Pittsburgh Pirates BDR: Becks and Beef Sticks


Hey now, Back Deckers.

The last Back Deck Report, before a two-series hiatus, was a morbid retelling of the Pittsburgh Pirates series sweep at the hands of the Minnesota Twins. Since, the Pittsburgh Pirates have swept both the New York Mets, and the Miami Marlins, lifting their record to 24-22.

After such a stark turnaround from a team in the quicksand to a team ablaze, one can only ask oneself what has changed since the winning streak began. Whereas one fan might realize he began watching the Mets series from a different armchair, another might remember drinking exactly two Becks and eating four-and-a-half beef sticks every game since the onset of the winning streak. So, of course, the former guy needs to keep watching games from the different armchair, and the latter guy better stock up on Becks and beef sticks.

What routine have I changed since the Mets series? I haven’t posted a Back Deck Report. At the risk of jinxing the team and commencing a tailspin in the loss column, here’s another Back Deck Report. However, to reduce the risk of cursing the team, I am going to stick with few other routines I started a week ago…slightly burning the toast on my daily roast beef sandwich, rinsing with ACT oral rinse rather than the store brand, and feeding the cats.

As the Pirates embark on what some are terming a season-defining 10-game road trip (three versus the Friars, three versus the Giants, and three versus the Braves), please continue doing whatever you’ve been doing since the Mets series began. Keep the pitching in lock-down mode, and keep the offense rolling. As of 5/28/15, the Pirates have zero players in the top five of any position in All-Star balloting. Keep on keepin’ on, and help the Bucs stampede the ballot boxes.

YOU certainly don’t want to be the one to precipitate a losing streak. Back Deck Report will find you, and reap unspeakable vengeance.

Game 1:

Bucs 11, Friars 5

Weeknight games on the West Coast can be aggravating. Too many times, I get invested in a close contest, but have to retire to bed after five or six innings. Inevitably, I’ll dream about the outcome of the game. As I sleep, I even remind myself, in my dream, that I’m only dreaming, and I’ll need to check my iPhone when I awake. Let’s just say I slept soundly after leaving the game midway through the fourth inning. And I did dream, but not about the Buccos (That begs the question, what did I dream about? Keep begging).

Again, I defer to Grantland (the best site on the interwebs, besides Rum Bunter) for an in-depth evaluation of the Padres awful defensive outfield. However, you can’t give Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers (or Will Venable, in this case) the chance to be awful if you crank balls over their heads (and poor-range legs). That’s exactly what Jung Ho Kang, Gregory Polanco, and Starling Marte did early in the contest to stake the Pirates to a 6-0 lead mid-way through the fourth, i.e. bedtime. Kang’s first inning home run was a 435-foot bomb to the upper deck in left. Polanco’s was a missile over the left-center field wall. Marte’s was a no-doubter, too — his team-leading tenth of the season. He didn’t hit his tenth dinger last year until September second.

Ian Kennedy…hit the friggin’ showers. There aren’t enough bars of soap in San Diego to rinse off the stench of six earned runs in four innings.

Moreover, this was the first time since 1998 that the Pirates hit three homes runs in San Diego. Of course, before the fences at Petco Park were moved in, no one homered. Pre-2013, Kang’s first inning shot would’ve been a can of corn.

Not really. That ball was killed.

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The only downer was A.J. Burnett‘s four earned runs allowed, after the result of the contest was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Batman’s ERA has swelled to a 1.81. Time to DFA the guy. That said, with a sizeable lead such as the one Burnett was granted, pitchers tend to pummel strike zones, which sometimes leads to well-struck balls, thus, runs. A few throwing woes by Francisco Cervelli and Neil Walker didn’t help. Oh well. No harm, no foul.

Just for fun: John Wehner cracked, “That was Kang-believeable.” Greg Brown followed with a rum shot. Wehner also proposed (like proposed, proposed) on his brother’s behalf during the live game telecast. “She said yes,” he reported an inning later. No shit! Since I’m a fan of the ugly twist in a narrative, the jaded part of me dearly wanted Wehner to announce, amid a screamer bouncing around the corner…”Cutch is heading for third as Kemp struggles to handle…NO!? Good lord. She actually said no, everybody. What a downer! Sorry brother.”

The big talk early in the game was the suspect condition of the outfield after the Rolling Stones concert a night before. Here’s hoping the Pittsburgh Pirates gash the San Diego Chicken, and let it bleed.

Game 2:

Friars 6, Bucs 2

I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning for THAT.

Derek Norris stepped to the plate in the ninth, firmly wearing the golden sombrero — baseball’s version of the dunce cap — and biffed a friggin’ grand slam off Rob Scahill. Well, ain’t that just great!

Off course, the Bucs did all they could to blow it in the bottom of the ninth. And it was easily enough. Scahill threw away a 30-foot toss to first base for what would’ve been the first out. Francisco Cervelli, for reasons unbeknownst to a layperson like me, didn’t throw to third base to easily get a force out, what would’ve been the second out of the inning, after recording a force out at home.

