Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I can't feel my face

I don't know that I'd be able to name all the others immediately, but were I to go back and make a list of the greatest nights I've spent in ballparks, this one would be in the top two or three. 

The first game was maybe the finest this club has played all year. 

They were tight defensively. They still didn't hit, but they drew six walks. Pedro Alvarez, Russel Martin and Gaby Sanchez strung together some marvelous plate appearances. 

And though the guy who got the big hit was a someone I'm still eager to see relegated permanently to bench duty -- preferably on another club -- Alex Presley wasn't the real hero. 

There were two guys on base when Presley got that hit, and they got there by being incredibly patient, level-headed and mentally tough in the most tense situation baseball has to offer. Faced with the pressure of one-swing-can-end-it situations, Russel Martin and Gaby Sanchez couldn't have been cooler.

Martin hacked at and fouled off the first pitch he saw. Then, he watched four straight pitches go by outside the zone. One on, one out. 

Sanchez stepped in and looked at five straight pitches. He never took the bat off his shoulder. Two on, one out.

Presley, much to his credit, wisely took a first-pitch strike. You don't swing at the first pitch when the guy on the mound has walked back-to-back hitters on nine pitches -- that's just good common sense. And then he took another. He fouled one off down the third-base line that nearly took out Nick Leyva's ankles, then ran the count full by taking two more pitches out of the zone. Sitting dead red, he got the fastball he was looking for. 

This is what we've been waiting for. Yes, this team needs to hit better than it has. But in a lineup that's been so heavily loaded for years with free-swingers, all too eager to try and kill every ball, the patience Pirates hitters are displaying is indicative of something greater: these guys are ready.

I wrote a long missive last night on the elegant rage of A.J. Burnett, but I'm going to save it, tinker with it a little and maybe send it off somewhere. When it runs, I'll put it here. But for now...


The Pirates will finish above .500, guaranteed. 
The Pirates will make the playoffs. 
The Pirates will make a trade today.
I am surprised and confused by the emotions I feel today, with said surprise and confusion merely entering the picture as reactions to the other emotions I believe to be a combination of joy, fear and sleep depravation. I only expect that to deepen throughout August.

Take on all the salary you have to. Get a starter. Get a reliever. Get a goddamn right fielder. Get better. 

Notes from last night:
I saw Mayor Dudeface on the first-level concourse with his young son. It took every last ounce of restraint I had not to ask him a trolling question about his Facebook account.

Two innings later, I saw Matt Cooke and his son in nearly the exact same place. It took a minute to process. If I'd instantly made the connection, I wouldn't have hesitated to approach him, thank him for five incredible years and wish him the best.

Josh Harrison made two terrible base running errors last night. Not just the rundown at third, but being so far off the bag on the slicing line drive that Walker hit that he never had a prayer tagging up and taking third when John Jay dove to catch the ball. Josh Harrison is a net zero player and belongs in the minor leagues.

Bryan Morris and Vin Mazzaro terrify me. Mark Melancon, meanwhile, is just this good. Justin Wilson is the closer of the future.

Brandon Cumpton was remarkably efficient last night. With Morton, Karstens, McDonald and a host of other perpetually injured, walk-prone assholes likely gone, Cumpton should get every shot at cracking the rotation out of spring training.

That said, Jeff Locke walks way too many guys. He's been more lucky than good, and his continued presence in the rotation frightens me.

Has anyone ever won comeback player of the year in both leagues? Francisco Liriano should be that guy. For a pitcher I was convinced was going to have a K/BB ratio around 1:1, he's been absolutely superb.

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