Tuesday, August 25, 2009

That's Why They Play Nine Innings...

Hey, for eight innings, Pittsburgh and Philly were in a pretty nice little game. It was 3-2 Pirates, thanks to homers by Ryan Doumit and Steve Pearce, offsetting Jimmy Rollins' two solo blasts.

One reason it was so well pitched was because Ross Ohlendorf and Joe Blanton could live off the plate all day. Plate ump CB Bucknor was generous throughout the game, and the pitchers took full advantage.

Of course, clutch hitting, or the lack thereof, had something to do with it, too. Take the Pirates evening:

In the first, with Andrew McCutchen on third, one out, and the infield back, Garrett Jones struck out after getting ahead 3-1, swinging first at an ankle high pitch and then one that bounced in the dirt, followed by an Andy LaRoche pop-out to the pitcher.

The next inning, with Lastings Milledge on third and nobody out, Steve Pearce struck out on a 3-2 pitch. Yah, it bounced, too. Then, with the infield in, Luis Cruz hit a slow hopper to the shortstop hole. Milledge held. Why he wasn't off on contact with the pitcher up next is anyone's guess. The Big O struck out on three pitches to end the inning.

In the third, with Delywn Young at third, Garrett Jones took a called strike three, and LaRoche bounced out.

The fourth was a bit better; the Bucs only left runners at first and second with one out. Ditto for the eighth, when Jones and Ryan Doumit were on first and second with one away; Milledge and Pearce flew out.

Funny inning, the eighth. Jones walked to lead off and LaRoche bunted twice, eventually getting him to second. But Jones broke on both pitches, and LaRoche got a little talking to in the dugout. We suspect a hit-and-run was on both times, and LaRoche missed the sign. Ya would think Tony Beasley might have straightened him out after the first oopsie.

Then again, the Phillies returned the favor in the third, when Ryan Howard took a slow curve for strike three with Chase Utley at the hot corner and one away. Raul Ibanez then flew out. They did it again in the eighth, when Raul Ibanez lined a shot to a leaping Luis Cruz with the infield in and Chase Utley at third, then Jayson Werth swung through a heater to end the frame.

That gets us to the ninth, when the two most toasted closers in baseball, Matt Capps and Brad Lidge, would go mano-a-mano.

Capps, with a 3-2 lead to protect and a 6.38 ERA, got grounders to Delwyn Young to start and end the inning. But in between, aye carumba. He gave up a roped double to catcher Carlos Ruiz, the eight hole hitter. Then pinch hitter Ben Francisco nailed one to the North Side Notch. Nymo might have run it down, but Milledge didn't have a chance, and the game was tied.

Francisco tagged to third on a long drive to right, and came in when wunderkind Andrew McCutchen misplayed a Shane Victorino liner hit right at him. Two steps back, it's an out and the inning's over. But he took two steps in, and it became an triple. The Phils were up, 4-3.

But hey, Brad Lidge and his ERA of 7.33 came in to ice the game. He did, all right, but not exactly the way Charlie Manuel planned it. Lidge would face three batters and throw all of five pitches.

Cruz welcomed him with a single, and went to second on a wild pitch. Brian Bixler replaced him on the bases.

Pinch hitter Brandon Moss lined a single into right, and Bixler stopped at third. But RF Werth - in the game, ironically enough, as a defensive substitution for the leather-challenged Matt Stairs - bobbled the ball, and Bix beat the off-line throw home by a gnat's eyelash, with Moss steaming into second.

Then fielding goat Andrew McCutchen stepped to the plate and drilled a first pitch watermelon over the center field fence, giving the Bucs an improbable 6-4 victory over the world champion Philadelphia nine. Ah, sweet redemption.

We'll say this for this team - they at least generally play all nine innings, unlike the 2008 August version of the Pirates. And at this point in their development, you can't ask for much more. Sometimes, you don't need any more.

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