Posted on: August 10, 2011 8:21 pm
I ran cross country for four years in high school. I was OK, not great, for a couple of reasons. One, I was smallish back then and not very strong. Two, hay fever clobbered me annually in Michigan, from August until the first frost in late September or early October. Ragweed pollen choked off my breathing passages, and there were days when it felt like I could get no oxygen into my lungs.
Sort of, I imagine, how the Pittsburgh Pirates are feeling these days.
For four months, the Buccos were one of the best stories in the game. Even Commissioner Bud Selig said that Pittsburgh's was the first score he checks every night. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Bucs were buyers at the July trade deadline.
Then, wheeze, wheeze. ...
Clint Hurdle's club fell into a 10-game losing streak that has all but asphyxiated Cinderella. At 56-60, the Pirates were 10 games behind Milwaukee. Steelers season again is on deck in Pittsburgh.
Well, there are a lot of explanations, but those mostly are just accumulations of pieces of answers from over there and parts of answers from over here. Their pitching suddenly disappeared on them. Their bats went silent. The lowly Cubs and Padres swept them at home, socking the Pirates with their first winless homestand of six-or-more games in their 125-year history.
The Pirates were outscored by 45 runs during the 10-game streak.
Basically, the Pirates confirmed what many believed from the start: They're not quite ready to win yet.
Young legs and fresh arms are as important as ever in the game -- and, with the majority of steroids and greenies evidently expunged thanks to tighter testing, more important these days than at any time since the mid-1980s.
But young talent alone is not enough. Because among the many things the youngsters must develop is stamina -- both physical and mental -- for a 162-game grind.
The story of this year's Pirates is shaping up remarkably similar to that of last year's Padres, who also were the best story in the game until ... yes, until a 10-game losing streak knocked the wind out of them. Only difference was, the Padres skid started a couple of weeks later, on Aug. 26. Pittsburgh's started a month earlier, on July 29.
One common thread is poor Ryan Ludwick. The Padres acquired him last July 31 because they needed more production in the middle of their order. Pittsburgh dealt for him this July 31 for the same reason.
Now Ludwick is something of an unwilling expert on would-be contenders falling into 10-game losing skids and seeing their seasons crumble.
Though the losing streak wrecked their season, last year's Padres did gain a second wind, played in meaningful games all the way to the last day of their season and wound up with 90 wins.
These Pirates are only on pace for 77 wins, and the interesting thing now will be to see how they respond the rest of the way. This is an important stretch. General manager Neal Huntington has built a good nucleus of young players -- Andrew McCutchen, Neal Walker, Jose Tabata (who has been injured), Pedro Alvarez (who is having a miserable season). Pittsburgh is far closer to winning than it has been in a long time.
Still, what they need is some room to breathe, some room to grow. Some air.
That, or some allergy pills.
By my senior year, by the way, we won the league title. I contributed in a few small ways, scoring points here and there, but others did the heavy lifting. Still, it was a great ride and I made some lifelong friends while running over the trails and through the woods.
I still think about those days at this time of year, when school beckons and the baseball season shifts toward its final sprint. Sometimes the trails go uphill. Sometimes they disappear into the woods. The trick is in the persevering.
It would be a shame if things completely got away from the Pirates in 2011. This is an organization that has endured 18 consecutive losing seasons, a record for North American professional sports.
It won't be nearly the same as watching them fight for a spot in October, but if the Pirates can't climb back into the race, watching them battle for a .500 finish will still be pretty good drama.
Likes: Dan Uggla extending his hitting streak to 31 games. ... Sign-stealing controversies. There has been off-the-record chatter about those kind of capers in Toronto for years. It's amusing and entertaining. And my response is, if you think the Blue Jays are stealing your signs, then change your signs. ... The law in the great state of Michigan prohibiting public schools from starting before Labor Day. That's the way it should be everywhere. Summer doesn't end until Labor Day Weekend, does it? ... Here's to Jerry Garcia, who died 16 years ago Aug. 9.
