Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What I am thinking right now

  • Matt Morris, huh? What the hell?
  • Ronny Paulino sucks.
  • Dave Littlefield sucks.
  • Ronny Paulino really sucks.


Have we seen the last of Jack Wilson in a Pirate uniform? - AP Photo/Tom Mihalek

UPDATE (4:15 PM): The deadline has come and gone. There is no word on any moves by our Pirates.

UPDATE (12:55 PM): MLB Trade Rumors claims that Wilson has been traded. There are no details nor is there confirmation at this point.

It is Dave Littlefield's time to shine. With less than five hours remaining before Major League Baseball's non-waiver trade deadline, Littlefield is ready to work his magic.

I honestly have no idea what might happen by 4 PM. I would not be very surprised if we did not make a move, although I also would not be shocked if Salomon Torres, Damaso Marte, Shawn Chacon, Jack Wilson and maybe even Jose Castillo are all missing from tonight's game. At the very least, expect Chacon to be gone.

Marte should definitely be traded. He has been nearly perfect against lefties this season, and almost the entire league is looking for bullpen help.

Rumors have Wilson, and maybe a reliever, being sent to the Tigers. Personally, I would not rush to trade Jack unless the right deal came along. There would likely be more options to deal him after the season.

Dejan reports that the Dodgers have been scouting the Pirates for two weeks in search of pitching depth. Chacon would be a good fit for them, while the Dodgers have plenty of young talent to offer in return. Hopefully, DL can work out a decent deal there. The Pirates will not be willing to pay Chacon $5 million+ for next season, and that is likely what would be necessary to keep him.

After the wheeling and dealing concludes, the Cardinals will visit PNC Park tonight. Paul Maholm (4.57 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) throws for the Pirates, Adam Wainwright (4.45 ERA, 1.51 WHIP) for the Cards. The Bucs are desperate to escape their current tailspin. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Blow it up

Steve Pearce is one of the few prospects currently in the Pirates' system

It was another lousy weekend of Pirate baseball. To be honest, these past three games are a blur in my memory. All I can recall are eight-run innings, crucial Pirate errors and hitters that belong on a Triple-A roster hitting harmless ground balls. But the specifics have been lost in my mind.

It is time to blow up this team. The starting pitching is young and has some promise, so I would not deal any of them. A future built around the arms of Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm and hopefully a renewed Zach Duke is enticing. There is some hope there.

However, the offense is made up of players in their upper 20's, or in other words, their peak years. These are not players that we can look forward to developing into worthwhile talent in the near future. We know what to expect from them by now. The most valuable offensive players in the lineup right now are Jason Bay (28 years old), Adam LaRoche (27), Xavier Nady (28), Freddy Sanchez (29), and Ryan Doumit (26). Removing Doumit, you have a group of established players, all of whom will become much more expensive to keep in the next two years. There are definitely some solid hitters mentioned above. But combined with the likes of Jack Wilson, Ronny Paulino, Nate McLouth, Chris Duffy, and a number of other scrubs, they have led the Pirates to a .310 team OBP and .385 team SLG thus far in 2007. Even a dramatic improvement on those numbers in 2008 would be unlikely to save this team.

Now imagine this. The Pirates deal Salomon Torres, Shawn Chacon and Damaso Marte before tomorrow's trade deadline. They net a couple of solid Double-A/Triple-A position players. Bay and LaRoche finish the year strong. In the offseason, the Bucs deal Nady, Bay, LaRoche and possibly Sanchez. Assuming somebody doesn't screw up those moves, they should result in a large return of good high minors position players. Also, they trade Wilson and hopefully a large portion of his salary to a team with deep pockets. 2008 is a disaster. But in 2009, we start seeing some improvement. The young guys that we received in all of those trades start reaching the Majors. They are joined by the likes of Brian Bixler, Steve Pearce (who was just moved up to Triple-A), Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Jamie Romak and others. The starting pitchers are now in their upper 20's and are much more seasoned. The bullpen may need to be strengthened through some smart free agent signings, but suddenly we have a core group of players with some upside.

The reason this won't happen is simple. 2008 is the team's chance to avoid catching the Phillies for the distinction of longest run of losing seasons in sports history. Rebuilding would assure the team of another season below .500 in 2008. That would be a huge PR hit for the ownership. If we could manage a winning season next year, much of the heat on Nutting and Co. would lighten. Ownership is playing for a winning season by 2009. The problem with that is that even if the team does reach .500, there is little chance of improving on that as we move into 2010. The roster will be getting older, and many players will be lost to free agency after 2009. We will be forced to rebuild anyway, but without any valuable players left to use as trade bait.

