polanco stealing second? Don’t bunt Mercer and give up out.” “Mercer sucks” “Bottom 10th-fly out to Polanco. Guns home to nail Castro ten feet in front of home plate. Easy.” (Ugh!) “Top 11th-Why isn’t Cutch taking second base if the Cubs are giving him the bag?” “Worley bats and flies out to Soler. He bobbles and almost drops it.”  “Polanco trips on fly to right. ANOTHER walk-off loss. Give up Ghost.”

Game 2:

Watching the Pirates bat with runners in scoring position is like watching a wooden ship attempt to sail out of a longneck glass bottle.

Re-dubb the Pittsburgh Pirates the Pittsburgh LOBs. LOB is not short for lobsters, although when runners are on second and third, and nobody is out, the Pirates are in a pinch.

That pun was awful. My puns are only as awful as the Pirates clutch hitting again. The Pirates left 10 men on base in their first match-up against Cub’s ace Jon Lester. The shortcoming wasn’t quite as bad as the game versus the Cardinals two weekends ago in which 18 men were left on base. Doesn’t matter though; both games were losses.

Gerrit Cole, who’d won his first six starts against the Cubs, pitched generally well — two runs on seven hits in six innings. Unfortunately, he didn’t pitch well enough to compensate for a crippled offense. In the first few innings, he threw fastball after fastball after fastball. Cubs hitters jumped on them early in at-bats, stringing together several hits. He threw more off-speed pitches as the game wore on.

However, none of the Cubs four runs scored on hits. Enough said. Arquimedes Caminero‘s seventh inning was especially horrendous. Two runs scored largely as a result of Chris Stewart overthrowing second on a stolen base attempt, allowing the runner to advance. A passed ball, and a balk, brought runners home from third.

Cubs reliever Brian Schlitter seemed like the godsend Pirates fans had hoped for. In the eighth inning, he quickly allowed a base hit to Marte, and a double to Kang. But once Joe Madden yanked Schlitter, so went the Bucs slim chance at a comeback. Marte and Kang headed to the dugout during a commercial break, instead of home plate during the game.

More from Pirates News

Is it fair to say that, to this point in the season, Andrew McCutchen has been less the face of the franchise, and more the face of the Pirates failure?

Two general takeaways from the game: 1. During one at-bat, Chris Steward set-up inside. Cole’s pitch was outside, but within the strike zone. The pitch was called a ball by home plate umpire Chris Segal. The Fox Sports One announcers acknowledged that the pitch was a strike, but explained that umpires will generally call a pitch, even if it’s in the strike zone, a ball if the catcher has to move his glove across the zone. Bullshit! A pitcher is either in the strike zone, or it’s not, regardless of how far the catcher’s glove moves. I’m not in favor of digital strike zones, or robot umps, until nonsense like this happens. 2. Do the laces count as part of the glove? Stewart nailed Dexter Fowler on a stolen base attempt. The infernal dweeb Joe Madden challenged the call. Upon slow-mo replay, it appeared as though the laces on Neil Walker‘s glove brushed Fowler’s hand before Fowler reached base. The call wasn’t overturned due to the inconclusive moment Walker’s glove tug Fowler’s hand. But was Fowler out the moment the laces touched him? I want an answer.

The Pirates need more answers than me.

Game 3:

“Why are you not 8 and 0?” Steve Blass asked of A.J. Burnett during the broadcast. Burnett has not allowed more than two runs in his first eight starts, besting Bob Walk‘s mark of seven straight. After today’s seven inning outing, in which he allowed zero run on three hits, Batman now sits second in the NL in ERA with a 1.38 mark.

At least today, I didn’t nurse the gradually escalating desire to deliver some Sweet Chin Music to my television set after the final out. Although, after Mark Melancon allowed two consecutive base hits in the ninth, I was lacing up my TV stompin’ boots.

The defense was tight. A few stellar catches, one in particular on a long fly ball off the bat of Jorge Soler in the seventh, and outfield put-outs should be fodder for tonight’s highlight reels. However, I can’t imagine I was the only fan with jitters when Gregory Polanco was tracking a Wellington Castillo shot to deep right field in the ninth. I imagined Polanco stumbling all over himself, and collapsing in a crumpled heap before skidding to a halt as the ball drops inches from the desperate reach of his bare hand. To my surprise, he stayed upright and caught the ball. Helluva prospect, that Polanco.

The offense continues to be a bit of a vaudeville act, however. Starling Marte swinging at pitches that bounce four feet in front of the plate, and Jay-Hay’s bloop double, which led to the game-winning run after a Francisco Cervelli single in the fifth, aren’t exactly acts reminiscent of the Lumbar Company. Although Neil Walker and Marte doubled in the eight, the season-defining offensive outburst remains a blueprint.

Well, Friday…but that doesn’t count.

It doesn’t matter, though, as the Bucs win 3-1, and halt the 4 game skid. Time to come home, boys, and wallop on the Minnesota Twins in a two-game set next this week.

Please wallop on the Twins.

Today, Steve Blass stood on the Wrigley Field mount for the first time since 1973. What other place, besides Fenway Park, can a player of Blass’ era stand on the mound and not be overwhelmed with nostalgia? Only a handful of people in the entire world can empathize with him. I suppose the feeling might be like standing in your boyhood bedroom after a forty-year hiatus, tenfold.

Godspeed, back deckers.

Hey, don’t be afraid to follow me on Twitter.

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