Dislikes: The dancing woman in Cleveland behind the plate in that crazy Indians-Tigers game that ended at 2 a.m. the other night. Can't you just sit still and watch a ballgame? As if she wasn't distracting enough (I was home watching on television), she trended on Twitter. Now I can just see dozens of other wackos following suit looking for their own publicity. Please, no.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Well the first days are the hardest days
"Don't you worry any more
"'Cause when life looks like easy street
"There is danger at your door
"Think this through with me
"Let me know your mind.
"Oh, oh, what I want to know is, are you kind?"
-- Grateful Dead, Uncle John's Band
Posted on: July 17, 2011 8:55 pm
Edited on: July 18, 2011 12:06 pm
But as is the case with any great artist, sometimes perfection isn't quite enough.
"My dad texted me [recently] and said, 'You're going to have to start doing a commercial for Just For Men, get an endorsement from them, with all the gray hair I'm getting'," Hanrahan says.
In the old days, not many more folks than the Pirates' dads were watching in Pittsburgh. But with Clint Hurdle's club playing well and gaining momentum, it's amazing who's paying attention. The crowds are starting to swell. The Bucs are averaging 23,578, and weekend crowds of 30,000-plus are becoming a regular thing. A community, you might say, is being galvanized by an unexpected source.
"Fans in Pittsburgh are excellent baseball fans," Hanrahan says. "Everyone knows about Penguins fans and Steelers fans, but now we're starting to see Pirates fans. Weekends are selling out.
"Our fans are really knowledgeable, and they don't feel embarrassed to come out any more. Before, the real baseball fans were sitting home cussing out the TV and cussing out the Pirates. And before, the fans who would come to see us were rocking Steelers' shirts.
"But now, you're seeing Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker jerseys everywhere. It's a lot more fun."
Likes: Looking forward to watching the Pirates' next test, 12 games against teams with a combined record of 212-167 -- Cincinnati, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Atlanta. ... Eli Whiteside actually stealing a base on Sunday (second of his career). ... Giants manager Bruce Bochy calling a (successful) suicide squeeze. When you're that offensively challenged, you've got to figure out ways, man. ... The weekend's Tigers-White Sox series. Midsummer, and it's easy to sense that each series is taking on a little more importance. ... National Ice Cream Day on Sunday. How can you not participate in that?
Dislikes: Disneyland ... Mickey Mouse. ... Goofy ... Snow White ... long lines ... overpriced tickets ... waiting in line 45 minutes for a roller coaster and then it breaks down when you're on the platform, up next ... overrated places.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"I know the rent is in arrears
-- Grateful Dead, Touch of Grey
Posted on: July 11, 2011 9:36 pm
Edited on: July 11, 2011 10:11 pm
PHOENIX -- Weary of all this talk about how the Yankees' Derek Jeter should be in attendance at this All-Star Game, I went looking for someone who agrees that he shouldn't be anywhere near this event.
I found the guy.
And truth be told, it wasn't all that difficult, either.
Meet David Price. Yeah, THAT David Price.
Guy who served up the homer that was Jeter's 3,000th hit in New York on Saturday.
In fact, Price surrendered Jeter's first three hits on Saturday -- single, homer, double -- and yet appeared startled when I told him I had him figured for the one guy who is glad Jeter is nowhere near Phoenix.
"I'm not mad about it," Price said, smiling. "I love it.
"When he first hit it Saturday, I was mad when it went over the fence. Then I was like, 'It's Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit, get over it.
"I understand people want to see him. But he's trying to get his body ready for the second half. He's been on an emotional roller coaster these past couple of weeks. He's the ultimate team guy and he's trying to get ready to help the Yankees in the second half."
OK, enough with the respect.
Now, David, the truth ... you saw enough of him on Saturday, right? You're sick and tired of him, right?
"I might be," Price said, eyes twinkling. "I wouldn't mind seeing Derek Jeter one bit -- but I'd ask him what he's going to give me [for surrendering his 3,000th hit].
"Aw, I'm just kidding."
