Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tempers flare, Pirates lose

Jack Wilson can't quite hold on to the ball - AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

There are many differences between winning and losing baseball teams. Winning teams will have its most productive offensive player in the lineup virtually every day. Winning teams generally play good fundamental baseball. There are many other characteristics of winning clubs, one of which involves the Pirates today.

The Pirates lost to the Rockies last night, 10-8. Much of this game was very familiar to a Pirate fan. The Bucs followed one of their favorite scripts, falling far behind early in the game before mounting an exciting comeback. The ending was one we've seen before, as the team was not quite able to tie the game. But this game was different.

In the first inning, as John Van Benschoten was handing Colorado a five-run lead, Freddy Sanchez clearly was not happy. Television cameras caught him raising his voice during a conference at the mound, and also recorded an animated discussion between Freddy and Adam LaRoche in the dugout after the inning. Later in the game, pitching coach Jim Colburn and Jack Wilson were seen arguing intensely in the dugout. This came after Wilson dropped a pop fly as he attempted to make an over the shoulder catch, eventually allowing an additional run to score. Finally, in the bottom of the eighth, LaRoche was not allowed to call time as he stepped out of the box with the pitcher in the stretch. The pitch was called a strike, and LaRoche stared furiously at home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman. From the dugout, a normally laid back Jim Tracy screamed at Dreckman. You could see the angry, intense focus in LaRoche's eyes for the remainder of the at-bat. There was definitely some strong emotions flowing through the team throughout the game.

This emotion seemed to help fuel the comeback attempt in this game. After going into the All-Star break on a roll, the team was obviously pissed off as it headed for its fourth straight loss since the break. What is interesting to watch for is what result comes from this game. Will the locker room become divided? Are the players and coaches taking these issues personally, or are they remaining professional? Will the team use the emotion as motivation to focus on winning? Will the clubhouse chemistry fall apart and the season spiral out of control? The Cubs had players throwing punches in the dugout earlier this season, and have been red-hot since the incident. Are the Pirates finally showing a pulse?

One of the most frustrating things about being a Pirate fan is the positive comments constantly coming from the team, from ownership down to the players. Whether it is Dave Littlefield saying the team is moving in the right direction or Jim Tracy saying that "we had our chances" after the offense is completely shut down in a game, it is frustrating to hear. At some point, someone needs to say, "We suck, and it's not acceptable." Ian Snell said it a few weeks ago. Hopefully others are saying it in the Pirate clubhouse right now. This team should be angry about the losing. Everyone else is.

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