I dread the day that the Pirates break the record for consecutive losing seasons. But I am definitely willing to go through those difficult times if there is hope for a contending team in the future. I would hate to waste the next seven years or so simply to avoid the record of futility. The smart thing to do is rebuild.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Pirates avoid sweep

A promising game quickly turned sour for Perez and the Mets - AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

For five innings, this game followed the typical script:
  1. Pirates give up on young pitcher, trade him.
  2. Pitcher quickly becomes star for new team.
  3. Pitcher faces Pirates, dominates.
We have seen it with others, most recently Chris Young. Yesterday it was Oliver Perez's turn. Heading into the top of the sixth, Perez had allowed only an infield single while striking out eight Pirates. Paul Maholm had only allowed one run, but that was starting to look like it would be enough. Nate McLouth led off the sixth with a broken-bat single. With a little luck, Maholm managed an infield single. Cesar Izturis bunted, and suddenly things got interesting. Perez scooped up the ball and fired it into right field. One run scored, and runners were left at second and third with no outs and the heart of the Pirates' order coming to the plate. Enthusiasm was quickly quieted, however, as Perez induced pop-outs to Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay. But Xavier Nady's sharp grounder off David Wright plated two more, and Josh Phelps followed with his first home run as a Pirate. Suddenly, a hopeless game had turned into a 5-1 Pirate lead. Each team added a few runs, and the Bucs escaped New York with an 8-4 victory.

Paul Maholm pitched well in this game, continuing to solidify himself as a reliable starter for the Pirates. He now has each of the team's wins since the All-Star break. Josh Phelps went 3 for 4 with a home run, a double, and three RBI's while filling in for the ill Adam LaRoche.

The Pirates were lucky to steal a win in this game. They did not hit many balls hard (five infield singles, two errors by Mets' infield), and they very easily could have been shut out instead of scoring eight. However, I have never been opposed to a cheap win. We'll take them any way we can get them right now.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Spiral continues

The Pirates dropped another to the Mets last night by a score of 6-3. Tom Glavine notched win number 299 by going six innings and allowing three runs. This game was basically decided in the first inning. Glavine walked the bases loaded, but Xavier Nady hit into a double play and the game remained scoreless. In the bottom of the inning, the Mets loaded the bases with one out. But this outcome was different. Paul Lo Duca doubled in two and Marlon Anderson's sacrifice fly made it 3-0 Mets. This was a perfect example of how the Mets and Pirates are completely different teams.

Tom Gorzelanny allowed three additional runs in the third and left the game with shoulder stiffness. This kind of news instantly makes Pirate fans queasy. Judging from the team's remarks in today's PG, they do not seem worried about a long-term injury. But we have heard that before. Until Gorzelanny comes back and makes a couple of decent starts, I will remain nervous.

Jason Bay homered again, making him 4 for 7 with three home runs in the two games in New York. Yes, it is only two games. But with the way he has looked at the plate the past few months, it is very comforting.

The Bucs and Mets conclude the three-game series this afternoon. Former Pirate Oliver Perez (3.00 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) takes the mound for the home team, with Paul Maholm (4.57 ERA, 1.35 ERA) throwing for the visitors. Perez has been very good this season for the Mets, and today is his opportunity to get some revenge against the team that gave up on him in 2006. If he can keep his emotions in check, the Pirates could be in for a long day. Maholm has been very solid for the Bucs after a rough start to 2007, and will attempt to salvage a win out of this series. First pitch is scheduled for 12:10 PM.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pirates fall again

Last night's game started promising, but quickly disintegrated into another frustrating loss. In the top of the first, the Pirates got a couple of two-out hits and took an early 1-0 lead. However, it took only seven pitches for Ian Snell to turn that into a 2-1 deficit in the bottom of the inning. In the top of the fourth, Jason Bay lifted a solo home run over the outfield fence to tie the game at 2. But in the bottom of the inning, things fell apart.

Paul Lo Duca lifted a one-out fly ball to left-center. Off the bat, it looked like a lazy out. But Bay barely moved and Xavier Nady could not cover the necessary ground. The ball dropped on the warning track, giving Lo Duca a double. An RBI single and a Paulino-generated "wild" pitch later, Lastings Milledge ripped one to third. The ball skipped right through Matt Kata into shallow left and, when Jack Wilson's throw was off the mark, Shawn Green scored. Pitcher John Maine added insult to injury with a two-run home run to left. A 2-2 game had quickly turned into a 6-2 Mets lead, and Snell's day was over. Milledge and Bay traded late home runs and the Pirates fell by a score of 8-4.

After the game, Snell basically threw his defense under the bus with his locker room quotes. What he said was correct, but Snell himself has not been exactly dominant in his last few starts.

Was this the game in which Jason Bay finally gets going? He went 3 for 4 with two home runs, and his ninth inning homer was an absolute shot to right field. I would gladly take another disappointing loss if it means the Pirates can get their best hitter back. We will see.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Pirates at Mets

The Pirates travel to New York tonight to face the Mets. Ian Snell will attempt to regain his form from the first half of the season. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ho hum

It looks like I missed a typical weekend of Pirate baseball. In a battle for last place, the Bucs faced the Astros at PNC Park. We held Houston to just six total runs in the series, yet still managed to lose two of the three games. The pitching was excellent, it sounds as if there were a few nice defensive plays made, and the bats remained silent. The Pirates won 7-3 on Saturday, but lost 2-1 on Friday and 1-0 yesterday. Same old story. At least the Reds lost three in a row to keep us out of the cellar for the time being.