Likes: Really fun talking with the three Pittsburgh All-Stars and seeing their excitement -- outfielder Andrew McCutchen, closer Joel Hanrahan and starter Kevin Correia. ... Ditto first-time All-Star Michael Cuddyer of the Twins. ... Padres closer Heath Bell having his father, wife and kids in tow at the press conferences Monday so he could share the All-Star excitement. Very, very cool. ... Glad to see Adrian Gonzalez getting his due in Boston. He was so overlooked and underrated when he was playing hidden in San Diego. And he's a class act who is intelligent and thoughtful as well as highly skilled. ... Very interesting seeing the Biltmore, the luxury resort where John McCain gave his election night concession speech after losing the last presidential election. ... Rokerij, best restaurant in Phoenix. The blackened salmon with apple chile was sensational Sunday night (as were the green chile potato, roasted beets and prickly pear margarita that came with it). ... Rubio's Fish Tacos, a San Diego staple blossoming in Phoenix. The manager of the joint we stopped by for lunch Monday was so sweet, too. She was a baseball fan and, overhearing All-Star talk at our table, she brought over four warm churros on the house.
Dislikes: The Home Run Derby. The rules are convoluted and it continues forever. And I mean, forever. Does it really need to be three hours? Of course, I'm also the guy that gets worn out quick at a movie by special effects. A little bit goes a long way, just like home runs. It's why I hated Super 8.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"We learned in Sunday school
-- Mac MacAnally, Back Where I Come From
Posted on: July 7, 2011 3:23 pm
Edited on: July 7, 2011 3:45 pm
Hot fun in the summertime. ...
FROM: Michael S.
Hmm, let's find out if I can see through all of the smoke from whatever it is I'm not inhaling: Berkman has started 62 games in the outfield for St. Louis this season, 19 at first base and two as a DH. So apparently, Mr. Michael, Berkman IS an outfielder. And I'm just high on life.
FROM: Frank D
Great job on your All-Star picks. I agree 100! You are by far the best writer on the site.
Don't tell that to Doyel. He just won a fancy award as the second-best columnist in the country and he might get his feelings hurt.
FROM: Thomas H.
So a team's position in the standings should factor into a player's inclusion in the All-Star starting lineup? These are INDIVIDUAL selections, not team awards. And how do you know that Rickie Weeks has made a better contribution to the Brewers than Brandon Phillips to the Reds? If you are going that route, then also include the contribution in the clubhouse, where Phillips is outstanding.
Your points are well taken. I'm a huge Phillips fan. Both he and Weeks are having great years. But on this one, I'm right.
FROM: John D.
First part of your argument is correct: A Yankee shouldn't be starting at shortstop. However, good as Hardy has been, you lose me with your second part. The correct answer is, Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera should be starting.
FROM: Adam S.
Adrian Gonzalez is the runaway MVP in the AL so far? You may want to take another look at Jose Bautista's numbers. Bautista's OBP is 63 points higher, his SLG is 85 points higher, he has more HR's, over 40 more BB's, more Runs, and fewer K's. Don't get me wrong, Gonzalez is having a great year, but I think Bautista has the edge right now, and I'm not sure it is even close. Other than that one argument, I enjoyed the article quite a bit.
I was overzealous (and careless) with my use of the word "runaway." You, sir, are correct. But given what Gonzalez has brought to the Red Sox, and given how he's propped them up into second place in the division, I'm still gonzo over Gonzo.
FROM: Capt. Hook
I'm not sure about your GM skills, much less your math skills, if you think San Diego's current resurgence will stop them from thinking trade. With 80 games left, if they go 56-24 (.700) and San Francisco creeps along at their current .586 over their remaining schedule, the Padres would win by one game. Well, playing .700 may be just a little far-fetched, ya think? Hmmm. Sell the farm, Padres, as the Fantasy of Mr. Miller is just that: A fantasy.
Come on now, read the entire column, not just the headline. I pinpointed the exact time the Padres will start to deal, about a week after the All-Star Game. All I said by pointing toward the Padres' current "resurgence" is that it will delay their plans to trade until later in July. I never suggested they would get back into the race. That would be silly now, wouldn't it?
