Scenes from Spring Training: Arrrrgh! The Pirates! Part 3

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Pirates Pen.jpgThis was an ugly, ugly game. Highlights, such as they were:

  • As I sat down in the box I realized that the netting behind the backstop was lower than the already fairly low pressbox level.  During the course of the game three or four foul balls came in my general direction, each time banging loudly on the metal roof or facade of the box, scaring the tuna salad out of me.
  • As the National Anthem was being sung, the Pirates’ employee who seemed to be in charge of everything going on that day saw that one of the padded panels on the outfield wall had fallen down. He jumped on his walkie talkie and started stage managing. In the space of, like, 25 seconds, he had (a) dispatched a couple of members of the grounds crew to fix the wall; (b) got someone else to go tell John Russell and the umpires about the panel and to not start the game yet; (c) spotted a plastic bag floating across the field and got someone else to run out and retrieve it; and (d) watched the guy retrieve it and reminded everyone on the line to NOT walk over the pitcher’s mound if you have to go out on the field. The dude was just hyper-competent. If they could bottle whatever moxy he has and distribute it throughout the rest of the organization the Pirates wouldn’t be in nearly the dire straits they’re in these days.
  • In the top of the second, Jose Tabata badly misplayed a fly ball to center, allowing the batter to circle the bases for what was ruled a single and a three base error. The next batter hit one right back out to him, he was once again turned around, the ball dropped for what was called a double simply because Tabata didn’t get close enough to even really say that he made a play on it.  To be fair to Tabata, the winds were whipping terribly yesterday, but none of the other outfielders seemed to have the kind of trouble he was having.
  • Carl Crawford hit a long, long home run to left centerfield. Almost landed in Tampa. Maybe he sent the ball on ahead to Yankees’ camp to get the lay of the land before he starts training there next spring.  The next batter, Pat Burrell, hit a home run to the same part of the park, also a long shot. Maybe he sent the ball on ahead to Tampa too. There are a lot of senior citizen communities up that way so maybe he was scouting his 2011 spring home too.
  • Though the writers in the box said that the Pirates’ media lunch was
    good as far as those things go, I skipped it. Even if the food is
    decent, these catered, chafing dish affairs remind me too much of those
    rubber chicken lunches at political events I used to have to attend for
    my job and those working lunches in law firm conference rooms. I went
    down to the concourse and got a hot dog and a Pepsi instead. Bonus: I
    talked baseball with a couple of fans who were eating too.  Columbus,
    Ohio is not a baseball town, and though I “talk” baseball all day with
    you guys here, I don’t get a chance to chat casually and face to face
    about the game that much when I’m home. This was a treat.
  • Because the Rays were playing with a split squad — the rest of the team was playing the Blue Jays yesterday — the bullpen
    coach,
    Bobby Ramos coached third base. Between innings one time they did the
    old t-shirt launch thing along the third base line. One of the shirts
    misfired and landed near Ramos. He picked it up and started walking it
    toward the stands. Then he put it behind his back. He did this, like,
    five times, taunting the fans who soon began to boo him. Ramos had a
    huge grin on his face. Any chance he had at becoming my favorite
    bullpen coach was dashed, however, when he gave in and threw the shirt
    into the stands.  We don’t have enough heels in baseball. I think we’d
    be better off with a few Mr. Fujis or Bobby Heenans.

  • As the game dragged on there were a lot of substitutions. They led to near-bedlam in the pressbox. Overheard: “Jonson’s in.”  “Wait, is that Dan Johnson?” “No, I think it’s Elliot Johnson.” “Too damn many Johnsons around here.”
  • Top of the fourth, Sean Rodriguez pops a foul behind the plate. He audibly registers his disgust at himself. The wind whips, however, and catcher Hector Giminez can’t get it.  Rodriguez then does some little nod-with-a-fist-pump thing that seemed a bit out of line. Rodriguez took the next pitch which seemed to be way inside from where I was sitting. John Hirschbeck rang him up anyway, and I can’t help but think he did so as a means of getting Giminez’s back. Not that he’d ever admit it or anything.
  • Around the sixth inning the game just flew off the rails. Lots of home runs — understandable with the wind — but it was dragging in every other possible way as well.  The best thing that happened during the game after the sixth: someone sent me this picture to remind me of what the Pirates were like back when they were totally cool.
  • As the game drew to a close, a man in the pressbox said “I’ve been doing this for seven years, and this is the absolute worst game I’ve ever seen.”  I think I have to agree with him: worst game I ever saw too.  The final score was 16-15 in favor of the Rays. There was bad defense.
    Nearly every count went 3-1 or 3-2, sometimes because the pitchers
    didn’t have control, sometimes because Hirschbeck’s strike zone
    seemed rather erratic. The game lasted three hours and forty-one
    minutes and actually felt longer than that.