And apparently Matt Kata is a major part of our offense now? I'm pretty sure I was only gone for a couple of days. What the heck happened?

The Pirates are off tonight as they travel to New York for a three game set with the Mets. The highlight of this series will be Oliver Perez facing his former team for the first time on Thursday afternoon.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Out of town

I will be doing some camping this weekend, and therefore will not be watching/writing about Pirate baseball at all. Don't expect any updates until Monday. Hopefully I will return to hear about some wins against the Astros.

Cesar Izturis = Shawon Dunston?

The Pirates are reeling as the Houston Astros come to town. Our Pirates have played the Astros well this season, sweeping both series on the way to a 6-0 record. Houston is 1-5 since the break. Hopefully this is the team to help the Bucs break out of their funk.

In other news, the Pirates aquired Cesar Izturis from the Cubs yesterday in exchange for a player to be named later. The team and its fans will place all hope for 2007 squarely on Izturis' shoulders. In all seriousness, this move could have been made for a few different reasons:

* The Pirates have grown weary of Jack Wilson's contract and his poor performance, and decided that the confrontation with Jim Colburn earlier this week was the last straw. Management has decided to deal Wilson before the deadline, and may or may not be considering a fire sale. Possible players to be dealt include Damaso Marte, Salomon Torres, and Shawn Chacon. Izturis would take over at shortstop.

* Dave Littlefield was being completely honest when he said, "This has nothing to do with Jack Wilson." With Jose Bautista injured, the Pirates wanted a bit more depth at infield and did not feel that could be provided by Don Kelly.

* We're talking about the Pirates here. There is no plan in place. They might trade Jack Wilson, they might not. What's the difference? Recent trade negotiations went something like this:

[Ring, ring]
[Pirates GM Dave Littlefield looks up, startled by the strange noise. Relieved, he realizes his desk phone is simply ringing again.]

DL: Hello?

Cubs GM Jim Hendry: Dave? It’s Jim Hendry. How are you?

DL: Who?

JH: Jim Hendry. General manager of the Cubs.

DL: Oh. [still confused]

JH: I saw one of your infielders cut his hand and is going to be out for a while.

DL: Really?? Who??

JH: Not important. But I was thinking you might need some help. How would you like Izturis?

DL: Who?

JH: Cesar Izturis. He was our shortstop, but he wasn’t really hitting so we are playing somebody better.

DL: Ha ha ha. What a ridiculous way to run a team!

JH: Right. [laying down with a headache] So do you want him?

DL: Well actually, I have heard of this guy. But I can’t afford to pay anyone else. I don’t know if you've seen, but our payroll is over 30 million dollars!

JH: Right. [shaking head] How about if we pay his salary?

DL: It’s a deal! Wait…who do you want?

JH: It doesn't matter. Cesar will be on the next flight.

* Jim Tracy saw Wilson arguing with his buddy Colburn and decided he wouldn't stand for it. Tracy immediately called Littlefield and said, "I don't like this Jack kid. The other night he was yelling at Jimmy, and all the shouting made me nervous. I want him out of here...I don't know who we'll get to play short. Just find me another overpaid good glove/bad bat guy that was an All-Star a couple years ago, just like Jack. And make sure it's somebody I am friends with. I hate all the arguing!"

In reality, we are most likely looking at the first option. That is what Dejan is expecting, and he is not one to throw around unsubstantiated rumors. I fully support a firesale, but why stop with Wilson and our relievers? The Pirates will not get enough in return for those guys to rebuild the future, and that is what the team desperately needs. Xavier Nady's value is high, and Littlefield should look to deal him before the deadline. If Bay and LaRoche have strong second halves, they should be dealt in the offseason. If some GM out there thinks of Freddy Sanchez as a batting champion that plays second base as opposed to a high average-low walk-low power guy that is best suited for third, trade him. If our GM makes some intelligent moves with those guys, the Pirates could have a strong, young nucleus by 2009. They may not win a game in 2008, but it would be worth it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Skid hits six

Ian Snell is angry - AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The Pirates' losing streak reached six games today, as they dropped an afternoon game to the Colorado Rockies by a score of 5-3. Ian Snell seemed sharp early on, striking out four of six batters while breezing through the first two innings. But in the third, Rajai Davis stumbled chasing a pop fly. That allowed Troy Tulowitzki to reach on a double, and he eventually scored when pitcher Jeff Francis singled. Afterwards, Snell continued a disturbing recent trend by allowing two-run home runs to Brad Hawpe and Todd Helton. The Pirates received solo shots from Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche, but still only mustered three runs. Their offense is not scaring anybody right now.

After the game, Snell was clearly displeased. He accused an anonymous Colorado player of stealing signs and promised some chin music if he faces him again this season. Catcher Ronny Paulino did not seem to think that the Rockies were doing anything underhanded, but you cannot really take his word for it. Paulino usually naps during games anyway. Either way, Snell sounds pissed. That can only mean good things if you are a Pirate fan.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Losing streak continues

[Insert tired metaphor involving Josh Fogg's name and last night's dreary weather conditions] - AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

The freefall continues. The Pirates went down without much argument last night, losing to the Colorado Rockies by a score of 6-2. A familiar face greeted the Pirates’ offense from the PNC Park mound, as former Pirate Josh Fogg became the most recent below average pitcher to shut down the Bucco bats. I am not going to bother going much deeper into this game, as I have written this same recap many times before.

