Morning cup: Scratching a 43-year itch

Roberto Clemente was in right field.

Ron Santo was at third base.

We were in Vietnam, 24,000-strong.

Heck, I was in college.

1972. The last year the Pirates and Cubs were both winners, both fighting for the same thing — the championship of the old National League East. The Bucs prevailed, easy, their 96-49 record beating out the Cubs by 11 games. Bill Virdon managed those Pirates.

Now they are fighting for the Wild Card, which in 1972 was only Denny McLain. Enjoy it.

Wrigley Field certainly is. I’m not saying these are the best fans in baseball, but I will say this is the place baseball fans know how to have the best time.

I happened to be in the upper stands on the third base side yesterday when Javier Baez’s dive play into first base on a bunt prompted a “safe” challenge from the Pirates. As replays flashed on the left field video board, Cubs and Bucs fans animatedly — but garrulously — shouted each other down. “Safe!” “Out!” Everyone had wide smile — even after umpires overruled the original call, a big help to the the Pirates in a two-run game.

Shame that the Giants had to lose on the Left Coast late Friday night, clinching a playoff spot for the Cubs while they were sleeping (not! I don’t think anybody in Chicago is asleep at midnight; but you know what I mean). That kinda ruined a Wrigleyville party.

It’ll be like 40,000 showing up at church today, and being told, “Hey, the wedding was last week.”

16 Comments

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Cozmo,

I too was a student of the game. Until I flunked out . . .
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~sigh~
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Don’t know about you. But for me there isn’t much of an off-season. Except maybe for January, during which I usually wish I were a brown bear and could find a cave and then sleep until pitchers & catchers report. I mean like, wow, we have the Arizona Fall League, then Winter Ball, plus various trade rumors swirling around throughout. (To say nothing of the Winter Meetings, which are always chock full of kelw, if invariably fruitless and groundless, rumors and trading intrigue.)
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And in some ways, I find the off-season to be more fun. For example, among those who continue talking about baseball — and the Buccos — there’s usually much less of the banal, the inane, and the self-obvious.
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“Hey, we’re two runs behind. Two men on base. I sure hope Player X hits a home run.”
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I mean, well. Duh . . .
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One thing this season for which I am quite grateful. Namely, that Pope Francis had the wisdom and the understanding not to schedule his USA trip to coincide with the all-crucial Buccos-Cardinals up-coming series. I must confess (no pun intended), I’ve spent huge chunks of my waking hours over the past few days, not thinking about baseball, but instead groovin’ with The Pope. (And now for some strange and inexplicable reason, I have this sudden urge to go out and buy a Fiat. Yikes !!!)
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otoh, I expect that’s a fairly common reaction these days among us Notre Dame grads (even if, in my case, that was decades and decades and decades ago).
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In any case, assuming both the Pirates and the Cardinals win tomorrow, it’s beginning to look to me like we better plan on sweeping the Redbirds if we want any chance of making the season’s final series both memorable and important.
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(Opps . . . Talking about belaboring the obvious, here I am, being just as guilty as everyone else. Oh well . . .) Then again, I may be one of the few people on the planet who wouldn’t mind playing the Cubs at Wrigley, if it came to that. Gerrit Cole this year has pitched better in Chicago than he has at home, and Mr. Arrieta has pitched better in Pittsburgh than he has in front of his own home-town fans . . . You think maybe that’s because they’re less nervous about fan reaction when pitching on the road vs pitching at home ??
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I don’t know. Can’t figure that one at all.
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Maybe that’s part of the reason why, like I said, as a student of baseball, I think by now I’ve totally flunked out.
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regards
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robs, you are right. There is an opinion it would be better to play a WC at Wrigley, as we seem to do better there! I have lived in Chi-Town twice and have been to Wrigley on many beer soaked afternoons. The Bucs and Cubbies have always had a wonderful, not-as-recognized rivalry, even when we both stunk!
ND?! I went to Pitt. My Dad played football for Pitt in the 50’s, and I hated ND for many years!
Now, as I am in the sunset of my youth living at a CC with Lou Holtz (an East Liverpool, OH guy) as my good friend and neighbor, I have lightened up on you guys!!
LETS GO BUCS! Take the division, skip Arieta, have home field for both NLDS and NLCS, then kick some Royal(s) Butt!
I’ll be up in the ‘Burgh for 10/7 and buying the pastrami, egg, and cheeses at Primanti’s! Maybe an Iron or three also….

