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They did what?

Before the start of today’s opener, I had made the decision to write, win or lose, about 5-10 things that I was glad to see from the opening day 2009 edition of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I should mention, since it’s my first blog here – that you shouldn’t get too used to all the positivity. There will no doubt be instances in the future in which I will be picking apart decisions that will have been made over a given nine innings. Imagine my surprise, this afternoon, when relatively all I saw from the opener was positive. 5-10 things? I’m going to be trimming a lot. Well, this was exactly everything I’ve been hoping to see from my hometown team for a very long time coming. We won’t get into numbers here - as in the number of consecutive miserable Pittsburgh summers. There will, however, be some numbers in the following Top 5 for the Pirates opening day:

#1:
They got a quality start from Paul Maholm. He was expected to perform well after his success in 2008. It’s nice to see him go nearly a full 7 innings pitched and only allow one earned run. It’s tough to get two more outs after you’ve just loaded the bases (with the help of a fielding error) and allowed 2 of those runners to score. It’s tough to throw 4 more zeroes up on the scoreboard after giving up two runs in the third inning. There are myriads of tremendous athletes with the ability to throw a good fastball and a hard slider. What separates a successful professional pitcher from that pack is his ability to tighten the clamps when he needs to. Too many times in the past have we seen the Pirates next great hope turn to paper and blow away in the wind when they face adversity. It was great to see Maholm suck it in and keep the Bucs in this game, but unfortunate to see him collect no decision in the record books. His ice cold numbers:

6.2IP 7H 2R 1ER 1BB 1K 0HR ERA-1.35 89 pitches, 49 strikes, 9 groundouts.

#2:
Say what? The top of the order was productive! Put simply, if they continue to get .500 batting from their top two spots in the order, they are going to plate some runs. Perhaps Nyjer Morgan has carried into this season his torrid hitting from last august. Perhaps Freddy Sanchez will be Mr. Clutch again, or Mr. Give-me-your-pitch-and-I’ll-hit-it. If either turned out to be true then Ryan Doumit and Nate McLouth will be happy, and able to crank out RBI’s with regularity. It doesn’t hurt that Nyjer Morgan is quick in his shoes and should be a legitimate base-stealing threat, or that he may be just as good in the defensive outfield as his gold-glove man-at-arms, Nate McLouth.

1. Morgan 3-5, 2RBI, SB .600 2. Sanchez 2-5, 1R .400

#3:
2-out run production. An important statistic, virtually non-existent over the past 3-5 seasons. Every run scored by the pirates this afternoon was done so with two outs. Nyjer Morgan knotted the game up in the sixth, taking advantage of some poor control by St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright and his relief, Josh Kinney. Wainwright walked Adam LaRoche. He then got ahead of Brandon Moss 0-2 before tossing him 4 straight balls, the third of which got past catcher Yadier Molina and allowed LaRoche to advance to second. Kinney wasn’t much more effective. After walking Pirate starting pitcher Maholm - one of two batters he faced - he was also yanked. Morgan made sure that Wainwright paid the price with two earned runs when he slashed reliever Trever Miller’s 1-2 offering with a line drive to right, Plating LaRoche and Moss.

#4:
The club was well-managed. John Russell was 1-for-1 on pinch hit calls, dropping veteran newcomer Eric Hinske into the batter’s box with two outs in the ninth and a runner on 1st. Big brother LaRoche and Hinske hooked up with back-to-back singles, Laroche sending Sanchez home and Hinkse moving Laroche to third. Ramon Vasquez did not figure in the scoring, but did come off the bench as part of a well-engineered seventh-inning double switch with third Baseman Andy LaRoche, Maholm and reliever Tyler Yates. Yates swept up the last out and Vasquez hit a two-out single to left in the next half-inning.

#5:
Finally, after all the barking, Jack Wilson bites. I was disappointed with some of his AB’s earlier in the game. I didn’t have much faith that he was going to come through. I agree with a lot of the things he has said about the team’s management starting up a trend of accountability, but at some point he had to show good faith in their keeping him around. He’s the highest paid guy on the team now, he is going to have to produce and be a classy example for this young team if he wants to stick around. Right before my eyes I could see a “mighty Casey at the bat” scenario unfolding. First pitch, swinging strike. Second pitch, foul ball. Just like that, old Jack’s down 0-2. I’ll bet I wasn’t the only person watching who thought I knew the rest of the story. “Nice little ninth inning rally, guys”, while in between breaths I’m cursing Jack Wilson all Tuesday morning for not being clutch enough. Sometimes it feels good to be wrong. As I am crossing my fingers that he can just get one out there and knot it up, Wilson powers a high, hard fastball between the outfielders for a three-run double and a 6-4 Pirates’ lead.

It was far from a perfect game. There was some sloppy fielding. There was absent-minded base-running, and some bullpen vulnerability. All four of the remaining starters are huge question marks. There are 161 games to be played and some strong teams in the NL Central. But I wasn’t going to get into the negative part. Let’s hope the Pirates can continue to show the type of resilience that they did at times today.
by David Rath 4.6.2009