Diary of a long-suffering Pirates fan: Games 11 & 12: Earthquake in Jersey; Total Eclipse; Pirates in First

Also: Thou shall not boo your own team
Solar Eclipse Visible Across Swath Of U.S.
Solar Eclipse Visible Across Swath Of U.S. / Sean Rayford/GettyImages

Last week there was an earthquake in New Jersey.  On Monday there was a total eclipse.  Later this Spring, the country will be visited by both a brood of 13-year cicadas and a brood of 17-year cicadas.  It is the first time that both broods have surfaced in the same year since 1803.  And the Pirates are in first place.  As the character Dr. Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters might have said.  “This is end-of-the-world stuff.  Cats and dogs living together.  Mass hysteria.”  And, he might have added, “The Pirates are in first place.”

There was so much happiness to be had from the Pirate’s opening homestand.  There were two incredible walk-off wins against the Orioles.  And then on Eclipse Day, the Pirates defeated the Tigers 7-4.  In doing so, starting pitcher Mitch Keller looked like his former All-Star self.  He struck out nine Tigers in six innings of work, allowing only two runs on five hits.  Connor Joe remained hot going 2-for-3 and driving in a pair of runs.  Overall, Joe is batting .324.  But with runners in scoring position, he is batting over .500. And the Pirates are undefeated when Connor Joe starts.

Also having a good night against those Tigers on Eclipse Day was Bryan Reynolds, Jared Triolo and Joey Bart.  Reynolds collected two hits, including his 100th career home run. Triolo and Bart each collected two hits and drove in two runs. 

And the following day - on Get Away Day - it looked like it was going to be another happy ending for the Pirates.  Thanks to a superbly pitched game by Martin Perez, the Pirates took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning.  All that was needed to cap off the great homestand was for David Bednar to finish off the Tigers in the final inning.

But Bednar was out of sorts.  He walked the first batter, Riley Greene.  He then plunked the next hitter, Spencer Torkelson, with a pitch and there was now runners on first and second.  The next batter Gio Urshela singled to center field.  Michael Taylor threw wild to third in an attempt to get Torkelson who was attempting to advance to third on the hit.   The ball goes out of play, and Torkelson thus gets to advance home to tie the game.

A ground out to first follows this, and Shelton must have thought that Bednar had a chance to pitch out of this and keep the game tied.  But he doesn’t.  The next hitter, Kerry Carpenter singles scoring another run.  Another hit batsman and another single would follow producing yet another run, making the score 5-3.  Bednar was then mercifully pulled from the game by manager, Derick Shelton.  Boos could be heard as Bednar left the field (more on that later).

And just like that, a happy ending turned sad. 

So there is a lot to digest here.  And so here are my takes on this:

There were only 10,000 fans in attendance for the afternoon finale. For a weekday afternoon game in April in Pittsburgh this is a typical crowd. And for decades I have scratched my head and wondered why the marketing geniuses at the Pirates cannot figure out a way to get more fans to these April games.  Yes, the product on the field has always been an issue.  And the weather—often rainy and cold—is also an issue.  

But for this game, the Pirates were in first place, and the weather was sunny and moderately warm.  And still, a disappointing crowd attended.  I’m no marketing expert, but it is clear to me that whatever the Pirates are doing to promote these April games, it’s not working.  And therein lies the rub.  In terms of marketing, the Pirates keep doing the same things year after year with the same result: low April attendance.  It’s the definition of insanity. 

For goodness’ sake, try something new.  Try a buy one get one free promotion.  Try a "college students get in free" day.  Try a pre and post-game concert.  Try a Senior Citizen deeply discounted ticket day.  Try a hot dog eating contest.  Try bargain basement days. Try anything.  But try.  If you market it correctly, they will come.  But if you use the same old tired marketing methods that you have used for decades that don’t work, then the empirical data shows that they won’t come.

Because there is a small crowd, when people boo at PNC Park, they can be heard.  And those boos do not necessarily represent the views of the majority of the fans.  But they are amplified in a small crowd setting because those boos echo through the cavernous confines of PNC Park like an echo chamber.  And those boos embarrassingly rained down on David Bednar as he exited the game. 

