Pittsburgh Pirates BDR: Red(s) Dawn


I propose that a new national monument be erected in the nation’s capital to pay homage to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ offense impotence during the weekend series versus the Nationals. Actually, my idea for the monument is less a new structure and more an alternation of an old one – make the Washington Monument droop.

What a nightmare series! I realize it’s just three games…but what a nightmare series!

Generally speaking, after an eight-game winning streak, a letdown is imminent at some point. The way the Pirates’ offense had scuffled, even amid the winning streak, a letdown of some kind was imminent, indeed. But I figured said letdown might take the form of a tough late-inning loss, or perhaps a couple late-inning losses in a row, but not a NIGHT-FRIGGIN’-MARE SERIES.

Ok, so the Pittsburgh Pirates dropped (drooped?) three straight. The circumstances of these losses will wallow in infamy. The first game was a 4-1 ho-hum loss – the kind of loss you simply cram under the floorboards and forget ever happened. The second loss, though… Ol’ Neck Lips gets the game ball. His heroics – kinda’, sorta’, leanin’ into a pitch – spared the Pirates from being on the shit-end of a Max Scherzer perfect game. Kudos Neck Lips! Hey, you can’t jump start a two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth seven-run rally against an utterly dominant pitcher without a base runner. And the third game…the Bucs shut ’em down from the second inning onward. Sure, the nine-run first inning bludgeoning of Charlie Morton soured things a tad. Ground Chuck’s confidence might be as low his nickname’s sake.

A bad loss can be showered off. But last series might require a fire hose and a wire brush.

Like all nightmares, this one will recede into memory’s mop closet. Boogey Man Max is ushered behind the stacks of toilet paper. The Pirates mercifully return to PNC Park, where nightmares become Perogie Races and Zambelli fireworks. And the dudes in black can play Sandman to the Cincinnati Red’s waning dreams.

Game 1:

Bucs 7, Reds 6

One ring to rule them all? No. One inning to dull the pain.

The Pirates’ bats detonated in the fourth inning. The PNC Park crowd witnessed a rare one-inning feat: the cycle+2. That would be a single, double, trip-trip-triple, home run, base on balls, and reach on error. Cool Uncle Frank, Francisco Cervelli, and Andrew McCutchen ignited the biggest explosions in the form of dingers. A throwing error by Reds’ shortstop Eugenio Suarez on a routine Starling Marte grounder set up the Cutch dinger. “He was blowing a nice bubble when he threw it,” said Bob Walk.

To be fair, the Bucs hit the lottery in this series. Reds ace Johnny Cueto, the scheduled starter, was pushed back to Friday. And their killer closer, Aroldis Chapman, is on paternity leave (His wife gave birth to an 8.2 pound, 103 mph baby). 27-year-old Josh Smith made his major league début. “Josh Smith” is the most eminently hittable name I can imagine.

By the way, was that Jim Leyland sitting about three rows up along the first base side? When the ROOT Sports cameras showed a lefty settling into the box, Leyland’s (or faux Leyland’s) head poked over the batter’s shoulder.

Anyway, the game got off to an inauspicious start. Jeff Locke allowed three runs in the first inning as the ghosts of the weekend series versus the Nats began to swirl. Locke lasted only four innings, and allowed the bases to become loaded in three of those innings (Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the Bucs’ starting rotation becomes the Locke-less Monster). “They hit balls where nobody was at,” Locke said after his outing. No shit!

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On the flip side, the Reds’ rookie pitcher totally Scherzer-ed the Bucs for three innings, although he walked five. His lack of control caught up with him in a big way in the fourth, when he was fast-tracked to the showers.

Although the Reds crawled back thereafter, the Pirates’ bullpen was able to fend off a comeback. A stellar eighth and ninth inning – authored by strikeout czars Tony Watson and Mark Melancon – preserved the win. Marte’s diving catch to loot Todd Frazier‘s RBI total by one, which would’ve tied the game in the seventh, didn’t hurt either.