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Cozmo,
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Pitt is a great university. You can be proud. My mom went to Pitt. (My brother and I were born in The Burgh.) A generation later, I almost did, as well.
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After tonight’s game, I’m not so sure I want us to face Arrieta *anywhere* — yikes !!! Hmmm (he says, thinking) . . . Unless we can somehow get the game moved to a neutral site so no one has home field advantage, like maybe to the mini-planet, Pluto. Now that’s an idea !!! Let’s see how well he pitches from standing on a pitching mound made up of frozen methane gas. Maybe THAT will slow him down some. At this point, I’m not so sure anything else will. (Nevertheless, I still remain giddily and fool-heartedly optimistic. But that’s just me.)
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Personally, I’m not in the business of wishing bad things on anyone. But I guess it wouldn’t hurt too much if someone snuck into the Cubs’ clubhouse and tied Mr. Arrieta’s shoelaces together . . . I mean, like, just for one game . . .
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Time will perhaps, conceivably, tell !!!
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I mean, all we have to do is end the season on a six-game winning streak.
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Every day stuff. How hard can that be ??
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robs- Winning out may be easier than facing Arrieta, even at PNC. How exciting, and the die will be quickly cast, hopefully not tonite.
And Tomo, nice piece ‘Solving Arieta may be key to Bucs’ October’, with Jeff Branson ruminating on the solution. That’s like Ronald McDonald ruminating on how he can convert Jeffery Dahmer to convert to Big Macs from eating human body parts out of his refrigerator!
Branson was fired for good cause, as I have stated many times this year, but still remains bewilderingly to me. He has no clue how to advise our guys how to hit great pitchers, mentally or physically.
We so need to win the division, and let the Cards face Arieta in a one-game matchup. I so don’t want to be at PNC on 10/7 throwing up my Primanti’s sammich into my mouth!

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Cozmo,
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Never been a huge Jeff Branson fan, myself, either. I mean, our team hitting has been pretty good — mostly. Team wRC+, admittedly, is right up there among the team leaders. But power hitting (ISO and HR numbers, e.g.), really have been sub-par most of the season. And for me, here’s a kicker that often seems to get overlooked. Buccos’ team BABIP is season right now is fourth highest among all Major League teams (NL & AL). Me, I call the Batting-Average-Ball-in-Play metric the “sometimes you get lucky” statistic. And this may well be reflected in the Buccos’ “Pythagorean Expected Wins” number. (Based, of course, on total runs scored versus total runs allowed.) According to that Pythagorean metric, right now the Buccos should five more losses and five fewer wins than they currently enjoy. Hitting has been a problem — and you’re 100% correct — that seems to come out most starkly (or perhaps only ??) when our guys face premiere pitchers.
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I can’t see why anyone would be disappointed with where we are in the standings. According to some metrics, we’ve been out-performing what would be “expected,” most of the year. (In this same vein, our 23 one-run wins so far this year leads all of the majors in terms of one-run victories. Imagine if only half of them had gone the other way.) And yes, it could be argued that our sterling bullpen is the reason for the lopsided number of one-run wins. And there is also truth in that. But when you say you’ve been disappointed with Mr. Branson, I for one would take no issue with that.
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I do wonder, however, if it goes deeper than that. I remember an interview with Mr. Huntington, a few years back, where he went on-and-on about how good hitters always wait for the perfect (or near-perfect) pitch that they want to hit. Part of the “working the pitcher” philosophy — in which I have no faith. (I must admit, I went slightly ballistic at the time, reading/hearing that.) Good pitchers especially, you better be aggressive. The first pitch — if it’s a strike — no matter where it is in zone, no matter if it’s your favorite pitch or not, imo you better try darned hard to hit it soundly. It may very well be the best pitch you see in the entire sequence.
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So, my question goes beyond Mr. Branson, all the way down the food chain to the lowest, introduction to pro-ball, minor league affiliates. What kind of hitting instructors do we have at that level ?? What’s their philosophy on hitting ?? How good are they at motivating, and teaching ?? Because once a guy gets to the majors, the “learning curve” should be pretty much completed.
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And do you remember the year when Mr. McCutchen was so frustrated with the hitting advice he was getting, he actually went off (during the off-season), and spent time thinking about and practicing hitting on his own ??
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This of course is not news. The past few years, the Pirates have been known as a team that excelled in pitching. (For which I give credit to Mr. Searage much more than to either Mr. Hurdle or Mr. Huntington — although of course they do have to be given some credit for having the wisdom to listen to him.)
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Buccos’ hitting, overall ?? Cozmo, you and I are on the same wave-length on this one.
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There certainly is more — perhaps much more — room for improvement. I mean, it really would be a bummer to get shut-out by Mr. Arrieta over seven or eight innings in a Wild Card game. (Which may or may not happen. Who knows ??) Then again, five games ahead of the Pythagorean in the W/L column. We can at least take some solace from that.

