The (Wednesday) Rewind, Deja Vu edition

For a couple innings Wednesday night, the heads of some older baseball fans were exploding with deja vu thoughts. In the fourth, When Melky Cabrera was called for catcher’s interference for stepping in front of Francisco Cervelli as Adam Eaton was swiping second — resulting in both White Sox being called out — it kept Jose Abreu’s ensuing single from resulting in a run.
When Jeff Locke finished putting up that zero and then added another, the shutout string of Pirates pitchers reached 35 and they were also within four frames of a sixth shutout in seven games, forging into historic territory.
The circumstances were so eerily similar to those in 1968 that enabled Don Drysdale to break Walter Johnson’s record for consecutive innings pitched. In the ninth inning on May 31, 1968, with the bases loaded, the Dodgers’ Drysdale hit Dietz of the Giants — of course! – with a pitch. But — umpire Harry Wendelstedt ruled that Dietz had not tried to get out of the way, and waved off the run-scoring  HBP.
Big D finished off his fifth consecutive shutout, went on to beat Johnson’s record of 56 scoreless innings, and didn’t stop until 58 (since, Orel Hershiser has pushed that mark to 59). … 
Oh, the Bucs did extend to 37 innings another streak of not having an opposition runner on third base — ‘cause Eaton and Cabrera both ran through it on their way to scoring from second. Duh. … 
After the game, I tried to congratulate Mark Melancon on his 20th consecutive save conversion, and for continuing to lower his ERA, now down to 1.93. He had no idea what I was talking about. Seriously.
“I don’t know. I really don’t,” he said of his developing stats. “I don’t pay attention to it. I don’t really like to know. I feel good, the bullpen’s been doing well, keeping leads … that’s all that matters.” … 
We’ve been doting on the starters, for putting up an 0.55 ERA in the course of the seven-game winning streak. The relievers, as the saying goes, ain’t been chopped liver — 0.90 across the same stretch. … 
Well, pigs did not fly. But the Cardinals did lose on a night the Pirates won. Close enough. …

The (Wednesday) Windup, “Hunting” Bany edition

Clint Hurdle had no reason to be aware of the White Sox’s schedule until he got to the visiting manager’s office in U.S. Cellular Field. That’s when he realized that following the Pirates into Chicago will be the Texas Rangers, managed by Jeff Banister, his former bench coach and good friend.

“I’ll probably leave something in the drawer here for him,” Hurdle said from behind his desk. “Leave him some music, maybe.”

Hurdle acknowledged keeping close tabs on the Rangers — who, as did the Pirates, came out of an early-season tailspin to play better ball the last six weeks. Or, as Hurdle put it, “I hunt him. I follow. I’m a big fan of the Rangers, have been ever since I left there (after being Texas’ batting coach in 2010).” …

The Bucs’ lineup tonight, noteworthy because Andrew McCutchen is making his second career start at DH — the other was in 2011 — and the absence for the fourth straight game (all against lefty starters) of Pedro Alvarez:

  • Harrison, 2b
  • Marte cf
  • McCutchen dh
  • Kang 3b
  • Cervelli 2
  • Mercer ss
  • Rodriguez lf
  • Hart 1b
  • Polanco rf
  • [Locke p]

Where are the people who were throwing darts at Mark Melancon two months ago? Why aren’t they showering him with rose petals now? Nineteen straight saves, an ERA that was 8.53 on April 21 down to 1.99. That’s an amazing statistical nosedive. … 

The Shark’s 70th Pirates save on Tuesday, incidentally, tied Jose Mesa for fifth on the club’s all-time list. …

Never mind that the Bucs already have more series sweeps (seven) this season than they had in all of 2014 (five) — last year, they did not even wield their first broom until July 6, that’s the noteworthy part. … 

The (Tuesday) Windup, Zip-Zip Hooray edition

If you surf the Web or turn on the tube, you know chicks aren’t the only ones who dig the long ball. Headlines and highlights dote over homer exploits — so the Pirates fly under the radar. They are an anachronism with their dead-ball style pitching. Zip, zip, hooray is so old school.

