Thursday, June 12, 2008

Day Games Rock

The Pirates just finished a stretch in which they played three day games in five days. Simply fantastic. Baseball is at its best when played under the sun, especially when you're lucky enough to be in attendance. Even if, like today at PNC Park, the temperature is in the upper 80s and the air is saturated with humidity, the best way to spend an afternoon outside of a round of golf (we'll get to that later) is at a ballgame.

Enough with the aesthetics, though. Let's get down to the business on the field today on the North Side.

Game #67: Pirates 7, Nationals 5
That's right, Our Buccos (as Voice of the Pirates Lanny Frattare charmingly calls them) have now won four of five to move to *gasp* one win away from the ever-so-elusive .500 mark. The 33-34 Pirates also managed to avoid the frequent pitfall of the last few seasons, the Day Game Letdown. It may just be me, but it seems like every time the Pirates have built some momentum in recent years, they lose an afternoon game at PNC, usually in tragic fashion.

In 2005, it was the 30-30 Bucs gunning for the sweep of Tampa Bay on a Sunday afternoon. I recall this vividly because I listened to the game from my smoothie stand at Post-Gazette Pavilion as I worked some God-forsaken country music festival. The Pirates wasted a Humberto Cota game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth, despite a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the 11th. Jose Castillo came up with a chance to put the team over .500, only to ground into a double play that doubled me over at the smoothie stand. The Devil Rays, as they were then known, won the game soon after via a three-run homer from some dude that's probably no longer in baseball.

In 2006, the Pirates were surging in July and once again I was listening from a unique site: the golf course. Jason Bay hit a grand slam in the first against the D-Backs and we were supposedly off and running. Somehow it became tied in the ninth (I believe Salomon Torres blew a save), but Our Buccos loaded the bases with none out with a chance to walk off with a W. The year's eventual batting champion Freddy Sanchez then improbably struck out, followed by a predictable Castillo K and a groundout. Arizona predictably took the game in extras.

Other examples abound of close games blown at home by the Pirates during the day. This year's home opener comes to mind: Bucs come back from huge deficit to tie the Cubs in the late innings, only to commit an egregious blunder and squander what would've been an exhilarating victory.

Not to be negative.

But today was different, my friends! The Polish Prodigy-endorsed Ryan Doumit continued to pound the baseball, slugging his ninth homer of the season and his fourth in three games to put Pittsburgh on top 2-0 in the first. Doumit is the answer at catcher...mark it down.

The lead was 6-1 by the end of the sixth after RBI from Bay (sac fly), Nasty Nate McLouth (sac fly), starting pitcher Tom Gorzelanny (bases-loaded walk) and Doumit (run-scoring single). However, the depleted Washington ballclub continued to fight, making it 6-5 in the eighth before Tyler Yates cleaned up Franquelis Osoria's mess with a swinging strikeout of former-Met Lastings Milledge to end the inning and strand two. Damaso Marte played Matt Capps for the afternoon and got his first National League save as he pitched a one-two-three ninth.

Enough with the recap minutiae. The Pirates now head to Baltimore for the first time since Game Seven of the 1979 World Series for a weekend series that kicks off interleague play. If you've followed the Bucs this decade, you know the American League has usually been a huge pitfall for the club. But, hey, they won two close home afternoon games this week (Monday against Arizona), so maybe things are truly different this season, as opposed to the last 15.

Let's be honest: .500 is an important milestone for this franchise to reach, even if some of the current players aren't there if/when the Pirates finally get back to the playoffs. It'd be nice if the Bucs can return home from this Orioles/Chicago White Sox trip as a winning team. DO IT.

Scholars Maintain the Translation Has Been Lost
Nothing like the U.S. Open Golf Tournament. Especially when it's in San DEE-AHH-GO, at the stunning Torres Pines public(!) golf course.

(Before we proceed, yes, I realize the Anchorman San Diego joke is getting a little worn out. But I still think it's funny, so I'm going to keep saying it until I choke the last breath out of it.)

Usually, this four-day golf extravaganza has me pumped for a couple of reasons. 1) The national championship is the most difficult to win, and I never get tired of seeing professionals make bogeys and worse while posting scores that I'm used to shooting, albeit on much, much easier courses. 2) Another Tiger Woods run at a major championship as he strives to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18. Tiger has 13, don'tcha know.

How-EVAH, ever since Tiger said in a televised interview that he didn't think anyone watched hockey anymore, I have felt like a jilted lover, as pathetic as that sounds. Mr. Woods was asked to make a pick on the eve of the Stanley Cup Finals, and he decided he couldn't be bothered with such a trivial question, even suggesting that they talk about the NBA's LA Lakers instead. I've been an avid Tiger fan since he started in 1996--heck, he's one of the main reasons I started playing as a youngster. But after his condescending and dismissive comments about my favorite sport to watch, play and discuss, I'm not sure I'm going to be on his side this weekend.

Outside of killing a member of my family, this is about the only thing that could transform Eldrick Woods into Evil Tiger in my mind. If he doesn't like/doesn't watch/doesn't care about hockey, he could've just picked between the Penguins and the Red Wings and moved on. But he had to belittle an entire sporting culture. It's out of character for a man who usually makes politicians envious with his ability to dance around any controversial issues and generally avoid offending any potential fans/Nike customers.

Evil Tiger shot a one-over par 72 today. If he's in contention for major No. 14 on Sunday afternoon, I suppose we'll find out how I really feel about it.

Coming Tonight!
I was planning on attending the West Virginia Power baseball game this evening, but instead I'll stay in and watch Game Four of the NBA Finals. In fact, I'll liveblog the thing, just to prove to myself that I can watch an NBA game in its entirety, something I haven't done in a couple of years.

It's not that I don't like basketball or the Association, it's just that I devote so much energy to hockey that I seldom feel like making the NBA appointment viewing. With my Pens in the Cup Final and my previous soul-sucking job, I definitely had no opportunity to catch a game this postseason. That all changes tonight: Celtics lead the Lakers two games to one as the traditional adversaries square off at the Staples Center. I'm already getting excited...seriously.

Talk to yinz later.

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