Monday, July 25, 2011

Pedro returns and so do the fundamentals

The story portrayed to America on ESPN's Monday Night Baseball broadcast of the Pirates-Braves game was entirely different than the one folks in the Pittsburgh area likely were following.

For ESPN, this was the celebration of the feel-good Pittsburgh Pirates making a run at ending the longest losing season streak of any major professional sports. They talked about the excellent starting pitching the Pirates have received, their struggle to score a lot of runs but take advantage of the opportunities they have, the Bucs' very successful bullpen, the battery of catchers the team has gone through with injuries and eventually, how the Pirates used their small-ball chances to pick up a 3-1 win over Atlanta. Beginning on Monday, the PBC battles the two best teams in the National League for seven games and getting a 1-0 record on the trip was a fine start.

But Pirates fans weren' focused on that at all. Almost five hours before the scheduled gametime, the team announced that spitfire Alex Presley was headed to the DL with his thumb contusion and the team was recalling Pedro Alvarez back from Indianapolis. With the punchless offense against both the Cardinals and the Reds over the previous six games, fans have called upon GM Neal Huntington to go get a bat and Alvarez's was hot in Triple-A, producing three home runs and 13 RBIs to go along with a .365 average in 63 at-bats.

And even though the first ball in play off the bat of Braves leadoff hitter Martin Prado led to an E-5, I can't think too many Pirates fans were calling for Brandon Wood or Chase d'Arnaud to be back in the lineup. Alvarez's return was quite boring but always encouraging. He drew a walk in the 2nd inning and singled up the middle in the 4th. The slugger the Bucs are counting on rounded his day out with a strikeout in the 6th and ground out in the 8th.

But the best part about his return? The Pirates won. And they won playing the kind of baseball they've gutted out all season. Neil Walker poking his bat out on a pitch-out to protect Garrett Jones on a hit-and-run and advance the runner, which lead to Andrew McCutchen's RBI single. Or Alvarez playing heads-up baseball on Nate McLouth throwing to the wrong base so the big man could advance to second and take away any chance for a double play with two on and one out.

James McDonald was solid again until hitting his sixth-inning wall, striking out nine before loading the bases in the sixth inning. But for the second consecutive outing,the bullpen bailed him out again. It was former Brave Chris Resop shutting his old team down and stranding three runners to protect the lead.

Or how about the impressiveness of Jose Veras just smoking Brian McCann as the Braves were threatening in the 8th. Hammer time in the 9th and that means another one went in the books.

There wasn't much glitz in the victory for the ESPN guys to rave over. It wasn't pretty and didn't even include an extra-base hit. But the Bucs showed America a good example of how they are doing it.

As for Alvarez, he played fine. They'll be more fireworks in the future But he didn't look dominated against one of the better pitchers in the NL in Tim Hudson. And that's a big step above the Pedro before his injury and stint in Indy.


  1. Thanks for your great article. I recorded the game on RootSports but couldn't find coverage on ESPN once the game ended. Did anyone you know actually see the coverage on ESPN ?

  2. I meant to say "once the rain delay ended"

  3. Doh! Never mind.