If you had asked me before the game today what I thought this Pirate team needed, I would've said a walk-off win. There's something about a huge hit and the ensuing celebration that just kind of melts away the sort of slump this team is in. It's not that rallying for four runs in the ninth inning today means that this past month hasn't happened. It's not like Lastings Milledge's big single automatically prevents 100 losses. But it does mean that when we think back to September, one of the things we'll remember is this. In a sea of ugly bullpen outings, stranded runners, and Matt Capps implosions, I hardly think that's a bad thing.
Looks like some rain at PNC today, which might mean this game turns into a sparsely populated double-header tomorrow. There are some telling answers in the PG's annual player survey that are worth reading. I may do a longer discussion of it tomorrow or later tonight. If this game is in fact played, it will feature Dan McCutchen trying to build a lead for the bullpen to blow facing off against Clayton Kershaw.
Tonight, the Pirates fought back for three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead. The key hit in the sequence was Andrew McCutchen's huge two-out single, in which he fell behind 1-2, fouled off three pitches, and lashed the go ahead single right up the middle. It was a nice rally, a great at-bat, and a great moment late in the season for a team desperate for these sorts of things.
In the top of the eighth, the Pirate bullpen took over. Denny Bautista walked Manny Ramirez and gave up a one out single. Then, Phil Dumatrait came in and walked James Loney. Then, Steven Jackson came in and walked Andre Ethier. And Orlando Hudson (from an 0-2 count!). And gave up a two-run single to Jim Thome. At that point, John Russell came out to get Jackson with the exasperated look that you see above; the look that I think summarizes these last two months quite nicely.
There's nothing surprising about that happening to a one-run lead when Bautista, Dumatrait, and Jackson were tasked with defending it, but there wasn't really any other choice, either.
Nine games left. I think I can make it with my sanity intact. I'm less certain about JR.
Assuming the rain clears up, Paul Maholm and Randy Wolf take the mound at 7:05 tonight at PNC. The Pirates haven't won two games in a row since consecutive wins against the Reds on August 21st and 22nd. Yikes.
And so after a long spell of losing, the Pirates somehow manage to win "the bullpen game." The unorthodox combination of Jeff Karstens, Donnie Veal, Steven Jackson, Jesse Chavez, and Matt Capps shut down the Dodgers tonight, holding them to just one run on seven hits. Veal was particularly impressive; his huge, bending curveball was nearly unhittable and while he did bean Jon Garland, he didn't walk anyone. Remember the difference between Evan Meek last year and Evan Meek this year before giving up on Veal entirely, because Veal really does seem to have good stuff.
There's not much else to say about this one; it was a solid team effort that resulted in a win. It feels like a huge occaision, but only because of how poorly the team has played of late. If anything, it's a perfect illustration of this post by Charlie from this afternoon about why the Pirates probably won't lose 110 games next year. Honestly, if they could just sprinkle maybe three more games like this in before the season ends, I'll go into the off-season feeling much better about things than I do right now. Is that too much to ask for?
The Pirates transformation into a bleak, post-apocalyptic future is officially complete as tonight the ballpark will be filled with armed police to prevent any G-20 shenanigans from taking place. As if the horror of Jeff Karstens/Donnie Veal piggyback start isn't terrible enough. (No, I don't know that Veal will be the first guy out of the pen tonight, but it's certainly a possibility).
T-minus 5 losses and couting.
And now we're really stretch the subject of, 'Were we wrong about Player X?' though I will be coming back to it next week as it applies to a particular third baseman. So far, we've looked at Nyjer Morgan and the trade, Garrett Jones, and Zach Duke and Paul Maholm.
Andrew McCutchen has completely exceeded expectations this year. In 97 games with the Pirates (excluding this afternoon's), he's hitting .281/.358/.472, stolen 16 bases, and played good defense in center field. Because of his age (he's just 22), his style of play, and his minor league numbers, I expected a much steeper learning curve for McCutchen this year. That's not to say that I thought he was incapable of the line he's put up this year; I simply thought it would take a few years for him to develop.
So what are we seeing from McCutchen this year? Is his line with the Pirates an aberration or a leaping off point? We all want McCutchen to be the cornerstone that this franchise is rebuilt on, but will that happen? Or will he end up like so many other disappointing Pirate prospects? You know the drill: analysis coming after the jump.