The Pirates have hit two homers in their last eight games. Oh … they’ve won six of them. …

The Mound Murderers Row’s fabulous run of pitching — the whole staff, really, not just the starters — has the team ERA at 2.79. Rather than focus on the fact that still trails the Cardinals, I think it’s far more significant that it is more than a full run lower than the NL average if 3.81. … 

Francisco Liriano’s eight-inning gem on Monday night generated a Game Score of 89, the Pirates’ third-best in 13 years. A.J. Burnett’s July 31, 2012 one-hitter over the Cubs and Todd Ritchie’s one-hitter over the Royals on July 13, 2001 both scored 91s. …

Man, talk about tough acts to follow. But it’s been ongoing for more than a week. Next to take up the dare is Charlie Morton:

  • Harrison rf
  • Marte lf
  • McCutchen cf
  • Kang 3b
  • Cervelli c
  • Mercer ss
  • Walker 2b
  • Rodriguez 1b
  • Morton p
This will be Marte’s eighth start of the season in the two-hole. He’s 16-for-32 (.500) there but, don’t worry, he’ll eventually get the hang of it. …

The Bucs playing their first game in an American League ballpark tomorrow night and facing yet another White Sox lefty [John Danks] would appear to provide the perfect opportunity for Corey Hart’s next expedition to find his swing. But he may not be the automatic choice to DH. The role, his primary job with the Mariners last season, gave him problems. Hart hit .196 as a DH, with merely 18 RBIs in 215 plate appearances. … 

Pirates hitters are loving taking batting practice off Chris Peters, who is receiving high marks from Clint Hurdle as well. Still, the club has lined up a couple of other left-handers to come in next week to throw BP. It may just be a case of Peters, a busy man with family and other endeavors, being unavailable.

The (Friday) Rewind: 13th on the 13th edition

Yeah, it started on Friday the 12th. But you should note the Bucs win in the 13th in the wee minutes of the 13th and there were some other figures to entertain triskaidekaphobics among us:

  • The Phillies left 13 men on base
  • Hit No. 13 won it for the Pirates
  • Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen combined to go 0-for-13.

So the Bucs won a game in which they stranded 17 runners and the top three men in their lineup combined to go 3-for-20. That, in a sense, is a very good thing. … 

I imagine the Bucs — like most clubs — would be in deep trouble without Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano to injuries. So you gotta hand it to the Cardinals — Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn — all down. And they’re the first big league club to reach 40 wins. … 

Oh, the irony: Fans were originally stripped of their right to vote for All-Star Game starters after 1957, when Cincinnati fans stuffed ballots to elect seven (Stan Musial got the nod at first base) of the Reds regulars. Until the fans’ voting rights were restored in 1970, uniformed personnel — players, manager, coaches — picked the teams.

So now, without nearly as much controversy, seven Royals are leading the American League vote. The irony? Next month’s Midsummer Classic will be played in … Cincinnati. … 

Elias Sports Bureau’s postscript to last night’s game ranks as my favorite historical context of the season: Before Chris Stewart, the last Pirates player to score in a 1-0 home win in the 13th was … Honus Wagner. …

My contextual contribution: The Flying Dutchman scored that run to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers on Aug. 29, 1914 — a month after World War I broke out. … 

The (Friday) Windup: Correia returns edition

Let’s welcome Kevin Correia back to town. He was an outstanding “team pitcher” during his Pirates tenure and, let’s not forget, one of the pivots in the franchise’s turnaround — the Bucs were 105-game losers when he came, and postseason contenders when he left. …

We’ve heard enough about A.J. Burnett being the Majors’ biggest loser last season, with 18. But right behind him — Correia, with 17 losses camouflaged by the fact it was split between two leagues and teams, the Twins and the Dodgers. …

His Philadelphia debut tonight will be Correia’s first big league start since September. …

Something else that hasn’t happened since September: The Phillies winning a series away from Citizens Bank Park. So it’s a good thing the Pirates’ manager doesn’t believe in the law of averages, because the Phillies have gone 14-32 on the road since that last win, Sept. 5-7 in Washington. That includes 10-23 this season — their first time they’ve lost 23 of their first 33 away games since 1941. …

Pirates lineup v Correia:

  • Polanco RF
  • Marte LF
  • McCutchen CF
  • Walker 2B
  • Harrison 3B
  • Alvarez 1B
  • Cervelli C
  • Mercer SS
  • Locke P

Watching Pedro Alvarez’s latest bomb leave PNC Park — the 438-foot shot onto the riverwalk Wednesday night — I was struck by how captivating it would have been to see him bat in Forbes Field.

