Monday, May 09, 2011

Evening It Out

Photo credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

"It" being the Pirates' season record, now at an even .500 for the first time this "late" in a season since Jun 11, 2005, when the Bucs reached a 30-30 mark before sliding suddenly into a precipitous spiral that's taken this long to reverse. Six years. But who's counting?

That 2005 team was almost an entirely different* Pirates crew, skippered by Lloyd McClendon, who seemingly lost control of himself and the team on the one day (in Yankee Stadium) when they had a chance to go 31-30 but blew a late lead on a bad call, and promptly went on to lose -- repeatedly and ignominously -- the rest of that stretch of interleague play (the Yankees, Boston, Baltimore), all the way through the rest of that season and ever since for the next half-a-decade under the volatile McCendon, the loquacious Jim Tracy and the imperturbable John Russell.

But that was then. This is now. And "now" has an entirely different feel than "then."

This year's edition of the Buccos, led by manager Clint Hurdle, feels fresher, more upbeat and more real than any we've seen in a long, long time. Not a finished product, by any means, and maybe a little fragile, but a team that is beginning to find itself and one that is surprisingly resilient.

After starter James McDonald pitched six stellar shutout innings (8 strikeouts vs. just two walks) and the Pirates cruising into the seventh on a 3-0 lead, the Astros quickly staged a rally vs. Chris Resop, who has been mostly reliable. The sudden turnabout was sickening, and the game abruptly had the feel of a crushing defeat.

Reliever Joe Beimel pitched a smooth 1-2-3 eighth, however, to steady things, and the Pirates staged a rally of their own in the bottom of the inning with a Neil Walker hit, a Steve Pearce walk and Ryan Doumit's exclamation mark of three-run homer to put the Pirates back in the lead. Joel Hanrahan closed out the ninth, and everybody went home happy.

It would have been a feel-good win in any case, but this one has a bit more sail to it and carries a little more "oomph" by virtue of the team reaching .500 -- 21 percent through the 162-game schedule!

We're one-fifth of the way through the season and not out of the race yet! Whooppeee!

Fans in other cities must think all this feel-good excitement and optimism is pathetic, but they haven't endured the past 18 seasons the way Pirates' fans have.

And, hey, right now, the Pirates are 17-17, in third place in the N.L. Central, trailing the division-leading Cardinals by just two-and-a-half games ... and leaving Houston (13-21), Milwaukee (14-20) and Chicago (15-18) all looking up at the Bucs in the standings.

Reaching .500 is a bit of a milestone, but hopefully just a mark on the road to better times ahead.

It's a start, and ya gotta start somewhere. Let's hope they keep it going.

Next up: The Dodgers at PNC Park, 7:05 p.m.; Jeff Karstens vs. Chad Billinglsley.

*Footnote: In a bit of irony (or is it coincidence?), the one player from that 2005 team still on the Pirates is Ryan Doumit, the hero of yesterday's game, who made his major league debut on June 5, 2005).

Dissa n Data ...
For what it's worth, The Houston Chronicle reports the Astros bullpen has been atrocious:

The Astros, who fell to 13-21, have seen their bullpen blow nine of its 14 save chances this season, which is easily the worst rate in the National League. The rotating cast of nine characters has a composite ERA of 5.54, the worst in the league and more than two full runs above the NL average.

It’s hard to figure which of the blown saves was the most excruciating, and really, it’s a fruitless exercise. But Sunday’s was certainly close.


Eileen, Founder, Organizer, Mayor and Chief Cook And Bottle Washer of the Anger Management Girls. said...

Hopefully their luck will continue on. AMG's annual outing at the ball yard is on Wednesday. FUN!!!

Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls said...

Try not to get tasered.