Monday, September 28, 2009

Big Blue Gets Big Boot

Who would believe it? The down-and-out Buccos, after being broomed by the Reds, came back and took three out of four from the Big Blue Dodger machine, taking their last PNC outing of the season by a runaway 11-1 margin.

Today, they clicked both pitching and hitting, a phenomena rarely associated with the Pirates. Zach Duke was masterful, and we're sure he's wondering where all those runs were in past starts. Still, he'll gladly take them.

He gave up a run on four hits in 8-2/3 innings, walking one and whiffing six, needing only 103 pitches. John Russell mystifyingly yanked him with two outs in the ninth and the bases empty.

The crowd jeered JR both on the trip out and back, sandwiched around a brief O for Duke. But Donnie Veal came in and K'd Blake DeWitt to make it a moot point.

We suppose complete games, in the scheme of things, aren't valued very highly any more. Hey, maybe he was on a 100-pitch count, or was pulled after blowing his chance for a shutout. For whatever reason, it certainly didn't earn JR any points.

Zach Duke, BTW, opened and closed the 2009 slate at PNC Park with wins. He shut out the Astros for a complete game victory back on April 13th. But his day was only the second best among Buccos.

Andy LaRoche spoke softly and carried a huge stick against his old club. He went 5-for-5 with two homers, two doubles, four runs scored and six RBI, Willie Stargell-like numbers. The fans liked it; he got a curtain call from the dugout.

In the series, he was 10-for-18 with four doubles, four dingers, seven runs scored and nine RBI. Maybe he is what the Pirate's hoped for, after all. Or maybe he just has a log-sized chip on his shoulder; we;ll find out in 2010.

The second inning was pivotal, when Dodger miscues cost them a chance to jump ahead and later handed the Bucs an early cushion. In the top of the inning, Matt Kemp started on second after a Luis Cruz throw away, but was doubled up when Cruz ran down a pop-up. Mark Loretta followed with a single, and was picked off breaking to second by Duke. Big promise, no results for LA.

An error and back-to-back hits plated a pair for the Bucs in their half of the frame, and then they went wild with two away. An Andrew McCutchen walk, Andy LaRoche double and Garrett Jones single - probably should have walked him again, Joe - made it 5-0, and Pittsburgh never looked back.

After a long, hard season, the Pirates finally gave the home boys something to cheer for. And maybe some hope for 2010.

-- Ronny Cedeno sat out again with sore hammys. We're wondering if he's hurt a little more than the Bucs are letting on, or if the suits decided this was the time to give Luis Cruz an audition. They have been extremely cautious with September tweaks, good for next year maybe, but a contributing factor to this season's finish.

-- A couple of the beat writers have suggested the suits are whispering sweet nothings to the media about Matt Capps in an effort to boost his trade value in the off season. Good luck with that.

-- The crowd of 16,696 fixed the 2009 season attendance total at 1,577,853 (19,480/game). That's the new low water mark, breaking 2004's total of 1,583,031 (and they only played 80 home games that year). It's the second time that attendance has dropped under 20,000 in PNC Park history, and the lowest since 1998 at TRS (19,271). The Pirates finished 40-41 at PNC this year.

-- The LA Times writer Dylan Hernandez reports that the Dodger visitors' clubhouse at PNC was wrapped in plastic and stocked with celebratory championship hats, tee shirts, and champagne after they went ahead in the top of the ninth yesterday. Of course, the Buccos pulled it out, and the Dodger clubhouse guy said "It took about 35 seconds to tear everything down." No worries about today's party; it's in the other locker room.

-- Reports from the Bay are that San Francisco is unlikely to exercise the $8.1M option on Freddy Sanchez for 2010 and he hinted yesterday that he'd rather hit the open market than agree to a new deal with the Giants at a lower salary.

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