If there was ever a town that could understand what the Pirates are going through, it's Cleveland, Ohio. As they struggle right now to maintain any shred of self-respect they have left to try and woo LeBron James, their city was probably a little bit distracted from a weekend series featuring two teams with a combined record of 51-86.As for the Pirates, they'll take wins however they can get them these days, and the Indians completely played down to their expectations by losing two of three against a Pittsburgh team in the midst of a painful 12-game losing streak. Hey, no one ever said being a Cleveland fan was easy.
We all know how tough last week was for the Pirate organization, a span of several days that has been very well-documented. At last we left them, the losing streak was intact and a pierogi racer was being fired for Facebook comments, so we'll pick things up on Saturday night.
The well-hyped pregame featured the emotional reunion of the 1960 World Series Pirates team, with everyone from Maz to 91-year-old former GM Joe L. Brown in the house. The Pirates are 4-0 at home this season when playing before crowds of 30,000 or more, and the reunion attracted 38,008 strong.
You can see the writing on the wall, or in this case the writing on the blog, because the Pirates ended their dozen games of futility with a 6-4 win over the Tribe on Saturday night. Lastings Milledge led the charge with four RBI, and Andrew McCutchen reached base five times and scored four runs. Pedro Alvarez drove in a key run with his first career hit, a double, in the fifth inning, the run that would ultimately decide the game. It was the Pirates' first win in interleague play this season.
On Sunday, the Bucs took their second straight with a 5-3 win over Cleveland, as Alvarez once again contributed with the go-ahead RBI in the 8th and Brad Lincoln had his best outing yet, allowing three runs over six innings. It wasn't good enough for his first MLB win, but hopefully that's going to come in just a matter of time.
The name of the game yesterday was fundamentals, otherwise known as the things you're supposed to be doing. The Pirates shouldn't be praised for being able to execute sacrifice bunts or not swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, but those skills appeared to be lost to some degree this season. On Sunday, they made a healthy resurgence, with four sac bunts and three of the game's four walks against a tight strike zone from home plate ump Paul Emmel.
Individually, the Pirates only mustered eight singles at the plate, but it was the timeliness that allowed them to push five runs across despite the lack of any extra-base hits. Bobby Crosby led the way with three and Garrett Jones had two, growing his hit streak to 11 games. Even John Russell got into the act with a rare show of emotion, enough to get ejected in the eighth while taking on the whole umpiring crew over a controversial Russell Branyan double. It was his first ejection this season and fourth as the Bucs' skipper, one that was a pleasant surprise to the Pirate fans in attendance.
I hope the Pirates kept some of those good vibes for a lengthy road trip that starts on Tuesday night against the piping-hot Texas Rangers, a team that's been rejuvenated under the leadership of Nolan Ryan. Tommy Hunter (2.08, 2-0) takes on Mr. Wonderful (0-5, 5.22) in Arlington at 8:05 tomorrow night. The trip includes three games against Texas, a rare visit for three games at Oakland, and wraps up with three games against the Cubs at Wrigley.
PNC Park won't see the Pirates again until July 1, when the Phillies come to town. What will be most interesting is the state of mind that the team will bring back with them after the first lengthy MLB road trip for many of these youngsters, especially with three tough games in sweltering Texas heat to start things off.
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