I was blessed to have been able to attend many games at the ole yard, and the right field roof was a Holy Grail for left-handed hitters. Few conquered it. In Forbes Field’s 62 seasons, only 18 balls were hit over that roof, by 10 different hitters:

Babe Ruth, Ted Beard, Mickey Mantle, Wally Moon, Bob Skinner (2), Eddie Mathews (2), Jerry Lynch, Rusty Staub, Willie McCovey, and Willie Stargell (7).

El Toro would have taken regular shots at that target. …

Corey Hart — remember him? — will soon come out of hiding. The Bucs will face Cole Hamels on Sunday, and will also get lefties the next three games against the White Sox — Carl;os Rodon, Jose Quintana and John Danks.

“I’ve never had a season with such a lack of left-handed pitching against us,” Hurdle said of the Bucs having thus far seen only eight southpaw starters. …

The (Wednesday) Rewind, clean shaven edition

Jordy Mercer shaved off his beard prior to Wednesday night’s game, then went out and went 3-for-3.

Ballplayers are superstitious. But Mercer can’t shave off his beard again. He might shave off Sean Rodriguez’s beard before Friday night’s game. By the time the entire team is clean shaven, Mercer could be a .300 hitter. … 

Charlie Morton’s gem kept the Pirates rotation hogging wins. That’s 17 straight team wins claimed by starters — a Pittsburgh first since July 12-August 25, 1987.

Big difference: The Bucs’ overall record during the current streak is 17-11; during the ’87 run, the team record was 17-23. …

Good thing the starters — and relievers; can’t ignore their contributions because none of those 17 were complete games! — have kept up their end, because the offense is going through one of its funks. With 10 runs the last five games, the Bucs have been fortunate to win two of them.

Manager Clint Hurdle blames the lull on “a number of quick-fire at-bats,” the opposite of working counts. Sure enough, in that five-game span, hitters have seen an average of 3.5 pitches per at-bat. …

By the way, Pittsburgh’s rotation isn’t the only one in the Majors doing strange things. In a somewhat related note, the Blue Jays have won 18 games since May 4, with not a single save by their bullpen. … 

The Cleveland Indians, who a few years ago had both CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee help them to a 96-win season, just called up a pitcher named C.C. Lee. What’s in a name, you ask? The Tribe will soon find out. …

The (Wednesday) Windup, Kang Kare edition

The Pirates created great panic in Korea by using their top three picks in the First-Year Player Draft on left-side infielders (two shortstops and a third baseman). Fans there grew alarmed that the Draft strategy was somehow a reflection on Jung Ho Kang.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. The Bucs, with the agenda of taking the best available athlete at any Draft stage, used their No. 1 on a shortstop (Cole Tucker) last June, too — with Jordy Mercer already firmly established as their guy. And, of course, quite a few prospects end up at a different position than how they are drafted (i.e., Neil Walker and now first baseman Josh Bell). …

Tonight’s lineup, without, surprisingly, Jose Tabata — lifetime 15-for-36 (.417) versus Kyle Lohse:

  • Polanco RF
  • Marte LF
  • McCutchen CF
  • Walker 2B
  • Kang 3B
  • Alvarez 1B
  • Cervelli C
  • Mercer SS
  • Morton P

The last day the Pirates and the Cardinals did not match either wins or losses when both played: June 1 (while the Brewers have been taking care of the Bucs, the Cards were losing two in Colorado). … 

Clint Hurdle refuses to attribute one run in two games against Milwaukee to the fact the Bucs were due to cool off after two weeks of lusty hitting.

“I don’t expect us not to hit just because we’ve hit,” Hurdle says. “I don’t believe in the law of averages.”

I didn’t get a chance to ask him how he feels about the law of on-base percentages. … 

The (Tuesday) Windup, MISsed oPportunity edition

In their Monday night/Tuesday morning loss, the Pirates left nine men on base and were 0-for-10 with men in scoring position — glaring for a slim  2-0 whitewash.

Indeed, the Bucs had not suffered a bigger clutch oh-fer in a home shutout defeat since Sept. 22, 2004, when they were 0-for-11 with MISP in a 1-0 blanking by the Cubs. … 

Facing Taylor Jungmann tonight in the Brewers righty’s Major League debut, the Pirates will be trying to solve a pitcher they had never seen before for the fourth time in the last eight games.

