Anyone that's ever hit a home run can tell you: the first one is special. Mine came when I was a 12-year-old catching for Hermitage Kiwanas. We were playing Advanced Auto Body on the American League Field at the Carl Harris Little League Complex in Hermitage in what had been a crazy back-and-forth battle early on. They took a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, we quickly tied, it, and then they scored four more in the top of the second. I stepped to the plate in the bottom of the second with the bases loaded and a pitcher whose name I do honestly remember, but don't want to just toss out in a public forum like this on the mound.
He didn't throw very hard and gave me a perfect pitch that might as well have been on a tee. I took a slight uppercut swing and didn't even feel the ball hit the bat. I knew it was gone. My dad (the coach), later told me that from the dugout, he was sure that I'd hit the ball too high, but I told him I knew differently. We ended up winning the game 14-13 in the bottom of the sixth and I walked in my last two at-bats. During the game, my friends who were playing on other fields came running over to find out if it was true. It's still one of my better memories from my baseball playing career.
The reason that I'm telling the story is because I'm certain that Jason Jaramillo has me trumped. I mean, I'm sure that Jaramillo has hit home runs before, but that first big league homer has gotta be special. And to hit it off of Johan Santana to tie the game? I'm freaking jealous.
The inning after that, Freddy Sanchez, Nate McLouth, and Adam LaRoche rapped three quick hits in succession off of Santana that scored two runs, and that was the ballgame. So we've got a rookie catcher hitting his first homer, and back to back RBI doubles from left-handed hitters off of one of the best lefties in the game. These are the sorts of things that a team needs to take advantage of and tonight, the Pirates did it.
This game was a great example of how improved defense is helping Zach Duke. Brandon Moss made a great running catch at the right field line early in the game, and it was immediately followed by a nice play at third by Andy LaRoche. Duke didn't strike out any hitters in his seven innings, but he scattered eight hits and only allowed one run because of it. Duke made three starts last year without striking out a hitter; he was 0-2 in those starts, never made it past the sixth inning, and had a 6.60 ERA. On top of that, he gave up an unearned run in two of those starts. I don't advocate Duke doing this every time out, but the defense let him get away with it tonight.
The Pirates beat Johan Santana. Holy crap.
Why do all the good pitching matchups fall on nights when the Penguins play? I've got this feeling that this Zach Duke vs. Johan Santana matchup is going to be worth setting the DVR for. The Mets are starting a lineup that's similarly ridiculous to the one they started last night, while Santanta's been one of the best in the NL this year. I'm certainly going to do my best to catch as much of this one as I can.
I know, I know, Woody Paige is a blowhard. But his column in the Denver Post today brought back a rush of bad memories for me.
One of the charges against Tracy in Pittsburgh was that he took too much credit when the team won and blamed the players too much when the Pirates lost. After the game Sunday, Tracy blamed his starter Jorge De La Rosa for not pitching properly to Gonzalez when he had an 0-2 count, allowing the Padres slugger to homer. Gonzalez wouldn't have homered if he were standing on first base. Don't give me that old manager's lame excuse of lefty on lefty. Couldn't the Rockies use Gonzalez? Tracy then blamed his pinch-hitter Smith for not hitting properly when he had a 3-2 count. According to Tracy, the Rockies cannot "do any hitting with the bat on their shoulder." Is Jim Tracy a bad manager? Well, it's hard as such to say that someone is a bad manager when he's stzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ... I don't think the Pirates will ever have a manager that annoys me more than Tracy did.
One of the charges against Tracy in Pittsburgh was that he took too much credit when the team won and blamed the players too much when the Pirates lost.
After the game Sunday, Tracy blamed his starter Jorge De La Rosa for not pitching properly to Gonzalez when he had an 0-2 count, allowing the Padres slugger to homer.
Gonzalez wouldn't have homered if he were standing on first base. Don't give me that old manager's lame excuse of lefty on lefty. Couldn't the Rockies use Gonzalez?
Tracy then blamed his pinch-hitter Smith for not hitting properly when he had a 3-2 count. According to Tracy, the Rockies cannot "do any hitting with the bat on their shoulder."