Francisco Liriano certainly isn’t to blame. He tossed six innings of three-hit ball, striking out 11. That’s two starts back-to-back of at least 10 strike outs for Liriano — the fourth time in his career he’s done so. Moreover, his swing-and-miss rate of 34% at the start of the game was MLB’s best. On the other hand, James Shields remains without a loss. He pitched six innings and gave up two earned runs. Furthermore, he reminded viewers at home, like you and me, that the pace in which he pitches a baseball game is perpetually five minutes slower than the rest of the world. Which reminds me…I stayed up until 1:3o in the morning for THAT.

Craig Kimbrel‘s pre-pitch stance looks like two things.

1. A praying mantis poised to strike prey.

2. The rehearsed stance of a d-bag.

I say this because I bet he performs that stance because he thinks he looks cool, like a praying mantis. And he does looking like a praying mantis, and a d-bag.

May 28, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; The San Diego Chicken gestures during the second inning between the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Props are due to Pedro Alvarez for, again, slapping a ground ball single away from the shift, producing the Pirates’ two runs. Not only did the at-bat get the Bucs on the board, his hit to left field against the shift serves notice to the league that he can, and consciously will, turn the tables on a team with three infielders on the right side.

It was all for not, in the end (I don’t think there’s a more depressing sentence, in-an-of-itself, in the English language).

At one point in the telecast, John Wehner noted that, nowadays, the home plate umpire doesn’t bother to check the health of a pitched ball that bounces in the dirt; he just tosses it to the ball boy. I was watching a re-broadcast of a 1990 Pirates v Reds NL Championship game on ROOT Sports during the off-season. After the Reds’ third base coach fielded a slowly hit bouncing ball left of the third base bag, he tossed it to the ump — as was customary — who looked it over and decided the ball was in good enough shape to remain in play.

The good ol’ days…when baseballs weren’t tossed into an early grave.

Game 3:

Bucs 5, Friars 2

Ground Chuck lived up to the nickname, inducing 16 ground balls. Morton pitched seven innings, and gave up two runs on seven hits. His ERA is near the ground too, at 1.93 after two contests since a return to the pitching staff.

The game had the sheen of a back-and-forth contest early. The Pirates scored one in the top of the first off a base hit up the middle from Neil Walker, but later left ’em loaded. The Padres answered with a one-spot later in the inning after a double by Yangervis Solarte. The Bucs answered with another run the next inning after Jay-Hay almost literally threw his bat at an outside pitch, poking the ball to right, plating Jordy Mercer (who had actually reached on an honest-to-goodness base hit). But again, the bases were left loaded.

I prepared to ride a seesaw well past midnight again. But the playground closed early.

The Pirates went on to score another run in the sixth, on a ground ball fielder’s choice from Ground Chuck himself. They scored two insurance runs in the ninth. Mark “The Shark” Melancon chomped ’em for the save.

Mark “The Shark” was the name of a local morning radio personality in the town where I was raised. In fact, I bet there’s at least one Mark “The Shark” in every radio market in the country. He plays “aaall the hottest cuts on your morning drive” with “Grizzly Man” Bill and Steve “The Hurricane.”

Pedro Alvarez’s yips seem to be in remission. He was charged with one error, when his throw to second nailed Derek Norris square on the back of the helmet.

Cervelli was auditioning for a vaudeville act when he emphatically bailed out on a pitch that nearly knicked the inside corner of the plate. Charlie Chaplin would’ve been proud. Coincidently (or not), Cervelli was actually hit by a pitch during the same at-bat.

The “save” statistic carries little value outside of being bargaining chips for “closer’s” agents during contract negotiations, and stuffing for the backs of baseball cards. If you disagree, you’re not a real Back Decker. Anyway, Bob Walk quoted an anonymous manger who said, “The game would be managed differently if the save were not a stat.”

Oh, and Cutch did this:

Game 4:

Bucs: >76, Friars 76 (I’m guessing the final score because I’m retiring to bed in the fifth inning)

There’s some comfort to be taken in a blowout when a game begins at 9:10 PM EST on a work night, even if the Pittsburgh Pirates face the business end of a pummel branch. I can, and will, go to bed without baseball drama following me into slumber.  I’m writing this as the game slogs on in the fifth, with the Padres up 7-0. Vance Worley has just taken the mound as the long-man. Clint Barmes is 3-3. Yeah, this one’s over.

The game seemed doomed from the first inning. Jeff Locke clearly left his big-boy cleats beside the welcome mat back home. He couldn’t find the strike zone with TomTom. Jedd Gyorko plated two with a bases-loaded bloop. A Will Middlebrooks home run, to make it 5-0 a few innings later had the feel of a steak in the heart. The Bucs can’t touch Cory Spangenberg’s 69 mph Gateway Arch curve ball, so….

No harm. I’m tired anyway.

Spangenberg’s sac bunt marked the first sac bunt for a Padres pitcher this year, 51 games in! The Cubs have zero sac bunts by a pitcher thus far.

Francisco Cervelli has the highest batting average of any catcher in the big leagues.

That’s it.

Until next time, Godspeed.

Next: Pittsburgh Pirates Minor League Report