Of note: Fangraphs.com figures that Pedro Alvarez has cost the Pirates 9.6 runs more than a replacement first baseman. And how about Greg Brown’s reaction to the force play at home plate in the first. Josh Harrison threw home to Uncle Frank, who quickly tapped the plate with his toe before the runner scored. But the home plate umpire called the runner safe. Brownie was incredulous. His reaction, and eruption of a delicate mixture of disbelief and panic, was strikingly similar to his reaction to Jerry Meals “out” call after Michael McKenry performed the olé tag in the 71st inning of the Braves debacle in 2011.

Game 2:

Bucs 2, Reds 5

Before the game, Reds’ hurler Mike Leake had not lost to the Pirates since May 5, 2012. After the game, Red’s hurler Mike Leake had not lost to the Pirates since May 5, 2012.

Again, Gerrit Cole fell to the Reds, and Leake reigned. I’m sorry; no matter how many times you watch a rerun of the first boxing match in Rocky III, Clubber Lang beats Rocky.

Also, this is the third game in a row in which the Pirates collapsed in the first inning. I was at Hough’s Pub in Greenfield with me mum and family in tow, watching the first inning/Hindenburg incinerate on a jumbo TV. A Flying Dog Double Dog helps in said situations.

Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the Bucs starting rotation becomes the Locke-less Monster.

From a fan’s standpoint, there’s not much to digest or reflect on. After Marlon Byrd‘s first inning home run, the fork was already in the turkey.

The Cole Train derailed after the second shortest outing of his career. He allowed five runs, eight hits, and walked three walks. He has never beaten the Reds, posting a career 0-3 record and a 5.53 ERA against them.

Conversely, Leake has owned the Bucs. Seriously, he keeps the Pittsburgh Pirates’ owner’s card in the bullpen car glovebox.

After the game, Clint Hurdle said, “He’s very crafty, and he’s very athletic. He’s a guy we’ve seen a bunch, and this is what we see from him most of the time.” But the thought bubble above his head read “We. Can’t. Beat. That. Guy. Now, where’s my satchel of gum.”

Game 3:

Bucs 4, Reds 5

Why did there have to be an hour rain delay? It’s late and I’m tired. I work in the morning.

So it goes; I’m on a deadline, sports fans.

I’m writing this with the game happening in the the bottom of the eighth. The contest is tied at four. If this sucker goes into extra innings, I’m retiring at the end of regulation. A Back Deck Report will go incomplete.

I’ll let you know if anything noteworthy happens…

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I hate Todd Frazier. He’s been a boil on the Pirates’ collective bum this season (Cutch just walked to lead off the eighth). His two-run shot off Caminero’s 99 mph heater a few innings ago was deflating. Uncle Frank had just singled the previous inning to give the Bucs a two run lead, but then Frazier came along. (Brandon Phillips just speared a Neil Walker ground ball and flipped it behind his back to initiate a double play. Then he hotdogs, as per usual. Extra innings have just become more likely.)

Is Pedro Alvarez over the yips? He threw a strike to second base to start a double play that bailed out A.J. Burnett in the fourth. I can’t recall his last blatant poor throw (Kang and Marte are on base now. Ten bucks says they don’t cash in….yup, Uncle Frank flies out.).

The Bucs allowed another run in the first inning, and they were fortunate to only allow one. Spotting the opponent a run, or nine, is becoming a bad habit. Scoring enough runs to make up the difference needs to become a good habit.

Notable notes: The overactive Reds’ fan, highlighted amid a pandering crowd shot, who said, “We’re losing. We’re terrible” (Melancon just punched out Frazier to start the bottom of the ninth. Sit down, Todd. “Sit the f*** down”, as Burnett would say.).  Speaking of…How ’bout Burnett miming Batman ears after his second inning two-run single. Or were those Peter Rabbit ears? And later, after a screaming Pedro Alvarez base hit, Bob Walk said that the stat/measurement exit velocity has evolved to become G-force (Two Reds on base with two outs. Don’t blow it Melancon.)

(Mercer’s glove saves the ninth. Let’s walk it off.)

The walk-off didn’t happen. Cutch hit a lazy fly ball in his hero moment. Might as well stay awake for one more inning. I’ll be back.

Extra innings are brought to you by Jack Links Beef Jerky, and my bedtime. I’m off. But just for fun, I’m going to guess that Brandon Phillips will go deep off Rob Scahill.