Pittsburgh Pirates BDR: The Cub Lies Down In Pittsburgh

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Sep 17, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop

Jung Ho Kang

(27) grabs his leg after suffering an apparent injury against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at PNC Park. Kang left the game. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

"The lamb (Cub) seems right out of placeThe Broadway (Federal) Street scene finds a focus in its faceSomehow its lyin’ thereBrings a stillness to the air-The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, by (Peter Gabriel-era) Genesis"

Who cares if football season has kicked-off? Not me. The Stillers played the Patriots last Thursday? I didn’t notice.

THIS is a playoff race, my friends. Football is a blip in the periphery. THIS is what baseball fans salivate over. THIS is fun.

A movie’ audience follows the plot while maintaining an unspoken agreement with the movie’s director that the climax will be captivating. (No one leaves  the theater between the training montage and the fight scene.) As baseball fans, we’ve been along for a five-and-a-half month slog of a plot, and we’re nearing the climax.

Some say the NL Central is a three horse race. No. It’s a three snail race. After more than 5 months of baseball –  night after night after night of booted grounders, bloop hits, gap shots, walk-off blasts, sinkers in the dirt, deep muscle contusions, and all of baseball’s other intricacies – three teams remain. But the “horse race” metaphor is not apt. These are three teams inching, and possibly limping, toward the finish line. What a finish waits!

The Cards still lead the way, but they’re a team puffing fumes. Finally, their pitching isn’t carrying their so-so offense. Took ’em long enough! They lead the league by 2.5 games as of September, 14. The Cubbies are a young, spunky team – only 6.5 games out of first – who don’t know they were supposed to crap-out a month ago and empower the goat that bemoans their very existence.

Between them are your Pittsburgh Pirates, boasting a record of 86-56. To imagine this team finishing the snail race with the second best record in baseball, and winning damn near 100 games, only to flop in a one-game playoff makes the stomach churn. So it (may) go.

To fellow baseball fans, enjoy the last few weeks of the three-snail race. When you consider that the trails of slime go all the way back to early-April, the ending promises to captivate.

Football can wait.

Game 1

Pirates: 5 Cubs 4

Finally, a rare honest-to-goodness day-night doubleheader. The first at PNC Park since 2002, I believe.

This game, as is the case with all workweek day games, I caught in bits and pieces on the radio amid the drudgery of receiving faxes and conference calls. But believe you me, I nearly slipped outta’ this suit-and-tie funhouse during lunch to catch the T to PNC Park. The pull of a late-season game amongst contenders, in the same division none-the-less, is mighty.

Honestly, I’d forgotten the game had begun until a passing co-worker informed me that the Bucs had staked a 3-1 lead. Gerrit Cole had been just short of masterful. His curve, change-up, biting slider and blow-you-out-of-you-shoes fastball were all on display. Well, until the seventh. Miguel Montero singled off Pedro Alvarez‘s glove. (A lot of batters reach base “off of Pedro Alvarez‘s glove”). Then Starlin Castro struck Cole’s foot with a grounder (if you can’t beat ’em, hit ’em with a batted ball). And then, Tommy La Stella cracked a pinch-hit double. Catcher Chris Stewart later said that “We threw the wrong pitch.” A brilliant deduction!

In came Joakim Soria to halt the rally. And by “halt the rally” I mean throw two ludicrously wild pitches to plate two runs to tie the game. So long to Cole’s 17th win.

Cole will not see 20 wins unless he wins his last three starts, and then wins in a one-game playoff for the NL Central championship.

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However, the Bucs wouldn’t be denied. A Starling Marte double in the bottom-of-the-eighth plated Pedro Florimon. Florimon looked like a manic eight-year-old diving headfirst down a Slip and Slide when he scored the eventual winning run.

Mark Melancon earned his 46th save, a franchise record. (Remember kids, “saves” aren’t viable stats).

The win put the Bucs five games over the Cubs, and two games behind the Cardinals.

Game 2

Pirates: 1 Cubs: 2

So much for gaining ground. Cubbies win game two and Cards win versus the Brewers. After a promising start to the day with a win in game one of the doubleheader, Bucs finish the day .5 games back of the division lead from when dawn broke Tuesday.

I’m sure much of Bucco Nation groaned when Clint Hurdle posted the starting lineup, which included Michael Morse, Pedro Florimon, and Sean Rodriquez. Gregory Polanco, Pedro Alvarez, and Neil Walker all sat with lefty Jon Lester on the mound for the Cubs. Apparently, Jordy Mercer and Jung-Ho Gung needed to catch up on sleep.

In short, Lester was dominant. He allowed a mere 5 hits, all singles, in a complete game. Opposing pitcher J.A. Hap fared well – a 5.2 inning, eight hit and two earned runs outing – but he was ultimately jousted off his horse by Lester.