But here’s that epiphany I mentioned earlier this morning: I am damn, damn lucky to be able to do what I’m doing. The worst baseball game of my life was 100 times better than the best day I ever had in an office.  It was awful baseball, sure, but it was baseball. In a nice, unassuming little park, with the smells of hot dogs and beer and fresh cut grass and the sounds of the bat cracking and, jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick, I could go on with those cliches all day.

As I drove back to Tampa, I was tired and weary and stuck in traffic. And you couldn’t peel the grin off my face.

Video: Mike Napoli face-plants into third base after a triple

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Indians DH/1B Mike Napoli has hit ten triples in his 11-year big league career, so sliding into third base after a long run is not something with which he has tons of experience. As such, the slide — and I use that term in the loosest sense possible — he executed — and I use that term as loosely as possible too — when he hit a triple last night against the White Sox was somewhat unconventional.

The best part, though, was that he didn’t even need to slide as the throw from the outfield was delayed due to the outfielder not getting a great handle on the ball and the relay throw which never came was dropped by the infielder. He could’ve gone in standing up.

Thank God he didn’t, though, because this was too good:

Matt Harvey unfairly slammed for snubbing the press

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 24: Starting pitcher Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets looks on after allowing a two run home run by Daniel Murphy #20 of the Washington Nationals (not pictured) during the fifth inning at Nationals Park on May 24, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Matt Harvey had yet another nightmare of a game last night in what has become a nightmare of a season for him. He’s been terrible all year, particularly terrible in his past three starts and there are legitimate questions about whether he’s hurt, should be shut down or should be sent down to the minors. It’s not hyperbole to say that his career is at a crossroads right now. He may return to form, as many struggling pitchers do, but for those who don’t, this is what it looks like as things skid out of control for good.

In light of that — in light of the fact that he’s worked his entire life to make the big leagues and now that’s all in jeopardy — it may be understandable if Harvey is at a loss for words. If he doesn’t have any answers about his current plight. If, like most of us when we face a personal or professional crisis, he needs to gather himself in order to make sense of it all.

Matt Harvey is a baseball player, though, and baseball players don’t get that luxury. No, when they face a crisis, they’re expected to talk to reporters about it and, if they don’t, they can expect 800-1,000 angry, critical words thrown at them. Mike Vaccaro from the New York Post throws his angry words this morning:

The joke, of course, is that any of this would be remotely surprising by now. The Mets have abided by the Harvey Rules from Day 1, have tread lightly around him, have allowed him the kind of leeway and latitude that should never be afforded someone with 75 career starts, no matter how promising he used to be.

So why wouldn’t he duck and run now?

Why wouldn’t he leave it for his manager and his teammates to answer for him, to speak on his behalf, after another humbling bell-ringing at the hands of the Nationals, another night when he was less Dark Knight than Pale Pawn, another night when he couldn’t recapture even a fraction of the old magic?

It gets no better from there on. The bile is palpable as Vaccaro catalogs all of Harvey’s foibles of the past three or four years, real or imagined, and lets Harvey have it, all because he left the clubhouse before talking to the media.

To be clear, there is a tiny seed of a point to criticism of a player who doesn’t speak to the press. I’ve written about this in the past, and players and members of the media have talked about it before. That seed: when someone ducks the press, it puts pressure on their teammates to answer for them and they don’t appreciate that too much. That situation is largely inapplicable here, however, and doesn’t defend this vile column, for a couple of reasons.

One obvious reason is that Vaccaro does not appear to be concerned with Harvey’s relationship with his teammates in this column. There are no quotes from anyone about Harvey other than the manager, who would be asked about his starter’s struggles anyway. There is a generic reference to teammates having to answer for someone else, but no suggestion here that Mets players were irked about it last night.

Rather, the ire in this piece was a long time coming. The press has been eager to put the knife in Harvey for years and there is something close to glee spinning off of every word here based on old transgressions, not awkwardness from last night or even a pattern of Harvey ducking the press, which he has not done. If there is any doubt about that:

Maybe that was Vaccaro who said that, maybe it was another columnist, but the notion that these sorts of anti-player screeds are solely about poor teammates who are left to answer for their absent friends is a convenient lie. The press, especially the New York press, likes to torch certain guys and this is a case in which a columnist is gleefully torching a guy with his snub of the press merely being a convenient pretext.