The Pirates have now scored 16 runs in five games since the All-Star break. That includes Monday’s game, when the team put eight runs on the board in a losing effort. As I was on my way to a softball game last night, I listened to the game on the radio. The last thing I heard was Xavier Nady being left stranded at second after a two-out double. That sent the game into the fourth inning with the Rockies leading 5-2. Hours later, I returned home and went to my computer to check the outcome of the game. I was dismayed to find that I had not missed even a single Pirates’ hit. Grabbing something to eat, I figured I might as well fire up the DVR and quickly watch the ninth inning. It did not take long for our 4-5-6 hitters to strike out on 12 consecutive strikes. At least they managed those three foul balls. It’s like I’ve always said: if you have to go down, you might as well go down without a fight.

What a depressing game.

Ian Snell and Jeff Francis are on the hill as the Pirates and Rockies finish off this series. This game is beginning right now (12:35). Hopefully Snell can end this dismal streak. If there is one guy on this team that can be the stopper, it is Mr. Snell.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pirates sign top pick

The Post-Gazette is reporting that the Pirates have signed their first-round draft pick Daniel Moskos. The team is expected to formally announce the signing later today.

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.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Back to business

Pirate baseball is back. Their strong play leading up to the All-Star break made the four days off feel like a month, and it will be nice to get home from work and be able to look forward to a ballgame. The Bucs play in Atlanta tonight looking to continue their recent success in a brief three-game road trip. Ian Snell (2.93 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) will make the start, and expect him to have a chip on his shoulder after spending the All-Star break at home. A pissed off Ian Snell is usually a welcome sight for Pirate fans. He will be opposed by Tim Hudson (3.54 ERA, 1.21 WHIP), who has been somewhat inconsistent after a red-hot start to the season. After allowing only two runs in his final 14 innings of June, he allowed six runs in just three innings in his most recent start. First pitch is scheduled for 7:35.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


The scoreboard in the background says it all - Baseball Almanac

The Pirates entered the All-Star break in 1997 with a record of 43-43 and a one-game lead in the NL Central. They were fresh off two consecutive series sweeps and a seven-game win streak. The Bucs, who had a ridiculously low payroll of $9.1 million, were the feel-good story of the year in Major League Baseball. After taking three days off, they welcomed the Houston Astros to town for a big four-game set. However, they faltered in the first two games of the series, losing both by a combined score of 17-0 and falling one game out of first place. The Astros appeared to be showing their superiority. The third game of the series would be crucial.

Ten years ago today, the Pirates hosted the Houston Astros for a Saturday night game at Three Rivers Stadium. Francisco Cordova faced Chris Holt. With fireworks scheduled for the post-game and an overachieving team playing for first place, Three Rivers was sold out. The first seven innings are a blur. Neither team could do anything at the plate. The Pirates managed just three singles, one of which was delivered by Cordova. But the Astros had managed just two walks. The closest they had come to a hit was a slow roller down the third base line. But Cordova made an athletic play to get the out at first. The electricity in the crowd grew steadily.

Again, the Astros went down quietly in the eighth. Cordova was pitching brilliantly, including ten strikeouts. In the bottom of the inning, the Pirates showed signs of life. Jason Kendall led off with a single, but two consecutive force outs stalled the rally. Cordova added his second single of the game, and the Astros went to closer Billy Wagner. Wagner quickly struck out Tony Womack, and the game went to the ninth.

Cordova went back to work. Ricky Gutierrez grounded to third. Craig Biggio grounded to Cordova. Two outs, and Cordova was one batter away from history. But he hit Chuck Carr with a pitch, bringing the dangerous Jeff Bagwell to the plate. Despite the dominant performance by the Pirates' starting pitcher, Carr still represented the go-ahead run. With the stadium rocking with nervous excitement, Cordova went right at Bagwell. He jammed the slugger with a pitch on the inner half of the plate, and the ball was sent lazily to right. Jose Guillen camped under it, cautiously secured the ball with both hands, and Pirate fans everywhere rejoiced. Francisco Cordova had just thrown nine innings of no-hit ball. With the crowd cheering deliriously, Cordova walked calmly to the dugout. The game was not over, as the score remained 0-0.

Wagner came back out for the ninth and quickly brought the crowd back to earth. He overwhelmed the Pirate hitters with his velocity, easily striking out the side and sending the game into extra innings. When the Pirates took the field for the tenth, Cordova remained in the dugout. He had thrown 121 pitches, and his night was over. Ricardo Rincon came on in relief. Rincon kept the Astros quiet, walking one before retiring the side. The Pirates' offense still needed to find a way to win this game.