As Happ said after the game, “A game like tonight, every pitch can be a difference-maker.” Yes. This was the kind of game one would expect from two contenders in a late-season pennant race…tight and stressful. Any one pitch could snuff a rally, or ignite on. These are the nail biters/white knuckles/other hand-or-finger reference to convey a tight game that fans should crave.

Of note, Aramis Ramirez catapulted himself –like a man half his age –into the air to snag two liners. (he probably landed like a man twice his age). Also of note, the aforementioned Michael Morse hit into a 6-4-3double play during the Pirates only threat in the seventh. After the letdown, Jung-Ho Kang strode to the plate to pinch hit to a standing ovation and raucous applause. The moment was heartening, until Kang rewarded the crowd with a dramatic whifffffff.

Hopefully, the AAA Indy Indians don’t start Wednesday against Jake Arrieta.

Game 3

Pirates: 2 Cubs: 3

Sure, Andrew McCutchen wears the golden sombrero after striking out four times, but there’s surely room for Starling Marte underneath it too.

In this writer’s opinion, Marte committed the greatest sin a professional athlete can commit: he didn’t hustle. Opportunity presented itself in the sixth inning: Marte batted a ball to Cub’s starter Jake Arrieta after Gregory Polanco had stolen second with two outs. Arrieta overthrew first base, snapping Marte from his leisurely Sunday jog to first base. Marte rounded the bag, but was gunned down at second.

THIS may have been the turning point of the contest. Had Marte simply done the ONE THING he’s paid millions to do – play his hardest – the Bucs may have been high-fiving after the 9th inning rather than dragging ass into the showers after the 12th. The next batter –Cutch of all people – may have singled him in to tie the game. Polanco had already scored on the play.

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Shame on Marte.

The eighth inning was a fiasco too, highlighted by the disputed out call at home plate. Francisco Cervelli (Cool Uncle Frank) smacked a liner off shortstop Javier Baez‘s glove. Pedro Florimon attempted to score, but was called out at a close play at the plate. But Miguel Montero had clearly blocked the dish – a “no, no” in today’s game. Upon review, the call was upheld. Umpire Jim Joyce (yeah, THAT Jim Joyce) later explained that MLB officials ruled there was no rule violation because the catcher’s position was merely a reaction to the trajectory of the ball.

Reacting to the trajectory of the ball? What the hell does that mean? Isn’t that what everyone who has ever caught a ball does…react to the trajectory of that ball? If you don’t “react to the trajectory of that ball” it’ll either bounce of your forehead, or worse. In fact, the only way to make a catch in when you aren’t reacting to the trajectory of the ball is when the ball lands in your glove by happenstance.

One of the following is true: MLB has it out for the Bucs (not the case), the  guys at MLB headquarters don’t understand basic physics, the guys at MLB headquarters are seven sheets to the wind, or Joyce didn’t correctly hear the guys at MLB headquarters through the headset because his walrus moustache muffles sound.

Pirates lose a second consecutive one-run game at PNC Park. The Cubs trail the Bucs by only 3 games, and the Cards lead the Bucs by four.

Game 4

Pirates: 6 Cubs 9

Another workday ball game. I wasn’t even aware that the game had started until a co-worker send me an IM: “KANG HURT. STILL ON GROUND.”

Actually, I think that IM sums up everything about the game. I tuned in sporadically on the radio thereafter. Although Travis Snider, Pedro Alvarez and Gregory Polanco hit dingers, my mood was already sour after Chris Coghlan‘s sliding drop kick on Kang to break up the double play.

Let me get this straight. Although Montero was apparently justified when he blocked home plate like a human force field last night, catchers aren’t generally allowed to do so due to injury risk. However, Coghlan can spear Kang’s knee with spikes and it’s just a part of the game?

Every time I tuned in afterwards, Charlie Morton was either surrendering a hard hit ball, or hunting ground hogs and sending Uncle Frank scurrying after the misfires. Next thing I know, Joe Blantan comes in relieve Too-Much-Ground Chuck. Next thing I know, Blanton is headed to the pity party after allowing three, or was it four, or was it 14 more runs without recording an out.

Honestly, I slammed my headphones down after that and vowed never to speak of the game again. But not before the following exchange…

Greg Brown: Bobby LaFromboise spent a short time with the Mariners before becoming a Pirate.

Bob Walk: I bet most pirates were mariners at some point.

Seventeen hits for the Cubs. They’re for real, Pirates fans. And they’re scary.

Update: Joe Madden joked about Kang’s injury: “I thought it was plantar fasciitis.” If I’m Clint Hurdle, for the first pitch of the wild card game I’m sending former Mariner Bobby LaFromboise out there to throw a high hard one at Madden. When his goofy hipster glasses shatter and his skull splits like a cantaloupe under Howitzer fire, I’d be all like “I thought it was just a sinus headache.”