One of my all-time favorite Pittsburgh Pirate memories of the early 1990s is the Curtis Wilkerson Grand Slam game. The name is pretty explanatory, but the Pirates entered the ninth inning down 1-0 against the Cardinals in a mid-September game, and after they tied the game up at one, utilityman Wilkerson stepped up against Lee Smith with the bases loaded and hit a walkoff grand slam. Wilkerson only played in 85 games as a Pirate and he only hit two home runs, but I'll never forget that one. It happened late at night as our family drove through the outskirts of Chicago on our way to see family, and just as Wilkerson hit his home run we drove under a bridge that made us briefly lose the radio signal.
A lot of the details are different tonight; Harrison is a young player, while Wilkerson was a veteran. The Pirates are locked in the middle of a tooth-and-nail division fight with the Cardinals this time around, as opposed to having the race sewn up the way they did the night of Wilkerson's homer in 1991. Still, the idea remains the same; that when a baseball team comes together, sometimes it doesn't matter who's at the plate. Josh Harrison's had a pretty up-and-down Pirate career; he hit his way into being an interesting fringe guy after the trade with the Cubs that brought him to Pittsburgh, but his lack of plate patience has always put him on the outside of regular at-bats, and he (like so many other players) has struggled in a bench-role.
That's been true, even since Harrison's returned from Indianapolis with the release of Brandon Inge. Tonight, though, Harrison found his pitch on a 1-1 fastball that was up and away, but not nearly up and away enough.
Of course, unexpected walkoffs tend to make us forget everything else that happened in a game, and this one was a wild one. Jeff Locke bounced back from what looked like it was going to be an ugly game in the second and third innings to get into the sixth without any more damage. He gave up a ton of hits again (nine in 5 2/3 innings), which is something that I think a lot of us have been bracing for, but he managed to minimize damage and give the Pirates a chance to win. He was succeeded by Vin Mazzaro, who bailed him out of a sixth inning jam and pitched the seventh, then Tony Watson, then Bryan Morris, both of whom were perfect in an inning of work. At the plate, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez doubled and tripled, respectively (not a typo, somehow) to tie the game up at three in the bottom of the third. McCutchen also made an excellent diving catch in the outfield that helped bail Vin Mazzaro out of some trouble in the seventh innings.
Some nights, it just seems like it all falls into place. This was definitely one of those nights for the Pirates, I think.
I don't get why Martin is batting 5th against lefties with GJ batting 6th. Seems du,b to me. Past nights win was awesome though. Remember when there was some debate over who should get sent down between Inge and Harrison? Haha
The past two starts by Locke have not only been games that we probably should have lost, but also the types of games we are usually on the opposite side of. Take last week's game against St. Louis from the Cards point of view. The opposing pitcher is giving up hits all day long, the opposing defense is shaky, the opposing catcher is caught stealing TWICE, yet the Cardinals lose because the go-ahead run moved into scoring position by tagging from first on a fly ball to left. Not just a normal loss, but a loss that makes the team and fans wonder what in the hell just happened.
We've been on the other side of games like last night, avoiding the big threat in the bottom of the eighth only to be finished off by someone like Josh Harrison in the bottom of the ninth. We've lost games like this before, and we will lose games like this again, but when we win them, I start thinking about things falling in to place and this season being different and I shudder. Then I put that thought away and wait for today's lineup to come out and focus on the pitching matchup.
No mention of bases loaded, no one out in bottom of 8th with score tied 3-3? Kedro fails to even get his bat on the ball and strikes out looking?! That act has got to change. Then Russell Martin grounds into doubleplay. Ugh....Thanks to Harrison the Bucs took the victory but it was right there for the taking an inning earlier and they did their normal poor hitting with risp. I've about had it with this part of Alvarez' game. He also made another error tonight....Is the lightbulb ever going to come on and stay on fully lit for this bull of a man? One other thing about that 8th inning was remarkably Marte took a walk (!) to leadoff the inning and then Walker beat out a nicely executed bunt before Cutch was walked intentionally after a passed ball had moved Marte and Walker to third and second.
@mwr505 When Justin Wilson comes in and strikes out a lefty in a big situation, it's because Justin Wilson is awesome. When Pedro strikes out against a lefty in a big situation, it's because he's "K-dro" and his act has to change.
@whygavs @mwr505 I get your point and perhaps I'm expecting too much from Alvarez. He's just too often leaving risp in crucial spots when basic bat to ball contact is necessary. Someone above noted that perhaps Stargell was like this in mid-'60's....I listened and/or watched many of the Pirate games during that period in my teens and I don't recall the frustration of watching the feeble attempts at getting a runner moved up or scoring on a sac fly that this club seems to display. Don't get me wrong, I love this club and what they are doing as a whole but the inept risp hitting by this group and Pedro in particular is vexing.
I just saw these comments today,and all I am going to say to you mwr,about that particular 1959 game is that I was frustrated with the offense in that game because,nobody could get on base ! TRhat was just as frustrating to me in my teens as you are today with the RISP situation.And,I have news for you : power hitters NEVER,and I mean NEVER will completely change their approach in a situation like that. That is NOT what they are being paid to do.The only one in recent history that I can think of who might was Bonds.
@lee1943 Okay, I went back to the Haddix perfect game box score , May 26, 1959. I had remembered the story of how the Bucs had left a lot of runners on base that night; you called it a "frustrating offense". Yes, they got shut out by Lew Burdette in 13 innings so I'll allow you to call that frustrating but they only left 8 men on base, were only 0 for 2 with risp and they only struck out twice in the entire game. I compare that to our wonderful 2013 Pirates (I really do mean that - this has become a magical year up to now) when we strike out far too often - even K'd looking with bases loaded and no one out the other night?! What I'd like is for a hitter's approach to change given the situation. I know I'm howling at the moon about this and getting ready to pound sand but that's my argument. Pedro Alvarez could be an even greater RBI man with a few less whiffs when the bases are juiced. It's become an odd game when the opponent makes the effort to pitch to your clean-up hitter with the bases loaded.
The reason it seems more vexing or inept for you now mwr is because you are watching almost every game and it seems more " real " to you. You are probably a lot more emotionally invested in the games today than you were then. I remember sitting and listening to the Harvey Haddix game in 1959,and looking back on that game,how would you have liked to have been watching the heighth of a frustrating offense ? whygavs has a very valid point for you too.
@mwr505 @whygavs This seems to be one of those complaints that's developing directly in the teeth of the facts--if you look at Pedro's career numbers, they're better with runners in scoring position. This year, he's hitting for a better average with RISP, though his OPS is a bit lower--but it isn't dramatic. Pedro's obviously got a lotof swing-and-miss in his game, and sometimes he looks bad when stirking out, which I think creates the effect of "Boy, that was a horseshit at-bat", but the numbers don't back up the notion that he doesn't deliver.
Like you mwr,I was extremely frustrated wiith that 8th inning last night,but I called it with 2 balls on McCutchen.But,in all fairness ,I heard exactly the same complaints about Stargell in the mid to late '60's from many of my friends. The best answer I would have for you is that you will see in the next 2 years if that light bulb stays on.
@lee1943 Cutch should have swung at the 4th ball (the intentional ball) to get a 3-1 count. That would have given them something to think about whether they wanted to pitch to him for real or not. I wonder if they would have still intentionally walked him with a 3-1 count.