Tuesday, April 22, 2008

how sweet it is

Xavier Nady from Pittsburgh Pirates.com
photo by Brian Kersey AP

The Pirates rode a strong performance from Paul Maholm and some timely hitting to a 3-2 win over the Marlins and an merciful end to their ugly six game skid.

Maholm went 6 innings, giving up 4 hits and a run while striking out 6. He was yanked after throwing 94 pitches. Tyler Yates and Damaso Martes struggled to collect four outs until John Grabow and Matt Capps came on to ice the game.

The Bucs did all their damage in the sixth inning. Nate McLouth walked, and with one out, stole second. Well, he beat the throw in the eyes of everyone but second base ump Scott Barry, and he's the one that counts. Barry rung him up.

McLouth was popping up before Dan Uggla tagged him, and Uggla had the ball squirt out of his glove after the tag to add insult to injury. His batting streak also ended at 19 games this year, 20 overall, when he went 0-2 with a pair of free passes.

But with two away, Freddie Sanchez and Jason Bay lined singles into left. Ryan Doumit doubled Sanchez home with a soft liner that just ticked off of the mitt of a diving Josh Willingham.

Xavier Nady capped the inning by dropping a ball into left to plate a pair. Don't start counting yet, but Nady now has a 10-game hitting streak.

When the Pirates were winning, the two out hit was their calling card, and it came through again tonight. Nothing like a clutch hit and a clutch pitching performance to get the team headed back in the right direction.

And breaks do even out. The game would have been tied in the seventh when Hanley Ramirez appeared to beat Doug Mientkiewicz's throw to first on a soft roller with two down and a runner at third. But ump Mike Winters saw it differently.

Winters banged out Ramirez, and tossed frustrated Fish manager Freddi Gonzalez for good measure. Hey, whatta ya want, instant replay for safe/out calls, too?

On the Pirate front:
The three games prior to tonight ballooned the Buc's ERA to 5.93, a full run worse than the NL's next most battered staff, the Washington Nats (4.87). Pirate pitching had given up almost 12 hits per game with a WHIP of 1.70.

The Bucco sticks, though in the bottom third of MLB with a .242 batting average and .311 OBP, were in the middle of the pack in the stat that counts, runs scored. They had 85, about 4-1/2 runs per game, the same as the Yankees.

If 30-year old Fish CF Alfonso Amerzago seems vaguely familiar, it's because he was a Pirate for a cup of coffee in 2005. He appeared in 3 games here after being claimed off waivers from the Colorado Rockies.

The Bucs cut him in May, and after the season he moved on to Florida, where he's been a .260 hitter while getting some regular at bats in the Marlin's outfield rotation.

It's April, and the Pirates have already finished the season series with Florida. They ended up 2-3 against the Fish.

Penguin forwards Adam Hall and Jeff Taffe were on the field taking in BP before tonight's game, playoff beards in full bloom as they await the Rangers on Friday night.

On the draft front: The Saber scouts predict the Bucs will pick either power arm Aaron Crow of Missouri or five tool 3B Pedro Alvarez of Vanderbilt at the two spot.

Crow, a RH, has hit 98 on the radar. His only drawback is an unconventional release, and given the recent Pirate history of top picks going down with arm problems, that could raise a red flag to the scouts.

Crow's record is 9-0 with a 2.37 ERA, and he's struck out 79 batters in 64-2/3 innings. He also ripped off a 40 inning scoreless stretch earlier in the year.

Alvarez tore the cover off the ball last year, but missed the first half of this season with a broken hand. He's hitting .292 with 3 homers and 12 RBIs with 65 at bats. Alvarez hit .386 with 18 HRs and 68 RBIs in 2007, and had a 24 game hitting streak.

Besides the injury (which is 100% healed now), his biggest drawback is former Pirate brass' anathema, agent Steve Boras.

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