Is Jim Tracy a bad manager? Well, it's hard as such to say that someone is a bad manager when he's stzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ...
I don't think the Pirates will ever have a manager that annoys me more than Tracy did.
This was the Mets' starting lineup tonight:
- Luis Castillo, 2B
- Fernando Martinez, LF
- Daniel Murphy, 1B
- Gary Sheffield, RF
- David Wright, 3B
- Jeremy Reed, CF
- Wilson Valdez, SS
- Brian Schneider, C
- Livian Hernandez, P
This is not a good lineup. Actually, it's a pretty poor one. Gary Sheffield batting cleanup? Daniel Murphy batting third and playing first base? Jeremy Reed and Wilson Valdez? This is a shadow of the lineup that beat the piss out of us in Citi Field last month.
And they went out and proceeded to go out and beat the crap out of Ian Snell for the first three innings tonight, tossing five runs up on the board before I even really got settled in front of the TV. He looked exasperated, Bob Walk and Greg Brown were taking him to task, and it looked like there was a rather unfriendly run-in between he and Jack Wilson in the dugout (there was nothing physical, it just looked like Jack said something that Ian didn't particularly like). I haven't been able to sit down and really watch a Pirate game in almost a week, and by the bottom of the second, I was already looking for other things to do. Not a great start.
Still, the Pirates kept things interesting with Andy LaRoche's two-run "triple" (in quotes because it was a double misplayed by Reed in center), bringing the game to withing 5-3 in the fourth. That allowed the stage to be set for the five-run rally in the bottom of the eighth that featured another big hit from Andy LaRoche, more bad defense from guys that wouldn't normally be playing for the Mets (an error by Valdez and a stupid throw that allowed runners to advance by Reed), and we get our final score.
I'm not trying to undermine what the Pirates did tonight; a comeback from a five-run deficit is always a good thing. Ian Snell got through three scoreless innings after his bad start and the bullpen (lead by Steven Jackson's first big league apperance) allowed just two base runners in the next three innings. It was certainly a good win. It just wouldn't have been possible with Reyes and Beltran and Delgado in the lineup.
It seems like besides the two series against the Nats and Rockies, we've been playing just bad enough to lose two out of three games to pretty much everyone we play. This dates back to the eight-game losing streak of about a month ago, which was puncuated with a sweep at the hands of the Mets.
Of course, it's that very same Mets team that's rolling in to PNC tonight, so this is a nice test of which Pirates (the .500 in April Pirates, the dismal eight-game losing streak Pirates, or the somewhere in between team that we've seen since then) are closest to the real Pirates. Livian Hernandez gets the start for the Mets, and if we lose three of four games to Brian Moehler, Mike Hampton, and Hernandez, I'm going to be pretty disheartened.
Ian Snell starts for the Pirates, and I'm sure that whatever happens on the mound tonight won't be his fault. He might get lit up by the Mets, but it'll only be because the umpire squeezed him or because the catcher (Robinzon Diaz is noticeably not catching tonight) called a bad game, or possibly because he didn't make a proper offering to Zeus prior to the start of the game. Ian Snell doesn't pitch poorly; other people cause his ERA to rise for him. But yeah, if he throws a good game, that'll totally be all him. I mean, look at all the obstacles he has to overcome to pitch well.
I have very little to say about the Pirates/Astros series from this weekend other than that battering Wandy Rodriguez, who's been spectacular this year, sandwiched around getting dominated by Brian Moehler and Mike Hampton pretty much sums up how frustrating it is to watch our offense so far this year. There's potential, but it's incredibly inconsistent. I'm not expecting the Pirates to have the best offense in the league, but only scoring two earned runs against Moehler and Hampton is bad.
I spend the weekend in Baltimore with a couple of friends from high school, mostly hoping to watch Nolan Reimold play for the Orioles. This managed to coincide with Matt Wieters first weekend in Baltimore. I've tried to not mention the Wieters debacle here too much because it's in the past, but man, I was jealous of Orioles' fans this weekend. My friend and I got to Saturday's game a little late (and left a little early to watch hockey, but that's neither here nor there) and there was a line that had to be a thousand people long, just waiting to get in and get a glimpse of the best hitting prospect in baseball. This was after a sellout on Friday night and on Sunday, I could already see a crowd building up around the stadium when I left the city. The excitement over Wieters' arrival was palpable.