How about the suicide squeeze bunt he masterfully called on Wednesday night? Guy is 68 years old and called it for the first time in his managerial career. He's a keeper.
FROM: Josh M.
Not only is he the most underrated player in The Show, he's the Twins most INVALUABLE player. Some really smart guy called that one way back during spring training in this column.
I've been a Dodgers fan since 1960. Every cheap shot you threw at McCourt is well-deserved and earned. However, the parking lot beating had no place in this story. It doesn't hurt me as a Dodgers fan, but, as a compassionate human being, I hurt for the Giants fan and his family. I urge you to post a sincere apology and then refrain from such distasteful attempts of Andrew Dice humor.
Look, it was not a cheap attempt at humor, and yes, I'm sorry to those who were offended by that line. But the tragic parking lot beating this year is part of the overall body of McCourt's shoddy and irresponsible work as "caretaker" of the Dodgers. And I'm offended at being compared to a class-less, trailer-trash comic like Andrew Dice Clay.
MARK CUBAN, all that's right. Baseball don't like his type. Get rid of the CAR SALESMAN BUD SELIG. He did nothing about steroids.
Not sure that Mark Cuban is all that's right. But compared to Frank McCourt, a common house rat is all that's right, so I guess your point is well taken.
Likes: Mid-season, and the All-Star Game. Still, by far, the coolest All-Star Game in all of sports. Not even close.
Dislikes: Super 8. Just because today's technology can produce cool special effects, it doesn't always mean the more, the better. Just sayin'.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"The moon beams we can dream on, when the working day is done
-- Eddie Hinton, Everybody Needs Love
Tags: Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen, Asdrubal Cabrera, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Davey Johnson, Derek Jeter, Frank McCourt, J.J. Hardy, Jose Bautista, Lance Berkman, Los Angeles Dodgers, Michael Cuddyer, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Rickie Weeks, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals
Posted on: May 3, 2011 8:39 pm
Outtakes from the land of the Pirates, who aren't yet plundering anybody but at least are coming closer in the season's first month:
-- Part of why the 14-15 Pirates have remained competitive is because their bullpen mostly has been sensational. Closer Joel Hanrahan converted his ninth consecutive save opportunity Monday night in San Diego. Right-hander Jose Veras leads all NL relievers with a 15.32 strikeouts-per-nine innings-pitched ratio and has fanned 15 in his past seven appearances. Overall, Pittsburgh's bullpen leads the majors with a 2.12 ERA.
-- Manager Clint Hurdle's take: "Our starting pitching has been good, our bullpen has been better. Offensively, we're still trying to make sense of things. Defensively, some nights we're very, very good, and some nights we go, 'Ouch.'"
-- Second baseman Neal Walker's take on Hurdle, the new skipper: "Everything he preached, everything he talked about in spring training, he put into effect. That we'd be an aggressive club that played good defense and pitched well. He's a more vocal guy who gets his point across. He's letting us work into things."
-- Budding center field star Jose Tabata came out of Saturday's game with a "tight" right hamstring, sat out Sunday and was not in Monday's lineup. He was, however, in Hurdle's thoughts after Tabata said he figured he'd miss two games. "I have heard a rumor that Jose self-proclaimed two days out," Hurdle quipped. "So not only is he a 22-year-old outfielder, he's a part-time doctor." Looking to make sure Tabata's tightness doesn't become worse, the Pirates were to "re-assess" him on Tuesday.
Likes: Always enjoy talking music with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, and his latest rave is Melody Guy, a folk singer from Oregon. I'm going to check her out. ... Really like Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, not just as a center fielder, but as a personality. The dreads, the speed, the personality, the intelligence and charisma. He's the complete package. Hope he has a long career. ... Checked out the DVD How Do You Know? the other night and it was much better than anticipated. I always like Reese Witherspoon, anyway. Still, wasn't expecting much given how it bombed at the box office, but she, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd did a nice job.
Dislikes: Shin-Soo Choo becomes the latest in the game to be picked up on a DUI charge. C'mon, fellas, what do you think this is, the NFL?
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"I turn on the tube and what do I see
-- The Eagles, Get Over It