Context matters too. It’d be one thing if Harvey was having a little snit last night over a bad performance and just peaced out of the clubhouse and left others holding the bag. That’s not what happened. What’s happening is a guy’s livelihood and identity flashing before his eyes. A pitcher suddenly losing it and having no idea why or how to arrest his slide. That there is zero empathy for that — zero understanding that a guy may not know what to say or how to say it when he’s asked about it — is pretty sad. I’m sure most Mets players, even ones who may not like Harvey, have been in that situation before and are willing to give him more leeway than this acidic column would suggest. I’m sure they’re worried about their teammate on some level and are just as baffled and worried as he is.

Should Matt Harvey talk to the press? Probably. MLB and its clubs want players to do that and it’s the custom. If a player routinely ducks this responsibility or if he does so because he’d rather make it to the nightclub than be there for his ballclub, yes, he should be criticized. But that’s not what’s going on here. What’s going on here is a press corps that has jumped on Matt Harvey for every little thing, however benign it may have been — a press corps which even turned a scary medical moment he experienced into the basis for jokes — jumping on him once again.

The glee with which they’re doing it is pretty telling. Far more telling than a man not wanting to talk to that same press corps mere hours after a personal and professional nightmare grew even darker.

Yasiel Puig benched after he failed to run hard out of the box

Yasiel Puig
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On Sunday Yasiel Puig made a pretty significant base running blunder, failing to advance to third base on an bunt which, in turn, led to the Dodgers playing eight extra innings of baseball. Last night the Dodgers right fielder made another mental mistake, also involving lackadaisical base running, and it bought him a seat on the pine.

Puig hit a deep fly to right in the sixth inning. He clearly thought he got all of it and began slowly walking to first base out of the box. The ball didn’t go out, however. It hit the wall. For anyone showing even a bit of hustle that would’ve been a double but Puig’s lack of effort held him to a single. He would come around to score — ironically because of hustle on the base paths, reaching home from second on a headfirst slide — but it was too little too late for manager Dave Roberts who was upset at the earlier loafing and removed Puig from the game.

Roberts after the game:

“He needed to be on second base. We talk about playing the game the right way.”

Puig:

“I thought it was a home run, and then I didn’t run out the ball, obviously. It was [Roberts’] decision to take me out of the game. It was a decision well made, because all my teammates are out on the field working hard, and I should have run out that ball.”

Those are the right words to say in that situation, but it’s a situation that shouldn’t come up and words that should go without saying. Especially in a year where Puig has tried to recast himself as a hard worker. And especially in a year in which he’s been struggling at the plate overall.

Here’s Puig after the game:

Here’s Roberts:

Somewhere, Don Mattingly is nodding.

 

And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

SEATTLE, WA - MAY 24:  Leonys Martin #12 of the Seattle Mariners reacts after hitting a two-run, walk-off homer to defeat the Oakland Athletics 6-5 at Safeco Field on May 24, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rays 4, Marlins 3: The Rays won and guys did cool things and all of that but my favorite part of the game was how Kevin Cash brought in a lefty to face Giancarlo Stanton, who promptly homered off of him. Obviously Stanton has been struggling and obviously it didn’t matter to the outcome of the game but I do want to know what the thought process is to “I’m going to bring in a lefty to face the most powerful right handed hitter in baseball in this spot.”

Cubs 12, Cardinals 3: Jason Hammel allowed one run while pitching into the eighth and had a two-run double in the six-run first inning as Chicago ends a three-game losing streak. Michael Wacha gave up eight runs in four innings and has lost five consecutive decisions. Which isn’t really good.

Yankees 6, Blue Jays 0: The Yankees are back to .500 for the first time since April 14, which was the eighth game of the season. Carlos Beltran homered and drove in two and Nathan Eovaldi tossed six shutout innings. Only two hits in the whole game for the Blue Jays, who are near the bottom in the AL for runs per game this year. Last year they ran away with the Best Offensive Team in Baseball title. So yeah, there’s that.