John Hudek came on to pitch the tenth for the Astros. He struck out Dale Sveum, the fifth consecutive Pirate to go down on strikes. Jason Kendall walked, Jose Guillen flied to center, and pinch-hitter Turner Ward followed with a walk. That brought pinch-hitter Mark Smith to the plate. Eight days earlier, Smith's tenth inning home run had helped the Pirates to an improbable victory over the Cardinals. Now he had another chance at a decisive blow, as the winning run anxiously waited at second base. When Hudek delivered his second pitch, something went terribly wrong. The pitch sailed right over the heart of the plate, and Smith was waiting on it. He launched the ball into the distance, and anyone watching instantly knew it was gone. In the first row of seats behind home plate, Kevin McClatchy was the first to leap to his feet, his hands stretched upward. Lanny Frattare spontaneously made the enthusiastic call that we would still hear many years later. "Home run! No-hitter! You've got it all!"

That home run was the highlight of an amazing year. Yes, the Pirates finished 79-83 and five games behind the Astros in the NL Central. Yes, it is sad that this season is the best the team has been able to produce since 1992. But it still was an amazing summer. Not only did the team compete with such a low payroll, they won game after game in dramatic fashion. There is no way I could possibly list all of the great games from that season, but I will make a brief effort. Off the top of my head, these are the games I remember:

  • The July 12 no-hitter - This one has already been discussed at length.
  • The 4th of July comeback in St. Louis - The highlight of this game was Tony Womack's fly ball to left in the ninth. It seemed to be the final out, and I believe it was Greg Brown that stated, "This should do it." However, the ball was misplayed and went for a game-tying double. Mark Smith's tenth inning home run would prove to be the difference.
  • The early season shootout with the Rockies - All I remember from this game was that both teams seemed to be scoring at will. The Pirates won when the offense completely exploded in the eighth, capped by an Al Martin grand slam. (A quick check at Retrosheet tells me that the Pirates scored nine runs in the eighth, and won 15-10.)
  • Joe Randa/Mark Smith walkoff - The Bucs were about to be swept in a doubleheader against the Dodgers, when Randa suddenly tied the second game with a two-run homer in the ninth. On the very next pitch, Mark Smith homered to left for the win. (Yes, that is three game-winning home runs for Smith)
  • Albert Belle K's four times - Belle came to town with a salary higher than the entire Pirates' payroll. But Jon Lieber was unfazed, striking him out four times as the Pirates won. I was at this game, and the four guys behind me continuously heckled Belle with a "Jo-ey" chant. It was probably the most fun I have had at a game, and I was seen on Sportscenter that night when they showed a clip of the hecklers behind me.
  • Shawon Dunston arrives - Dunston came in a trade in late August, and immediately made an impact. He homered twice in his first game with the club, helping to create an electric atmosphere at Three Rivers Stadium that night. The Pirates beat the visiting Indians.
  • Kevin Young backs up his mouth - The details are a bit hazy in my memory. But from what I remember, an injured Young chastised his teammates for poor play before this game. Then he pinch-hit and flicked a walkoff home run to right to beat the Expos. The Pirates made a terrible decision when they inked Young to a huge contract, and he is disliked by many because of his poor performance after signing it. But I am a huge fan of Kevin Young, for reasons such as what transpired in this game.

There were so many crazy wins that season that I forgot about a few of them. After reading the PG the other day, I was reminded of the game in which Kevin Polcovich hit a home run off Curt Schilling that proved to be the game-winner. Also, until I scanned the game logs, I forgot about the walkoff single by Mark Johnson. Johnson was expected to be a huge part of the Pirates' offense that year, but he slumped badly from the beginning. Eventually he lost his job at first base to Kevin Young. On June 6, with Johnson hitting .231/.363/.333, he pinch-hit in the tenth inning in a game against the Phillies. There was one out and the winning ran was at second. Johnson roped one down the right field line for the game-winning single. He was mobbed by the teammates, as his frustrations from the previous two months were put aside for a night. Johnson never panned out for the Pirates, but this was just another amazing moment during the 1997 season.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

2007 All-Star Game

Freddy Sanchez takes infield - AP Photo/ Eric Risberg

Those of us at Wait 'Til Next Year (aka me) have been taking our own All-Star break the past few days. We have passed the time by reading about the 1997 team and watching specials on the teams of the early 1990's. Oh yeah, and the All-Star Game was played last night.

Maybe it is just me, but I do not like watching the All-Star Game as much any more. Maybe I am just bitter because the winner of an exhibition game now plays a factor in the World Series. The World Series is the most important element of the entire baseball season, and it is being tampered with. Why? In an attempt to increase the All-Star Game’s television ratings and help Bud Selig’s image recover from the infamous tie. Five years ago, the game was not important enough to finish. Now it arguably affects the entire season.

The biggest problem with this format is that managers must run the game in an effort to win, while also playing as many players as possible. As a result, you run into some of the situations that came up last night. Albert Pujols, who very well may become the greatest hitter in baseball history some day, never reached the field. Michael Young, who won last year’s game with a late triple, also remained glued to the bench. There is no reason to bring these players to the game if they are just going to sit there. Maybe next year, Pujols decides he is more interested in spending these three days at home. Then the losers will be the fans. Just make the game an exhibition again and return to alternating the World Series home-field advantage.

