Tag:Neal Walker
Posted on: August 10, 2011 8:21 pm
 

Pirates in need of either air or allergy shots

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.

What happened?

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
 

Everybody's a critic -- and fan -- in Pittsburgh

Until Sunday, Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan had been perfect this year, converting each of his 26 save opportunities.

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."

Hanrahan, by the way, blew a save opportunity Sunday in Houston -- his first after converting each of 28 save opportunities in a row dating back to last season. But after he's picked up the Bucs so often this year, they picked him up and wound up beating the Astros in 11 innings.

That's the way it's been going in Pittsburgh this summer.

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
"The dog has not been fed in years
"It's even worse than it appears, but
"It's alright
"Cows giving kerosene
"Kid can't read at seventeen
"The words he knows are all obscene, but
"It's alright
"I will get by, I will get by, I will get by
"I will survive"

-- Grateful Dead, Touch of Grey

Posted on: May 3, 2011 8:39 pm
 

Stuff my editors whacked from the column

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
"A whole lotta people cryin' 'Don't blame me'
"They point their crooked little fingers ar everybody else
"Spend all their time feelin' sorry for themselves
"Victim of this, victim of that
"Your momma's too thin; your daddy's too fat
"Get over it"

-- The Eagles, Get Over It

 
 
 
 
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