The previous results in this stretch have been good. The Bucs emerged victorious in two of the three, and nicked San Diego’s Odrisamer Despaigne, San Francisco’s Chris Heston and the Braves’ Williams Perez for 10 runs in 16 2/3 innings. …

Jungmann’s first big league obstacles:

  • Harrison 3b
  • Polanco rf
  • McCutchen cf
  • Walker 2b
  • Marte lf
  • Alvarez 1b
  • Cervelli 2
  • Mercer ss
  • Liriano p

Veteran lefty Clayton Richard continues to get rave reviews as he works at Indianapolis toward a return to the bigs. He turned in his second consecutive seven-inning start on Monday, holding Rochester to one unearned run. That outing reduced his ERA for six Triple-A starts to 1.69.

“This is the first time he’s been able to take the ball every fifth day in some time,” Hurdle said of Richard, working his way back from surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome. “He’s encouraged about that, and looking forward to getting more reps to develop his pitches.”

Definitely something that bears watching. Richard didn’t exercise a March 31 opt-out in his Minor League contract with the Bucs, feeling they offered him the best opportunity to return to the Majors. … 

The (Sunday) Windup, Emil Yde edition

Quite an interesting karma-coincidence this morning in the Turner Field visitors’ clubhouse: The big screen flashed with the FOX Sports broadcast of a UCLA football game from the archives. Here in the Deep South. A couple hours before proud Uclan Gerrit Cole would take the mound. Strange, hopefully in a good way. … 

Cole, by the way, would become the first Pirates pitcher in 90 years to reach 30 wins within  his first 53 Major League starts. The last to do that was Emil Yde, in 1924-25. Yes, that Emil Yde. ….

The Pirates may still win the World Series, as Buster Olney predicted, but I don’t think it will be over the Seattle Mariners. … 

The Pirates’ lineup forms on the right, please, against Braves southpaw Alex Wood:

  • Harrison 2b
  • Mercer ss
  • McCutchen cf
  • Marte lf
  • Kang 3b
  • Tabata rf
  • Rodriguez 1b
  • Stewart c
  • Cole p

This is probably a good day for a lefty to face the Bucs and provide a convenient excuse for Gregory Polanco to sit out the start. He tweaked his knee while diving back to first on one of Julio Teheran’s pickoff attempts Saturday night, and is limping considerably. Thanks to the magic of ice, manager Clint Hurdle felt he’d be able to come off the bench if needed. … 

The Bucs have lost a total of 25 games. Saturday night’s was the eighth walk-off, and the 11th last at-bat defeat. Ouch. … 

The (Friday) Windup, starters rule edition

Quite a phenomenon has been overlooked in the wake of the 11-out-of-13 run the Pirates brought into Turner Field: Their starting pitchers earned all 11 of those wins and, in fact, have received credit for the Bucs’ last 14 victories, since May 11.

Stuff like that just doesn’t happen in this bullpen era. The fact none of those have been complete games attests to the efficiency of Buccos relievers, but manager Clint Hurdle also credited his offense — still not firing on all gears, but at least early and timely.

“It’s been our best offensive spurt of the year as well. You’ve gotta get your starters some runs to put them in that position,” Hurdle said. “The magic number for any team is four (runs), and we’ve been able to put up a lot of fours the last two weeks.”

In each of the last 11 wins, in fact. … 

Former Buccos closer Jason Grilli, now doing his thing for the Braves, exchanged a pre-game hug with A.J. Burnett and told him, “I should be retiring … you’re having a helluva season, man.” … 

Hurdle explained to reporters this afternoon why he finds himself out of the loop with other sports during baseball season:

“When I multi-task, I’m multi-mediocre.” … 

It follows, then, that tonight’s Pirates lineup had his undivided attention:

  • Polanco RF
  • Marte LF
  • McCutchen CF
  • Walker 2B
  • Kang 3B
  • Alvarez 1B
  • Cervelli C
  • Mercer SS
  • Morton P

Friday is National Doughnut Day. That means Vance Worley, who consumed two doughnuts prior to every start but now is in the bullpen, should still be ready. … 

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