Nationals 7, Mets 4: Yeah, so the Matt Harvey situation is getting pretty dire. The Mets’ erstwhile ace was lit up for five runs on eight hits in five innings. One of those hits was a Daniel Murphy homer. Two others were gopher balls given up to Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon. Meanwhile, Stephen Strasburg struck out 11 in six and two-thirds. Terry Collins on Harvey:

“We’ve got to think what’s not just best for Matt, but what’s best for us moving forward at the moment. There are a lot of things to consider. We’re not going to make any rash judgments tonight. We’re going to sleep on it.”

Sounds like someone has either a DL stint or a trip to Las Vegas in his future.

Pirates 12, Diamondbacks 1: Gregory Polanco had three hits including a three-run homer and drove in five. Dbacks starter Shelby Miller was lit up for six runs on eight hits in five innings and saw his ERA climb above seven. Even Matt Harvey looks at that and goes “damn.” Pittsburgh reliever Arquimedes Caminero was ejected in the eighth after hitting a pair of batters in the head, one of whom — Jean Segura — was sent to the hospital with concussion symptoms. Dude seems to have no idea where the ball is going and has no business pitching right now.

Red Sox 8, Rockies 3: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends his hitting streak to 28 games or, as we say in the business, .5 DiMaggios. OK, we don’t say that in the business. I’m not even sure what “the business” is, actually. I sit on a couch with my cats all day. Pretty good business but I’m not sure if it’s representative of a professional class into which I can even plausibly shoehorn myself. David Price won his seventh game, allowing three runs over seven innings. David Ortiz went 2-for-4 and drove in four. No that does not entitle you to ask him if he is going to reconsider his decision to retire.

Tigers 3, Phillies 1: Justin Verlander struck out ten over eight shutout innings. Francisco Rodriguez notched his 400th career save. Miguel Cabrera stayed hot, driving in two. When your ace, your closer and your slugger are the three dudes who get mentioned in a short game description, it’s pretty much the Platonic ideal of a winning baseball game.

Brewers 2, Braves 1Scooter Gennett hit a tiebreaking single in the eighth to put the Brewers over. Julio Teheran struck out 12 while allowing one run in seven innings but got the no-decision and his team lost because such is the hellscape that is the Atlanta Braves 2016 season. For what it’s worth, he’s got a 0.89 ERA over his last six starts while striking out 42. He’s 1-2 in that span.

Rangers 4, Angels 1: Martin Perez tossed six shutout innings and Nomar Mazara hit a two-run homer in the sixth. The Rangers got an insurance run when Mazara was caught stealing and stayed in the rundown long enough to let another runner score, so give him an assist or something.

Indians 6, White Sox 2: Chris Sale lost. I repeat: Chris Sale lost a baseball game. The Indians got to him for six runs in three and a third innings, in fact, which seems damn nigh impossible this year, but box scores don’t lie. Heck, Sale had allowed only six runs in his previous five starts combined. Josh Tomlin, meanwhile, remains undefeated after tossing eight innings and allowing two runs.

Royals 7, Twins 4Salvador Perez stayed hot, hittting a two-run homer, and Lorenzo Cain had four hits and two RBI. Wade Davis got the save despite loading the bases with nobody out in the ninth. That’s an interesting way to do things. Maybe he’s just lacking excitement in his life and is looking for ways to make the adrenaline surge.

Astros 3, Orioles 2: Carlos Correa hit a walkoff single in the 13th, ending the Astros’ four-game losing streak. It was set up by Tony Kemp hitting a leadoff triple over Adam Jones‘ head. Astros pitchers struck out 19 Orioles batters. Sixteen of those strikeouts came from the Houston bullpen, which didn’t enter the game until there were two outs in the sixth inning.

Giants 8, Padres 2: The Warriors are bringing everyone in the Bay Area down but at least they still have the Giants. Brandon Crawford drove in four runs and Jarrett Parker homered as the Giants win their fourth in a row and 12th of 13. The Padres have lost all eight meetings with the Giants this year.

Mariners 6, Athletics 5: The Mariners were down 5-2 after the A’s batted in the eighth inning but then they rallied for four over the next two frames, topped off with a Leonys Martin two-run walkoff homer. Robinson Cano hit a two-run homer of his own in the eighth. Brutal loss for the A’s.

Dodgers 8, Reds 2: Nine losses in a row for the Reds who continue to be a great opponent for struggling contenders to face. Eight straight for the Dodgers over the Reds. Mike Bolsinger got the win after allowing two runs in a little under six innings. Your Aunt Tilly could get a win against the Reds right now, even if she was having trouble locating her offspeed stuff.