For those of you interested in Freddy Sanchez’s role last night, he entered the game in the top of the seventh. In the top of the eighth, Freddy made a nice catch of a foul pop off the bat of Justin Morneau. He had to elude the bullpen mounds just before making the catch. His fly to center ended the bottom of the inning. The American League won again, 5-4.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Lilly cools Pirates' bats

It was a rough start for John Van Benschoten tonight - AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

John Van Benschoten's struggles finally caught up with him. The Cubs got to JVB right from the beginning tonight, and sent him to the showers after only 2.2 innings. Van Benschoten allowed five runs on seven hits, striking out two and walking three. John Wasdin relieved him and allowed two more runs, spotting the Cubs a 7-0 lead through five innings. Ted Lilly quieted the surging Pirate offense, allowing only one run through 7.1 innings. He also added an RBI single of his own. Final score, 7-1.

Adam LaRoche was a late scratch due to a sore knee, and likely will sit out tomorrow's game as well. Josh Phelps took his place at first, and struck out looking three times. Awesome.

Of the 33,293 in attendance, a large portion were fans of the visiting Chicago Cubs. While it is disheartening to be beaten so easily, it is absolutely infuriating to do so while surrounded by out-of-town fans.

I would like to thank the Chicago Cubs for ruining beach towel night for me. There will be no warm memories from this game. All that I have gained from this night is another cheap Pirate towel that is one or two washings from being completely useless.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Pirates look to continue streak

It is a big night in Pittsburgh. That's right, it is beach towel night. It is very rare that I look forward to a promotion at PNC Park, with beach towel night likely being the only exception. There is just something about waving a towel at a sporting event that causes great enthusiasm among Pittsburgh sports fans. Every beach towel night I have attended has resulted in an electric atmosphere at the ballpark. In fact, the most enjoyable game I have ever attended was a beach towel night. Tonight shall be a good night.

John Van Benschoten will throw for the Bucs, Ted Lilly for the Cubs. Van Benschoten has not looked sharp since being recalled from Triple-A, but he has kept the Pirates in each game he has pitched. Lilly has been up and down at times this season, but his overall numbers are strong (3.84 ERA, 1.08 WHIP). The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM.

Pirates' bats again pave way to victory

Xavier Nady and friends celebrate another victory - AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The Pirates are simply playing good baseball right now. It does not happen all that often, and I have no idea how long it will last. But it has been fun to watch them play the past week. The Bucs won their fourth in a row tonight, stopping the streaking Cubs right in their tracks. Chicago had won 11 of 13 entering tonight's game, and had to be viewing this series as their chance to make a move in the standings. What they likely did not expect to encounter was a Pirates' offense that looks nothing like the one we saw earlier this season. The Bucs put up eight runs on 12 hits tonight, with seven of those hits going for extra bases. That power outburst helped lead the team to an 8-4 victory to begin the series.

Paul Maholm started the scoring with a two out, bases loaded single in the second inning. That hit was huge, as the Pirates were in danger of wasting back-to-back singles to start the inning. The Cubs tied it in the third, but the Bucco bats came alive in the bottom of that inning. Freddy Sanchez led off with a home run into the first row of the leftfield seats. One out later, Xavier Nady took on the deepest part of the park. He launched one over the 410 sign in left-center, and the Pirates led 4-2. The Pirates kept pouring it on after that. Run-scoring doubles by Ryan Doumit, Jose Bautista, Nady and Sanchez capped the scoring.

Maholm was very effective again, cruising through seven innings with only two runs allowed. He ran into a bit of trouble in the eighth, and was charged with two more runs after being relieved by Shawn Chacon. But it was another encouraging start for the left-hander, who is quickly becoming the Pirates' number three starter behind Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny. He truly deserves better numbers than he has right now, as he has been let down many times by poor defense and low run-support this season.

Xavier Nady continues to hit. He came a triple short of the cycle tonight, and on the season he is now hitting .292/.343/.509 with a team-high 14 home runs. Most encouraging, his OPS against right-handed pitching is at a very respectable .795. You can count me among the many who felt (before the season, of course) that he would be best utilized as a platoon player. I am not completely convinced I was wrong yet, but I am almost there. There is one thing I do know for sure. Without Nady in the lineup this season, the Pirates would be in much worse shape than they currently are. He held the offense together for most of the first half.

Friday, July 06, 2007

McClatchy to step down

The Post-Gazette is reporting that Kevin McClatchy will resign as Pirates' CEO at the end of the season.

(Update 11:45 AM: Here is the official announcement by the Pirates, as well as a letter from McClatchy to the fans.)

Pirates take series from Brewers

Adam LaRoche trots around the bases after another home run - AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

As frustrating as it was to watch the Pirates play in Milwaukee in early May, that's how enjoyable the most recent series was to view. The Pirates took three of four from the first-place Brewers, and will look to go into the All-Star break on a high note against the red-hot Cubs this weekend. The final two wins against the Brewers were led by strong starting pitching, timely power, and an efficient bullpen. The team also continued to play strong defense.

Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny are becoming one of the best pitching tandems in the National League. On Wednesday, Snell gave up back-to-back singles followed by a three-run home run to start the game. But he calmed down after that, holding the Brewers scoreless for eight innings. Ryan Doumit and Adam LaRoche each hit a two-run homer and Matt Capps pitched the ninth inning for the save. The Pirates won, 5-3.

On Thursday, Gorzelanny's command was not sharp. But he still produced a quality start, allowing three runs in seven innings. Again, Doumit and LaRoche produced the bulk of the offense. Doumit led off the second inning with a blast into the brush beyond the centerfield fence. LaRoche added a two-run shot in the third. He followed with a one-out double off the Clemente wall in the fifth, eventually scoring on an Xavier Nady single. But he was not done. With two outs in the seventh, LaRoche worked a 3-1 count. He won the battle, launching his second home run of the game into the rightfield seats. Chacon and Capps kept the Brewers' bats quiet, and the Pirates took the series with a 6-3 victory.

Adam LaRoche is absolutely killing the ball right now. He is on one of those streaks in which you are worried about missing an at-bat, because you know you might miss a homer. He also seems to be evolving into a clubhouse leader. I love his quote from today's PG:

"A team's approach never should change. To me, if this was a perfect clubhouse, you wouldn't be able to tell when times are good or bad. I've been saying that all season, and I don't think a lot of guys get it. You come in here, go about your business and win. You don't celebrate. You don't throw a big party because we just won a series."

It is very refreshing to hear a Pirate speak that way. We all get tired of hearing Pirate players and management gushing about how well the team is doing when they are 10 or 20 games under .500. At some point we all need to stop setting mediocrity as the goal.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Dear Pittsburgh Baseball Club,

We have always felt connected to your franchise, due to the many years of losing we have shared with you. We finally had a .500 season a couple of years ago, and this season we are one of the top teams in the league. On the other hand, we see that you are still toiling in mediocrity, and you may actually be getting farther away from the ultimate goal. Therefore, please accept today's game on our behalf. You owe us nothing in return, as you have provided us with so much already.

Sincerely yours,
Milwaukee Brewers' defense

It is not often that you look at a box score, see a team was charged with four errors, and think, "Wow, that really doesn't explain how poorly the defense played." The Brewers seemed to make every mistake imaginable in the field, and the result was a 6-2 victory for the Pirates. Early in the game, it seemed that the Pirates would not take advantage of the Brewers' miscues. In the third inning, the Pirates scored one run on one hit. The Brewers made two errors in the inning, and even the lone hit probably should have been caught. At that time, I figured only scoring one run there would come back to haunt us. But the Brewers kept making mistakes, and eventually the Bucs took advantage.

Shane Youman pitched well in his season debut, and ended up with his first career Major League win. Youman went six innings and allowed only two runs. He has done nothing but pitch well for the Pirates the past two seasons, and you have to feel more confident with him on the mound than someone like Tony Armas. Congratulations, Shane.

The bullpen rebounded from last night's debacle with a solid outing. Damaso Marte, Shawn Chacon, and Matt Capps each pitched a scoreless inning, combining to strike out five batters over that period.

With Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny throwing the final two games against the Brewers, the Pirates have a reasonable chance to at least split the series. With a little luck, they might even take three out of four.

Kuwata roughed up, Torres angry

It was a tough night for Kuwata and the Pirates - AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

My meeting wrapped up around 9:00 last night. I immediately checked my phone and saw the Pirates and Brewers were tied 3-3. Not bad at all. After a quick run to the store, I got into my car and turned on the game. The first thing I heard was J.J. Hardy singling in a run give the Brewers a 5-3 lead. Things very quickly got much worse. I was turning onto my street as Damien Miller launched his second home run of the game, this one a grand slam. By the time I reached a television, John Wasdin was warming up with the Brewers leading 10-3. Not long after that, we had a slightly larger number in the loss column.

We all know what happens when Sully gets pissed
On the way to work this morning, I heard a story that caught me completely by surprise. Salomon Torres filed a grievance against the Pirates and asked to be traded. Apparently, Torres signed for less money before the 2006 season because he was led to believe the Pirates would rent one of his baseball academies in the Dominican Republic. Torres also feels he is being punished for filing the grievance by being assigned an unnecessarily long rehab stint. Here is a PG article from my 22nd birthday (04/02/2006) that verifies that Torres was seeking the agreement with the Pirates when he signed his contract. Here is another from 12/03/2006 mentioning that the Pirates turned Torres down. I am not sure exactly what was discussed with Torres, but I would not hesitate to guess that Pirate management tried to screw Torres. Now Sully is pissed, and we may have to part ways with one of our few reliable relievers because of it. It looks like we have taken another step forward in our revival of scouting in Latin America.
The Pirates will play an early game today because a concert was scheduled for PNC Park later tonight. Shane Youman will make his first start of the season against Chris Capuano. Capuano is making his first start since June 8 due to a strained groin. Personally, I am hoping for an eight-hour game, so that everyone's concert plans are ruined. Sorry. The first pitch is scheduled for 4:05 PM.

