August 2012

Presley, McPherson up — and in (postseason pic)

The Pirates’ roster for a possible postseason appearance came into surprising focus Friday, when the club recalled from Indianapolis outfielder Alex Presley and right-handed starter Kyle McPherson.

To make room for them on the 25-man roster, infielder Chase d’Arnaud was optioned to Bradenton and first baseman Jeff Clement was outrighted to the same Single-A club.

Rosters for postseason eligibility are frozen at 11:59 p.m. on August 31. The move with Clement frees a spot on the 40-man roster, leaving open the possibility for general manager Neal Huntington to make another move prior to that deadline.

Presley returns for his third stint with the Pirates. He has hit .234 in 77 games, the most recent on Aug. 7.

McPherson made a brief, impressive Major League debut on Aug. 22 in San Diego, shutting out the Padres for two innings on one hit, with two strikeouts.

d’Arnaud did not appear in a game following his recall from Indianapolis on Tuesday, the day after second baseman Neil Walker had been shelved by lower-back tightness.

Clement was 0-for-6, in one start and other pinch-hitting appearances, after being called up from Indianapolis a week ago.

Beat ‘em Bucs – again!

Okay, they’re not going away.

Maybe they’re even going all the way.

The Pirates just made September meaningful, something certainly worth celebrating in song.

Not just any song. The spirits of Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Bob Moose and all the other guardian angels have just been joined by Benny Benack.

“Let’s Go Bucs!” is too vanilla, too generic.

Time to revert to that rally cry unique to this historic team. Time to Beat ‘em Bucs.

Bedard pitched, shrugged his way out the door

Erik Bedard wasn’t going to make his next start anyway. His turn would’ve come up on Sept. 1, with the expanded rosters, and one of the callups from Indianapolis — Kyle McPherson or Jeff Locke — would have taken the ball that day in Milwaukee.

So the only notable thing about his release was the timing: It clears him from the August roster, and gives the Pirates the chance to add someone else who would be eligible for postseason play.

Sure, right now that may seem like a pipe dream. People right now think the Pirates’ soundtrack consists of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Slip Sliding Away.” But that playoff shot is still only a modest streak away. No way Bedard was going to get a postseason start. So why burn a roster spot on hm?

Speaking of burning … Bedard’s reactions to his mound meltdowns may have had as much to do with his release as the meltdowns themselves.

Reporters were bemused by Bedard’s nonchalant dismissal of terrible outings. Despite manager Clint Hurdle’s frequent defense of the left-hander as a far fiercer competitor inside than what he shows on the outside, there is every indication he took the same cavalier attitude with management as he did with media.

That can get old quickly. Well, in five months, for sure.

The postscript of Bedard’s last start, in Sunday’s 7-0 loss to the Brewers, was typical.

The lefty felt the curve ball on which Carlos Gomez had hit a go-ahead three-run homer was well-located, low enough that “if he doesn’t swing, it hits the dirt.”

A few minutes earlier, Hurdle had said the breaking pitch “was up, right in the path of his swing.”

If you’re the manager and your pitcher says such contradictory things, it will drive you up the wall. At some point, it helps you say, “Enough.” Especially when the package includes 14 losses and a 5.01 ERA. 

No wonder Bucs were road-weary

In the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s 19-inning victory in St. Louis, Bucs skipper Clint Hurdle said that as the game progressed, he didn’t flash back to last summer’s 19-inning game in Atlanta. Instead, with his club set to take off for San Diego after the game, he kept thinking of a similar experience with his 2008 Rockies.

“We played 23 innings in San Diego in a night game, then flew to Houston. Got in there at 10:30 in the morning, and had to play that night,” Hurdle said with a chuckle.

So Monday night’s game against the Padres was not the first time Hurdle’s travel-weary club had to play on the verge of exhaustion. The Pirates looked it, too, in a listless 3-1 loss to the Friars. It was excusable, too.

According to my research, very few teams in history have ever had to go through what the Pirates did in a 36-hour span: Play 19 innings on the road, then travel for another road game the next day.

It has happened only seven times — with those 2008 Rockies being one of only two teams to win both halves of the grind. One limitation of this research: Lists of marathons include only games of 20-plus innings, so ideally there must have been other situations involving 19-inning games which are not included.

But according to available records, here’s the rundown of teams that played long in one city and had to play the next day in a different city:

  • 1917 Pirates: Aug 22, lost in Brooklyn 6-5 in 22 innings; Aug. 23, lost in Boston 2-1.
  • 1918 Phillies: July 17, lost in Chicago 2-1 in 21 innings; July 18, won in Pittsburgh 1-0 (in 13 innings).
  • 1927 Cubs: May 17, won in Boston 4-3 in 22 innings; May 18, won in Brooklyn 7-4.
  • 1971 Senators: Sept. 14, won in Cleveland 8-6 in 20 innings; Sept. 15, lost in Detroit 4-2.
  • 1993 Dodgers: July 7, lost in Philadelphia 7-6 in 20 innings; July 8, split a doubleheader in New York, winning 11-8 before losing 6-3.
  • 2008 Rockies: April 17, won in San Diego 2-1 in 22 innings; April 18, won in Houston 11-5.
  • 2012 Pirates: Aug. 19, won in St. Louis 6-3 in 19 innings; Aug. 20, lost in San Diego 3-1.

