Just got back from tonight's loss at PNC, a cavernous, echoing mausoleum tonight. The crowd was announced at somewhere around 14,000.
The Pirates couldn't get over the hump all night. Maholm was just missing with his pitches in the first, and the ump wasn't helping him with a tight strike zone. As a result, we were in an early hole--when has that ever happened before?--and the hole kept expanding just beyond our reach whenever we appeared to be climbing out of it. Maholm battled through 5 2/3 innings and kept it close. We barely had time to rejoice over Castillo's game-tying double--he had two tonight to go with a solid single, evidence that he may be coming out of his season-long slump--before Marte returned the lead to the DBacks, who never again relinquished it.
Bautista, McLouth, and Sanchez all had good nights in the 1-2-3 spots, but the big story tonight was failure in the clutch by Bay, who is really in a funk, and Burnitz, whose funk appears to be terminal. With the first three guys getting on consistently all night, Bay came up repeatedly with chances to tie the game or put us ahead and responded with a run-scoring DP in the first to tie the game followed by three consecutive sorry-looking strikeouts with men on base. On his last at-bat, with McLouth on base, he went 0 and 2 before getting a hit, thereby providing Burnitz with the opportunity to complete another perfect night of futility by striking out to end the game when a home run would have tied it. Burnitz was 0 for 5.
The worst thing about this, to me, is that it provides apparent confirmation of Tracy's erroneous diagnosis
(the attending nurse in this case is Paul Meyer) of what primarily ails the Pirates:
"We know what our situation is," manager Jim Tracy said. "And we know we have to fix it -- quickly."
The Pirates' situation is that they haven't hit nearly enough balls in the gap with runners on first and second, haven't hit enough three-run homers and haven't hit enough two-out, run-scoring singles.
"That's what we're missing," Tracy said. "We have guys on base. We are doing a good job of setting the stage in order to create that [game-changing] at-bat."
But they don't do a good job of getting the game-changing hit.
"It's a matter of applying yourself in the situation and then executing," Tracy said. "That's what good major-league hitters do."
"We're going to get that [big] hit," he said, then added, perhaps trying to reassure himself, "we're going to get that hit."
("I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...")
Well sure, some clutch hitting would be nice, but overall, the lineup and the offense are sick, and the primary symptom of that sickness has been low OBP, not failure in particular kinds of situations. To this point in the season, the statement "We have guys on base. We are doing a good job of setting the stage in order to create that [game-changing] at-bat" has been patently and demonstrably untrue. Tonight, though, it was
In addition to all of that, for some reason, Jose Hernandez played first base tonight. I am sure that Tracy will provide some chuckleheaded rationale for this in tomorrow's paper--I look forward to reading it and choking on my granola
UPDATE: Here it is
Tracy might have fortified the middle of the order by using Craig Wilson, but he benched Wilson's .255 average and seven home runs in favor of Jose Hernandez, who went 0 for 4 to drop his average to a team-worst .150.
Tracy's explanation was twofold: One, Wilson was 0 for 7 with five strikeouts against Arizona starter Brandon Webb. Two, Tracy said, "You enhance yourself defensively a little bit."
Wilson's .996 fielding percentage ranks second among National League first basemen. Hernandez, a middle infielder by trade, was charged with an error when failing to corral a low throw in the fourth inning.
Kovacevic isn't buying it either.
Back to Burnitz for a moment. It rained briefly in the 7th inning, and my wife
convinced me that we should move back under shelter. So we went back about 20 rows and ended up sitting two rows behind none other than Bob Smizik
, enjoying an ice cream cone with the great unwashed masses outside the press box and watching the game dispassionately with a few admirers. Oddly, he left the game immediately after Bay's single in the 9th and didn't stay to watch Burnitz strike out.
One of his buddies told me that Smizik had told him that there was an article in the Chicago Tribune-Review
stating that Jim Hendry of the Cubs had urged Burnitz to retire last season. When I got home, I googled the article and found it
; the article is not exactly as reported, but it does contain several interesting bits. To wit:
"It's kind of weird how it worked out, honestly," Burnitz said. "Jim asked me (about retiring the last day of the season). I basically told him I wasn't sure what I was going to do. … I was trying to get a job closer to home [in Southern California]. Once that kind of didn't pan out, basically, he just seemed like he decided to go in another direction.
"I would have loved to [return], especially as I realized those job opportunities toward home weren't really materializing. I loved it here and loved the guys."
I wouldn't describe this as Hendry urging Burnitz to retire, unfortunately; if he had done so, there is always the possibility that Burnitz might have taken the advice. Then there's this:
Burnitz, 37, said baseball has changed for the worse in the last few years in terms of fan abuse. Where New York once was renowned for giving struggling players a hard time, Burnitz said that tense atmosphere has pervaded all ballparks.
"Honestly, every single ballpark I go to, the style of people, it seems like a football game to me—the yelling, the screaming and the mean stuff," he said. "It's not one of my favorite things about the sport. I can't stand it. But you deal with it and you do your job."
It seems that Burnitz made a wise choice when he chose to sign with Pirates. With the exception of a few boos here and there, the crowd tonight was, as always, reserved, polite, docile, complacent, and well accustomed to the losing and the failure.
Like lambs to the slaughter, that's what we have become in the McClatchy years.