He didn't disappoint on Saturday, either. He launched a triple into the left-center notch in his first at-bat and hit a ground-rule double in his second at bat that (seriously) might've been the hardest hit ball I've ever seen hit in person. It didn't ever get more than 20 feet off the ground and more or less skimmed off of the grass and just kept on lasering over the fence. It was unreal. In the stands at Camden, it felt like four of every five fans was either wearing a Wieters, Adam Jones, or Nick Markakis shirt. With those three coupled with Reimold, who's killed the ball since his recall, they've got an amazing young core of hitters in Baltimore right now. I hope that's how I feel about the Pirates in a year when McCutchen, Alvarez, and Tabata are making their way to Pittsburgh.
Quick reminder: if you want a WHYGAVS shirt, please e-mail me by the end of the day today with the number of shirts and size you want.
For the second time this week at BP, it's suggested that the Pirates might go a little cheap with their first round pick in order to have enough money to sign Miguel Sano (this time Kevin Goldstein suggests as much in a chat, if you're not a BP subscriber and can't see the link). I'm pretty sure the Pirates are suggesting the same thing here, but I really can't wade through the Littlefield-esque language to figure out what Huntington means.
"We're not going to walk away from a guy because of his agent or financial demands only, and it's going to be a long summer," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said this week, amid preparations for the draft. "Some guys you evaluate at X, and they want X times 7, and other guys you evaluate at X, and they want X times 2. All else being equal, you go with X times 2."
It seems to me that that's what you say when you're planning on drafting a guy at least partially based on the ability to sign him.
So what does this mean, exactly? Some quick back of the envelope math says the Pirates spent about $10 million between Latin America and the draft last year; their draft hit slightly above $9 million and I don't think their Dominican and Venezuelan signings totaled up to more than $1 million (correct me if I'm wrong here). A huge chunk of that was Pedro Alvarez, who signed for about $6 million after all the legal wrangling was wrapped up, meaning the Pirates spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million on other draft picks last year.
Now, let's assume that with the fourth pick, the Pirates take Aaron Crow, who refused to sign with the Nats last year for slot money for the ninth pick ($2.15 million) and supposedly turned down an offer from the Nationals for $3.5 million, supposedly about a million less than Crow wanted. By contrast, last year's fourth overall pick, Brian Matusz, received about a $3.2 million signing bonus and pro contract, which (I think) is slightly above slot. We're all familiar with the two players taken in the four-slot the two years prior to Matusz; Danny Moskos signed for $2.5 million and Brad Lincoln signed for $2.75 million.
If we assume that picking someone like Crow, Alex White, Grant Green, or Donovan Tate (the best high school outfield prospect who also has an offer from Butch Davis to come play football in Chapel Hill) will cost $4 million or more, while drafting someone like Kyle Gibson could cost $3 million, do the Pirates make that move? I feel like that's what Huntington's setting us up for with that quote, taking a player that's rated slightly lower and saying they valued him the same as the guys who were left on the board.
Of course, there's not really any consensus at all on who the best prospects are after Strasburg and Ackley, so it'd be really hard to know that the Pirates were doing something like that. If we assume the Pirates' budget is roughly the same as last year's and we budget $4 million for Sano (and the bidding could go above that), the Pirates could have a lot less money to spend on low-round picks this year. The million dollars they could save on a first round pick could go towards signing another Quinton Miller in a late round.
Is that an acceptable path? We can certainly argue with capping the draft/Latin America budget, if that is indeed what happens. Why can't they spend a little more? Where else is the money being spent? And what happens if they do go cheap on the draft in June, only to watch Sano sign with someone else in July? That would certainly be a nightmare, both for the front office and the PR staff.
Of course, the key to remember is that we don't know what the Pirates are planning on doing right now. Since Littlefield's firing, Huntington, Coonelly, and their team have handled all of these kinds of situations properly, so why are we expecting them to screw things up now?