Monday, July 02, 2007

This, that, and the other

Freddy Sanchez is going to San Fran - Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Sanchez an All-Star

Freddy Sanchez was surprisingly named the Pirates' 2007 All-Star representative, his second consecutive trip to the game. There are some possible reasons why he was chosen:
  • Tony LaRussa is playing to win, and he felt having a versatile infielder on his bench could be helpful. Also, Freddy can be pretty clutch, making him a decent option to pinch-hit in a crucial situation late in the game.
  • LaRussa wanted a legitimate reason to leave the Pirate representative on the bench all night.
  • LaRussa took into account the second half of 2006, making Freddy a much more deserving player.
  • LaRussa did not put much thought into the team and simply picked players based on name recognition.
Clearly there were several Pirates more deserving than Freddy this season. But it is a nice honor for the Pirates' second baseman, so congratulations Freddy.

Duke to DL

Zach Duke joined Chris Duffy on the disabled list due to elbow tendinitis, and Shane Youman was called up to take his spot in the rotation. Youman was not all that impressive in Triple-A, so I would not expect much from him at the Major League level. But he did perform pretty well for the Pirates late last season, so who knows?

By the way, the Pirates replaced Duffy on the roster with someone named Matt Kata. I am not really sure who that is, but welcome to Pittsburgh Matt.

Pirates welcome Brewers

The Brewers will visit Pittsburgh tonight to start a four-game series. This will be the first time the two teams have met since the series in which Matt Capps hit Prince Fielder. That was the weekend that showed us just how far the Pirates are from being a good team. We looked like children playing an adult's game, as the Brewers took three of four. Keep an eye on Capps and Fielder, as there may still be some bad blood from that series in early May.

If you don't recall, Adam LaRoche took the first game of that series off. He spent the night working on his swing. Since that break, he has hit .276/.350/.480 with seven home runs. Not quite what we expected before the season, but still far better than the .132/.245/.253 line he had on May 3.

John Van Benschoten throws for the Pirates, Jeff Suppan for the Brewers. Gametime is at 7:05 PM.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Put the brooms away

The Pirates fell to the Nationals today, 3-2. Paul Maholm pitched well, allowing only three runs in seven innings. He was efficient (only 90 pitches) and his breaking ball was especially sharp. However, he did hang one to Jesus Flores in the seventh, and paid the price. Flores hit a two-run home run, providing the difference in today's game.

The Pirate offense did very little in this game, but in my mind, the ninth inning was the ultimate display of futility. Adam LaRoche led off with a single, representing the tying run. Jose Castillo came to the plate with orders to sacrifice him to second. Castillo squared around on the first pitch, then pulled back to take a perfect strike. The second pitch was a fastball heading straight for Castillo's head. He tried to bunt it, fouling it off as he fell on his back. That took the count to 0-2, and Chad Cordero easily disposed of him with a fastball up out of the zone. One out, and Ronny Paulino to the plate. Cordero quickly fell behind in the count, 2-0. If you have watched Paulino bat at all this season, you know that there is only a small zone on the inner half of the plate in which he can hit the ball with any consistency. Well, Cordero threw a 2-0 fastball right in that zone, and Paulino just watched it for strike one. The count went to 3-2 and Cordero began painting the outside corner with fastballs. That is the pitch that Paulino has been unable to hit at all this season. Of course, he tried to pull one of those fastballs on the outer half. Of course, he hit a perfect double play ball to short. Game over, and for the second time this week, the Pirates were unable to finish off a sweep.

Jason Bay looked terrible at the plate in this game. I was hoping that the night off on Saturday would refresh him a little, but it appeared to do the complete opposite. He looked sluggish all game, and did not appear to have enough energy to even swing the bat. Bay finished 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts on the day.

Protest is small, Bucs roll

Pirate fans took part in a walkout at tonight's game against the Nationals - AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

The number of participants in tonight's planned walkout was small, with an estimated 1,000 people leaving their seats after the third inning. Organizers were hoping for and expecting many more to leave, but I would not call it a failure. The protest was reported by the national media, and while the attempt was said to have "fizzled," it still made news. The important lesson to be learned from this is that change will not occur immediately. This walkout must only be the beginning. If every single person left the game tonight, leaving the Pirates and Nationals to play in an empty park, it would have been described as a huge success. But it would not have changed anything. Regardless of how large or small the participation was tonight, efforts must be continued for any significant change to occur. Changes happen because a small vocal minority decide that those changes are necessary, and that minority does not give up until they become the majority. That is what must happen in this situation. We must look to the next step and keep pushing.

While the protest was the big story tonight, the players kept their focus on the task at hand. Jack Wilson's single in the second inning scored two runs. When Freddy Sanchez's foul pop-up was dropped later in the inning, the Pirates capitalized by scoring four more runs. Tom Gorzelanny shut down the Nats, Adam LaRoche added a solo home run, and Masumi Kuwata finished off the 7-2 victory. It is difficult not to like Kuwata right now, as he obviously is thrilled to be pitching for the Pirates and is doing a solid job. The Pirates will look for the series sweep tomorrow afternoon, as Paul Maholm goes against Mike Bacsik. Game time is at 1:35 PM.