Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Oh, What A Night (and Not in a Good Way)

A mere eleven days ago, the Pirates completed a four game sweep of the Brewers in their personal graveyard, Miller Park, to climb within a half-game of the Cardinals for the final National League Wild Card spot.  I made a comment on Facebook then that after such an improbable occurrence, that "anything was possible" for this team.  

Well, I sure had that right, but not in the way that I had hoped.  What followed was being swept by the Cubs in Chicago, and then being swept by those same crummy Brewers in PNC Park.  At THAT point, I stated on Facebook that anything less than a sweep of this three game set with the Cardinals, and your would be able to....

insofar as the Playoff hopes for 2016 were concerned.

Company on Labor Day prevented me from seeing the Pirates lose 12-6 to the Cards on Monday, but last night, Tuesday night, Marilyn and I were there at PNC Park to see perhaps the piece de resistance of this season.  I'm sure you know the details, but let me recount them for you anyway.

  • The fifth batter of the game, Yadier Molina, hits a grand slam home run to put St. Louis up 4-0.
  • This after first baseman John Jaso froze up after fielding a ground ball that could have been an inning ending double play, and got nobody out, but loaded the bases very nicely for Molina.
  • An inning later, Matt Adams (who went to Slippery Rock University) hit a home run over the right field stands and over the river walk.  It was high and it was long and it was the very definition of the term "majestic home run".
  • The Pirates then proceeded to score single runs in the fourth and fifth innings, and then score four runs in the sixth to take a 6-5 lead.  It was exciting and fun and it put some life into what was a moribund crowd.
  • The bullpen held the lead through the eighth inning, turned it over to Tony Watson, who recorded two easy outs and then proceeded to go HR-Double-HR-HR to the next four batters.
  • That batter who was one strike away from becoming the twenty-seventh and final out was pinch hitter Matt Carpenter.  When he was sent up to bat in that spot, I said to Marilyn "This is a guy who really scares me on this team."  I believe I had that.

When Watson served up his second gopher, this one a two run shot by Randall Grichuk, I abandoned my long stay-until-the-final-out policy and said "that's it, we're outta here."  And as we turned our backs to leave, Watson served up yet another meatball to Jhonny Peralta.  

We got to the car in time to hear the bottom of the ninth (wherein in Jung Ho Kang hit his second solo home run of the game to make the final score 9-7; is it just me or do the Pirates seem to hit a lot of home runs with the bases empty?).  Announcers Joe Block and Steve Blass were stunned at the turn of events that the game had taken.  Even Blass, who I often say announces like he gets paid by the word, said "I just don't know what to say about this one."

In an exchange on Facebook last night with friend Sam Reich, he said he had a hard time remembering a ninth inning collapse that included three home runs and a double.  I said that in 58 seasons of going to baseball games, I am sure that I have seen something somewhere along the lines of what happened last night, but nothing has come to mind in the twelve or so hours since that game ended last night.  It was just Awful with a capital A, and it effectively ended the season for the Pirates.

Some other random Pirates thoughts....
  • My preseason prediction for the Pirates said that they would win 89 games but not make the playoffs.  Well, they ain't going to the playoffs, so I believe I had half of that.  
  • As for 89 wins, they will have to go 22-4 over their remaining 26 games to achieve that.  Not going to happen.
  • Now, even a winning season is in doubt.  To win 82 games and finish over .500, the team will have to fashion a 15-11 record the rest of the way.  The team has shown during the course of the season that they are capable of such a run, but after this eight game losing streak, I wouldn't bet on it happening at this point.

Finally, last night's game took three hours and thirty-six minutes to play, and it seemed a lot longer than that.  It was stultifying.  The pace of play initiatives that MLB so loudly trumpeted last year have obviously fallen by the wayside.  Just watch any typical at bat of Josh Harrison if you don't believe me.  I didn't do it on every pitch, but on several pitches I was timing Antonio Bastardo and Felipe Rivero between pitches. From the time they received the ball from the catcher, it would take between 30 and 40 seconds for them to deliver a pitch.  Too long.  A time clock begins when a coach or manager makes a visit to the mound.  It always gets to :00, and it is ignored.  The home plate ump walks out to the mound and tells them to break it up. Big deal.  Until you call a strike on Josh Harrison for hitting his cleats and taking a practice swing after every pitch, or a ball on a pitcher when he doesn't deliver a pitch within the prescribed time frame, or when the the manager takes too long on a visit to the mound, these "pace of play" rules mean less than nothing, and the proof is in games like the ones that the Pirates and Cardinals have played in the last two days.

All sports have their pace of play problems, but baseball had better figure out something about their particular problems.  Who has time for nine inning games that exceed three and one-half hours?

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