Aug 20: Hurdle wants to make a call

Right off the bat … hats off to Kevin Correia. His reaction to his first removal from the rotation — “I’m a starter. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt here. So maybe I should be moved elsewhere.” — brought some fans down on him who perceived it as being selfish.

Some selfish. Here’s hoping he puts in a knockout five, six innings on the Padres tonight in San Diego — the day after making a great relief contribution to yesterday’s 19-inning win in St. Louis. Special seasons are built on such special episodes.

Speaking of San Diego … I ain’t there. Travel plans put in place long ago. This could be a problem. Those following me on Twitter are aware of a weird/disturbing trend I couldn’t help but finally share with Clint Hurdle late Sunday in St. Louis.

The Pirates had just won a 19-inning game in unimaginable fashion. They’d lost their last 19-inning game also in unimaginable fashion. I hadn’t been in Atlanta on July 26, 2011, but I was in St. Louis yesterday. So …

Me: “I’ll see you back in Pittsburgh. I’m skipping San Diego.”

Hurdle: “Okay, travel safe.”

“I need to tell you something I haven’t mentioned before because, well, it’s too weird.”

“What have you got?”

“You know you’ve got a pretty good record overall … but know what you are in games I’ve missed?”

“What?”

“10-20. Do the math for games I haven’t missed.”

“Is that right?”

“Like I said, weird. When I was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh … “

“Yeah, I know the background … “

“Wait — I was convinced the Bucs couldn’t win if I wasn’t in Forbes Field. But that was just a juvenile superstition. Eerie for that karma to pick up forty years later.”

“Well, you gotta get to San Diego.”

“Nah. Plans are firm.”

“Who do I have to call?”

“Just go to San Diego — and prove me wrong.”

To be continued.

Bucs have a lot of moving pieces

We’ve all played those sliding-tiles puzzle games, where you try to move all the pieces in the right place to complete the picture.

That’s what Clint Hurdle was looking at this morning as he contemplated his roster. His tiles:

  • Jordy Mercer, who definitely is going on paternity leave for the Monday birth of his son, Maverick — but might instead be placed on the DL depending on the medical evaluation of the bruised right forearm he suffered when hit by a pitch Saturday.
  • Jose Tabata, who returned from Indianapolis and is in he clubhouse this morning — but hadn’t yet been formally recalled, pending others’ status.
  • Starling Marte, whose torso was heavily bandaged after he’d left Saturday’s game with right-side discomfort; definitely out today, maybe longer, again pending medical evaluations.
  • Chad Qualls, the reliever who is due back from the bereavement list on Monday and is expected to meet the club in San Diego.

“We’re working through some medical issues with two players and we got him here in case one of those is deemed unable to perform and might have to go on the DL,” Hurdle said of Tabata. “But we wouldn’t havew him here if we didn’t anticipate the need.”

So, stay tuned for all the pieces to fall in place.

Oh — the rotation has also been tightened up, with Kevin Correia returning to the bullpen. In the six-man setup, Kevin would’ve started the opener in San Diego. Instead, everyone else moves up — Wandy Rodriguez on Monday, A.J. Burnett on Tuesday, James McDonald on Wednesday.

A trip down Memory Lane — Literally

Pittsburgh’s sports present — this Pirates summer — has been pretty good. But I’ve taken a timeout the last couple of days to visit the past, with a wonderful tour guide — George Van Benko.

I’ve been curled up with Van Benko’s Memory Lane books. This lane winds through local communities, and these books allows you to travel with many of the legends who have been pillars of Western Pennsylvania’s sports lore.

Van Benko is a legend himself, department of media, and recently came out with a second volume to 2011′s very successful original Memory Lane book. The Memory Lane books essentially are collections of Van Benko’s weekly Memory Lane columns in the Uniontown Herald Standard, which bring back to life the feats and voices of the area’s sports heroes.

The parade down Memory Lane II includes the likes of baseball’s Ed Roebuck, basketball’s Julie Jones Venick and football’s Harry Clarke and Joe Righetti among the 32 individuals and teams profiled. I enjoy the reads just because they are well-written and entertaining even though, not having been in the area for decades, I can’t make a personal connection with those profiled. Those who can will relish it to a higher degree.

And Von Benko is just warming up. He is currently at work on another Memory Lane sure to have national appeal: Transcripts of interviews he has conducted on his radio talk show, with everyone from John Brodie to Dick Enberg to Harvey Haddix.

The Memory Lane books are available at various online outlets such as barnesandnoble.com, and amazon. com, at local Bradley retail outlets and at the website of the Fayette County Hall of Fame – of which Van Benko is a member.

On the Barajas-Burnett Watch

When A.J. Burnett was approached in the Pirates’ locker room and asked about his National League Player of the Week Award, he nodded a couple lockers to his left.

“They should give it to Rod Barajas. He’s the reason, he should get Player of the Week,” Burnett said.

“All I know,” Barajas said, “is when I was catching Curt Schilling (with Arizona in 2000-03) and he was named Player of the Week, he gave me a watch.”

“He gave you a lousy watch because he didn’t need it,” Burnett came back. “He thought, ‘What the heck am I gonna do with this $5 watch. I know what — I’ll give it to Barajas.’”

“It’s the thought that counts,” Barajas said.

“We need to quit this heckling,” Burnett said. “People are going to think we like each other.”

Gee, how would anyone get that idea?

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