Sunday, September 14, 2008

St. Louis Meltdown

The whoosh you just heard was the air coming out of St. Louis' balloon, as they were swept by a suddenly rejuvenated Pirate ballcub, 7-2. With 14 games to go and three teams ahead of them in the wildcard race, it's fast nearing the time to stick the fork in them.

Of course, we thought the same thing of the Astro's after Pittsburgh swept them in July. Instead, they just gave them a wake-up call.

The only sign of life the Cards showed was when they charged the field in the eighth inning. Ron Villone had to be restrained by Jason LaRue and a couple of other teammates after Doug Mientkiewicz and Aaron Miles started yapping at one another. He was ejected for his WWF act. Dirt Dog sure knows how to keep a game interesting.

It started the play before, when he slapped the ball out of Mile's glove at second. Mientkiewicz told's Todd Krise that "We talked about it. [Miles] said he would do the same thing if the game was close. I didn't deliberately smack at him. That's what you're supposed to do. I didn't try to hurt him."

"I don't know what I've ever done to Ron Villone, but you might have to ask him."

The fat lady warbled early today, as the Bucs crossed the plate six times in the first two innings. They were helped mightily in the opening frame, when the Cards failed to convert a couple of balls into outs - and yes, scorer Bob Webb called them hits.

John Russell showed he knows how to juggle an 18-man pitching staff, using his bullpen to shut down the Redbirds, starting with the opening pitch. Jason Davis and T.J. Beam, the eventual winner, each put together three solid innings.

Romulo Sanchez, Sean Burnett, and Craig Hansen polished off the last three frames, and the Bucs have put together their first three-game winning streak since late July.

For Hansen, it was his fifth consecutive scoreless outing. But we're still not sold on him. He's taken something off of his fastball in an effort to find the plate, but he still walked a pair today in a no-pressure situation, and was shaky last night.

In the past month, the league is batting just .219 against him. But his on-base percentage is a horrid .405, with an ERA of 10.38. Until he can control the plate, he remains a huge question mark.

But you can't ask for much more out of the Pirate bats, even without Ryan Doumit, who was given a blow on getaway day. The first three guys in the lineup - Freddie Sanchez, Luis Cruz, and Nate the Great, who homered - combined for six hits and a walk, setting the table to score six times.

Luis Cruz is starting to grow on us. He appears to be a dependable contact hitter, and his fielding has improved as he's grown accustomed to the speed of the bigs. Brian Bixler and Luis Rivas look like they're about to become yesterday's news.

Hey, who knows - maybe he's auditioning for Jack Splat's spot. Stranger things have happened. And with $7M and a prospect or two at stake...well, just thinkin' out loud.

The middle of the order, 3-4-5 hitters McLouth, Adam LaRoche, and Brandon Moss, drove home seven runs. They also teamed up for six hits and a walk. McLouth is becoming the perfect bridge between the scorers and the bangers at the three hole.

Moss is looking particularly comfortable at the dish. He told FSN that the NL plays an entirely different game than the AL, both in strategy and pitching, and it seems like he's catching on to its nuances.

Even Andy LaRoche got in on the fun, ending an 0-21 nightmare with three hits. Let's keep our fingers crossed - he started the slump after his last three-hit day, which ended an 0-27 slide.

And we saw something today we can tell our grandchildren about. Nyjer Morgan came in late in the game - as a defensive replacement! He subbed for Steve Pearce.

All in all, a great weekend of baseball for the Pirates, and one we hope bodes well for 2009.

> In spite of its recent bullpen blowups, the Pirates are 45-2 this season when leading after seven innings. The scary part is that they've led after seven frames only 47 times in 149 games, and still have 63 wins. They may be bad, but they don't mail in games very often.

> Look for the Buc management to push for an aggressive off-season training program for the players. After Paul Maholm, Doumit and McLouth came to camp slimmer and more prepared for the grind of a 162 game season, and Matt Capp's new-found religion after he went on the DL, the benefits are fairly obvious. It's a big part of the accountability thing they've been pushing.

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