Sunday, August 05, 2012

Just Win, Baby

"What did I say?"
A.J. Burnett leads the Pirates today, as he takes the mound vs. Homer Bailey and the Reds in Cincinnati.  "Leads" is the operative word in that sentence, and Burnett's leadership has been key to the Pirates' success this year.  Burnett has been the "stopper" of modest losing streaks all season, and, if the Pirates ever needed veteran leadership to right the ship, today's the day.

A word of advice to Pirates' hitters today:  You might as well crowd the plate.  Take away the inside pitch.  If you get hit by a pitch, the ump should eject the Red's' pitcher.  That, essentially, was the message from last night's home plate umpire, Brian Gorman.

We all know what happened Friday night: Reds' flame-thrower Aroldis Chapman nearly decapitated Andrew McCutchen with a 101-mph rising fastball accelerating toward McCutchen's head, only to be interrupted by his shoulder, thank heaven.  After which, the following happened on Saturday:
After the ejection.
  1. Pittsburgh sports-talkers clamored for retaliation
  2. The umpires neglected to issue pre-game warnings to both teams
  3. The Reds jumped to a 2-0 first-inning lead, aan-n-nd ... 
  4. With two outs in the top of the second, Reds starter Mike Leake apparently decided (or was prompted by manager Dusty Baker) to preempt any retaliation that might come from the Pirates -- by deliberately drilling Bucs' shortstop Josh Harrison with a hip-level fastball.
  5. An unhappy Harrison glared briefly at Locke, who immediately lurched off the mound aggressively, tauntingly, in Harrison's direction, as if to say, "Hey, you want a piece of me?  At least I didn't throw at your head!  I got the first shot in tonight.  What're you gonna do about it?" 
  6. Umpire Gorman warned both dugouts that any more hit-batsmen would lead to ejections.
  7. Pittsburgh manager Cint Hurdle approached Gorman, reasonably enough, to ask about the warning and to plead his case.  At first, Hurdle appeared calm and seemed to be saying, "What did we do?"  It was a brief discussion.
  8. Hurdle didn't appear particularly confrontational or overly agitated, but after, oh, 30 seconds, Hurdle shrugged, peaceably enough (so far as we could tell).  That was it.
  9. Gorman erupted with the classic heave-ho.  At which point, Hurdle did get in his say-so, and he did become vociferously confrontational and finger-pointingly agitated, and understandably so.  Not that it did him or the Pirates any good, but at least he said his piece before treading to the clubhouse and leaving bench coach Jeff Bannister in charge.
At which point we, as Pirates fans, would have expected Bannister to rally the troops and exhort his hitters to crowd the plate. Crowd the plate!  Force Leake to throw way off the outside part of the plate, if that's the direction he was going to go.

As it turned out, Leake worked the outside part of the plate all through his six innings, consistently nibbling the outside corner, especially against left-handers (Alex Presley, Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez, Travis Snider).  While Presley and Jones did just fine -- both went two-four -- Alvarez and Snider had putrid at-bats, swung early in the count at outside pitches, and seemed to play directly into Leake's hands.  They should have stepped right over the plate and dared Leake to challenge them.

It's time to rally the team.
Today's game is crucial. The Pirates have a number of young players in key roles.  It's the perfect time for a steady veteran presence, and leadership.  Win, and the Pirates leave Cincinnati on a winning note, four-and-a-half games back of the first-place Reds and still within striking distance.  Lose, and the Pirates drop to six-and-a-half back, scrabbling for purchase in the wild-card race.

It's a big game today.  A.J. Burnett, the Pirates' nation turns its eyes to you.