Collier: Burst of hits appropriate, but bunts?

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Very gracious of Pirates hitters to try to make the 1971 alumni feel at home, posing as an offensively proficient ballclub in the early and late stages of the game Tuesday night against Baltimore, the one with the elaborate pregame ceremony honoring Pittsburgh's next-to-last world champions.

The present-day Pirates chased in three runs in the first, one in the second, one in the third, vintage Lumber Company stuff. Don't remember Danny Murtaugh's brain trust bunting the cleanup hitter too much (like ever), but that's what Andrew McCutchen found himself doing with nobody out and Garrett Jones standing on second with a two-run double.

'Cutch bunted Jones to third, and Neil Walker sacrificed him home on a flyball to the track in right, and you had to wonder if honored slashers such as Richie Hebner and Al Oliver, looking on from suite level, were at all intrigued by these swashbuckling sacrificers.

McCutchen, it turned out, bunted on his own.

"I give Andrew credit," manager Clint Hurdle said in the minutes after a four-game losing streak evaporated in the North Side humidity. "He's been hitting the ball good, but he thought in that situation he wanted to put a bunt down and move another runner up, and that's the way this team has been, unselfish. You've got to give him a pat on the back for that approach."

Teams that are becoming desperate offensively often resort to the unorthodox, but the current Pirates predicament straddles the very blade of a double-edge sword. You pretty much can't find a five-run early lead with a treasure map (only three of baseball's 30 teams, Washington, San Diego and Seattle have weaker hitting teams than Hurdle's), and, if you do, it isn't terribly safe.

Pirates starter James McDonald (J-Mac if you must, but if he's J-Mac, isn't McCutchen A-Mac, and Daniel McCutchen D-Mac, and who started all this anyway, J-Lo, or A-Rod? Perhaps I should ask the Pirates owner, B-Nutt) couldn't drag that five-run lead through five innings in which his WHIP took a terrible whipping.

Walks and hits per inning huh?

McDonald's night went like this after a 1-2-3 first: walk and a hit in the second, walk and a hit in the third, walk and a hit in the fourth, walk and four hits in the fifth, when Baltimore scored three times to cleave off 60 percent of the lead.

Oh yeah, whip it good.

Two of the four Orioles hits in the inning from which McDonald could not escape were home runs, meaning that of the 44 runs he has allowed in 2011, 23 jogged home on long balls. That's pretty frightening, but it is no more debilitating ultimately than the factors in his strikeout-to-walk ratio (44 walks against 62 strikeouts), which is miserable.

In fairness though, one of those homers came when left fielder Jose Tabata, closing in on J.J. Hardy's towering drive near the left-field fence, failed to call off the guy in the yellow shirt in the first row, who gloved it just above Tabata's mitt and acted like it was just the most natural thing in the world to alter the course of a baseball game.

Right. No problem. Where's that beer guy?

When Adam Jones launched a two-run homer six pitches later, Hurdle's bullpen went on full alert and responded with a clinical stabilization, eventually inviting the .230-something Pirates offense back to the table.

Xavier Paul's RBI single made it 6-3, but the last hitter in Hurdle's order who was not hitting .150 or below, bunted with the bases loaded and one out, and with McCutchen -- A-Mac, on third.

Ronny Cedeno's bunt died in the batter's box he was standing in, and, curious as it was, the double-play ball that followed to end the inning appeared to give the idea credibility.

Not that it should have.

"I didn't call either one; I've never seen a bunt with the bases loaded," said Hurdle, who has been watching this game since before he had his own baseball cards of those 1971 Pirates. "I'll have a conversation with Ronny, and we'll get that locked down a little bit."

Walker's two-run double in the ninth made all those little-ball tactics look needlessly desperate, and, when the eighth and ninth Pirates runs came home, the mostly Slumbering Company had scored two more runs in eight innings than they had in their previous four games.

Consistency remains elusive for the version 40 years out from '71, but somehow it remains consistently interesting.


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com .


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