Being a Pirate fan for more than two decades, I have become accustomed to the frustration that generally accompanies watching a game. In fact, I am almost immune to this frustration these days. I expect poor play, and the team usually delivers. But occasionally, the Pirates manage to dip below my expectations, leaving me speechless from the absurdity in front of me. Last night was a great win. The offense kept battling, not matter how many leads the bullpen gave away, and eventually pulled together an 11-inning win. But the amount of outs that we simply handed to the Reds left me incredulous.
In the third inning, Jack Wilson singled to lead off the inning. After a Nate McLouth fly out, a pitch to Freddy Sanchez bounced in front of the plate. Jack immediately broke for second, but catcher David Ross had picked the ball cleanly. He was easily thrown out. That hurts, but it is hard to fault Jack on the play. He has always been aggressive on those types of plays, and often gets an extra base out of the situation. This past Sunday, he moved himself into scoring position on a similar play, and eventually scored a crucial run because of it. This is comparable to a base runner stealing on a pitcherís first move. Sometimes you get burned. We will return later to Jackís adventures on the base paths.
In the sixth, Ryan Doumit was on second and Jason Bay was at third with nobody out. Adam LaRoche drove a double to the center field warning track, apparently scoring two. But Doumit misread the ball and was heading back to second when it landed. As a result, he was unable to score. Still not satisfied, he took a wide turn at third and was tagged out trying to get back. Fortunately, third base umpire Chad Fairchild was out of position and missed the call. Doumit was lucky to score on a sacrifice fly.
In the seventh, with runners at first and second and nobody out, Freddy squared to bunt. I would have let him swing away, but the decision did not upset me. Freddy has struggled all year, and I was not very confident that he could reach base. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful, failing to lay down the bunt before reaching two strikes. As the next pitch was delivered, Freddy squared and stabbed at the ball. It rolled harmlessly outside the first base line. My eyes shot to the top of the screen. Maybe I was confused. Nope. Freddy had just attempted a sacrifice bunt with two strikes. I was stunned. After a loud expletive slipped out of my mouth, I stared at the screen in silence. The camera focused on the Piratesí dugout, possibly searching for the same explanation the viewers sought. Sanchez and John Russell never appeared to discuss the incident. All seemed to be fine in the world of Pirates baseball.
In the ninth inning, Chris Gomez led off with a single. Jack immediately squared to move him to second. He got the bunt down, but it was too hard, and Gomez was forced at second. After wasting one out with one of the hottest bats on the team, the Pirates searched for more. Jack broke for second on the pitch, but McLouth somehow was able to halt the play by asking for time. After Wilson returned to first, Russell chose to stick with the steal/hit-and-run. Maybe he was over-thinking with the simple mind of Dusty Baker in the other dugout. The Reds pitched out, and Jack was thrown out by ten feet. Just another out handed to the Reds.
Again in the 11th, Jack came to the plate with a man on base. This time, Russell let him swing away. As a result, the Pirates managed to score two runs and consequently win the game. After the game, Russell seemed shocked that the strategy was successful.
I have mentioned that I can look past Russellís poor tactical decisions as long as he keeps the players focused and motivated. Some nights, that is more difficult than others. Especially when the players seem eager to give away outs as well.