Rowdy Tellez, in an impromptu post-game comment, scolded Pirates fans for their conduct in booing David Bednar.  And I agree.  My father was a devout Catholic.  And when he took me to my first baseball game, I let out a loud boo when the San Francisco Giants' leadoff batter came to the plate to start the game.  My Father immediately scolded me.  “We don’t do that,” he said.  “How would you like it if they did that to you? The players are trying their best. We must practice the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 

That means no booing.  And that especially means don’t boo your own team.  Lord knows that Pittsburgh Pirates fans have a lot to be unhappy about, the competitive imbalance of baseball being chief among them.  But don’t take it out on the players.  They are trying the best that they can.  They don’t need your boos to know when they have not performed to their best.  Yes, I know, it’s a free country with freedom of speech.  And I know there are many who will scoff at this “holier than thou” argument.  But I stand by it.  My first commandment  for sports spectating is thus: “Thou shall not  boo your own team.”

But back to baseball.  There were a lot of terrific defensive plays in this two-game series.  But the one that stuck out to me was actually a play that did not result in an out.  In the ninth inning of Monday’s game, Jack Suwinski went crashing into the left field wall in an attempt to catch a deep fly ball struck by the Tigers' Riley Greene.  I don’t believe I have ever seen a collision between a player and an outfield wall that was as violent as this attempted catch was. 

It was amazing on two fronts.  First, it was amazing that Suwinski was not injured on the play.  But secondly, Suwinski’s attempt at a catch was partially successful.  The replay shows that Suwinski actually catches the ball and has it in his mitt for a brief second.  But then comes the aforementioned collision with the wall, and that collision is so hard and so violent that it knocks the ball out of the glove and onto the outfield grass, and it also knocks Suwinski to the ground.  Suwinski would have been forgiven if he had stayed down on the ground to collect his bearings. 

But no, he quickly gets to his feet, gathers in the ball, and throws it to the cutoff man.  Greene is credited with a double, as he should be.  But when the replay is slowed down, it is shown that not only did Suwinski have the ball in his glove for a brief second, but Suwinski had actually reached over the wall to catch it.  So while Suwinski did not record the out, he still robbed Riley Greene of a home run on the play.   Because he did not catch the ball, Suwinski’s attempt to rob Riley of a hit is not going to end up on highlight reels of the greatest defensive plays of all time.

But I repeat, it is the fiercest collision I have ever seen between an outfielder and a wall.   And that includes the game in which former Pirate Turner Ward literally ran through the outfield wall at Three Rivers Stadium to catch a fly ball.  That play by Turner Ward does show up both on great defensive play highlight reels and on blooper highlight reels.  But the center field wall partition in that collision gave way and Turner Ward was not knocked to the ground following the collision. 

By contrast, the PNC left field wall did not give way in the Suwinski collision and Suwinski was knocked to the ground as a result.  When Suwinski motioned to the Pirates' trainers immediately after the play that he was OK and that there was no need for them to come out to left field to check on him, part of me wanted one of the trainers to go out anyway to get a laugh and check to make sure the outfield wall was OK.

While it is a small sample size, Joey Bart is destroying baseballs.  He is batting .375, and in his only two games played, he has driven in four runs. Oh, and the Pirates are 2-0 when he starts. Even his outs have been loud.  The Pirates are going to have a problem to solve when Yasmani Grandal comes off the injured list.  Bart is out of options so he cannot be optioned to Indianapolis without being put on waivers.  And given the way Bart is hitting, why would you want to send him down, anyway?  It will be interesting to see how this plays out. 

It’s funny how an off-season injury can change so many things.  Endy Rodriguez was projected to be the Pirates starting catcher for this year.  But he is injured and is out for the season.  As such, the Pirates needed to find a catcher.  So they signed Yasmani Grandal at the start of Spring Training to be that catcher.  But then Grandal got hurt.  So, Jason Delay becomes the backup catcher by default.  But now he, too, is hurt, so the Pirates traded to get Bart.  And from what I have seen thus far, it looks as if one, if not more, of the Pirates’ injured catchers are about to be Wally Pipped by Joey Bart.

So boo birds aside, and David Bednar’s third blown save aside, the Pirates are still in first place. And while it is an ugly loss, it is no worse than say the Cubs last night blowing an 8-0 lead and losing to the San Diego Padres by a score of 9-8.  Or consider the Orioles’ losses to the Pirates this past weekend in gut-wrenching walk-off fashion.  This won’t be the last ugly loss for the Pirates.  But the upcoming trip to Philly will be a good test to see how they respond to the loss.

Hopefully they respond with wins.

For while the Earthquake in Jersey and the total eclipse are now over, the cicadas are still coming.  And despite the concerns of Dr. Peter Venkman, it is possible for cats and dogs to live together.  And it is still possible for the Pirates to win the division.