It’s better to be lucky, and win, than not to be lucky at all.
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As I said at the time —
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“The problem with waiting for ‘your’ pitch is that, against top-tier pitchers, more likely than not you’ll never see it.”
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I have become such a HUGE fan of Mr. Happ . . .
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Through five innings tonight, 48 pitches, one hit, no earned runs. And not against some second-rate line-up. Mr. Searage has clearly worked his own magic again.
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Man, we better sign J.A. to a multi-year contract during the off-season. Personally, I don’t care how much it costs. Let’s just get it done.
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Bases loaded four times in seven innings tonight, and naught to show for it (so far).
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Cozmo must be either rilly smart, or rilly prescient, worrying about our hitting — or lack thereof — sometimes in important situations. Sometimes we’ll score half-a-dozen runs or more. And then, all of a sudden —
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meh . . .
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I can’t figure it out. And tonight we’re not facing over-powering pitchers. (Yeah, I know, many of our hitters have problems with “slow stuff.” But still . . . C’mon, this is an important game. Although I suppose every one of them is as well.)
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A loss in April counts as much as a loss in September.
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How many can we leave on?!

Jeezus K. Rist!
Sorry, I’m Catholic too.

Get ready for Jake.

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Even without the ninth-inning error (or possibly errors), the Cardinals were still going to town versus Mr. Melancon. Two runners on, with only one out. And so it turned out, it took only one run to win. That HR by Reynolds (a .234 hitter) — and on a 0 – 2 count no less, on a “mistake pitch” left too high and too far out over the plate — that merely added insult to injury.
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Well, we’ve now been shut out two games in a row. Couldn’t have come at a more inopportune moment. The opposing team issues you ten walks, you really should expect to score at least a couple of runs.
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~sigh~
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I went to the first Spring Training game v the Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL (Buck Martinez is a good friend).
I have watched every game on MLB or at my favorite bar (which happens to be whichever one I’m in).
We have a great team, but tonight I am dejected. Tom knows I have been calling for a hitting coach all year.

Hitting is made of two components: Mechanics and Mindset. A great hitting coach has to be a master mechanic and a sports psychologist.
Jeff Branson may have studied enough to become a mechanic (as he stunk as a hitter himself), but he clearly is not suitable to be a guru of mindset.
Consider a statistic no one talks about. For lack of a better term, I will call it PMOB- Potential Men Left On Base. That would be where men on base are not driven in by a hitter, no matter what out it was, not just counted at the end of an inning.
Last night we left a staggering 35 PMOBs! That’s the responsibility of the Guru!

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