Outfielder makes spectacular catch, goes 3 for 4 to extend surge
September 21, 2009 8:00 AM
Lastings Milledge falls onto his back after making a sliding catch into the left-field wall for the final out of the sixth inning. After being down for several minutes, Milledge walked off the field and remained in the game.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It was yet another forgettable outcome for the freefalling Pirates, this flat-line 4-0 loss to the San Diego Padres yesterday at PNC Park.
The offense was blanked for the 15th time, most since the same total in 2002.
Paul Maholm was, to use his own term, "bad."
And catcher Ryan Doumit made two throwing errors that led to runs.
Still, ask most of the 24,028 in attendance what will resonate well beyond another hollow September loss in a meeting of last-place teams, and it surely will be the breathtaking catch Lastings Milledge made that, without a doubt, represented his welcome-to-Pittsburgh moment.
With two aboard, two outs and San Diego ahead, 3-0, in the sixth, David Eckstein drove a ball deep to left. Milledge, with a pristine break, tracked it full-throttle, no pause for the looming fence, then slid on one knee at the track to backhand it.
The crowd stood and roared, but not for long, as Milledge stayed down and clutched his left knee, which went flush into the few inches of the fence exposed below the padding.
"A great catch," manager John Russell called it.
"Unbelievable," right fielder Brandon Moss said.
• Game: Pirates vs. San Diego Padres, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Daniel McCutchen (0-2, 5.50) vs. LHP Wade LeBlanc (2-1, 4.30).
• Key matchup: To get that elusive first major league victory, McCutchen will need to cut down the home runs -- four in three starts, at least one in each -- as well as opponents' .292 batting average.
• Of note: Garrett Jones' next home run will be his 20th, making him the fourth rookie in franchise history with that many. The others: Jason Bay (26 in 2004), Ralph Kiner (23 in 1946) and Johnny Rizzo (23 in 1938).
Even Milledge acknowledged, when asked to rank it, "That's probably the best one I've made my whole career."
On top of that, he was not down long: After being tended, he stayed in the game and would go 3 for 4 with a double. That extended his .346 tear over the past 30 games and raised his average to .295 since joining the Pirates in the trade that also brought reliever Joel Hanrahan from the Washington Nationals for outfielder Nyjer Morgan and reliever Sean Burnett.
So, what would compel anyone to play that way, much less someone who arrived with the reputation of lacking motivation, lacking respect for the game and being a lousy teammate?
"Honestly, I feel like I owe this to the Pirates because they took a chance on me, like I should be running through walls," Milledge said. "They took a chance by trading Nyjer for me. I followed his career. Nyjer was a hard worker and was successful here. And, when they traded for me, I knew they really were taking a chance on me."
Why did he view that as risky?
"Because I hadn't done what my talent says I should do. I hadn't brought that to the table yet. But the Pirates started getting that out of me as soon as I got here."
He cited, in particular, hitting coach Don Long and outfield instructor Gary Varsho.
"I learned how to do certain things at the plate, what angle to take to a ball. And I'm having fun. When I come to the ballpark now, it's not a job. It's fun. I don't feel the pressure because I know that, even if I do badly that day, it's not because I wasn't prepared. I'm working hard. I'm not showing up 40 minutes before the stretch and expecting to go 3 for 5."
"When I first came up, there were a lot of unwritten things I didn't know, like showing up at the ballpark two hours early. I was this hot prospect, a little bit stubborn, and I felt like everybody was against me a little bit. There's no preparation for something like that. Some guys come in and do things right. I didn't do things right. Now, I am."
The manager has taken notice.
"He's worked awfully hard at everything, and I think those benefits are beginning to show," Russell said.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, Milledge and Brandon Moss are providing just about all their offense with Garrett Jones, Delwyn Young and Andy LaRoche out due to injury or illness: A day after producing five singles, they had eight hits, with only Milledge's double going for extra bases, as Kevin Correia pitched seven scoreless innings.
"He threw pretty good," Russell said of Correia. "But we're not a very good offensive team right now. We're not having very good at-bats as a whole. We've got some guys out of the lineup, but we're not doing some things that we need to do to score runs."
Maholm took a step back after pitching eight scoreless innings at Houston, allowing three runs -- two earned -- on nine hits over six innings. The sinker that set down the Astros was a late arrival in this one.
"It wasn't my best outing," Maholm said, "but you battle through it and try to keep your team in the game."
Doumit, who had three errors all season, committed two in a day: In the third, he threw what should have been an inning-ending 5-2-3 double play into right field, allowing Chase Headley to score. In the ninth, his attempt to catch Luis Durango stealing sailed into center field. Durango took third and scored on Everth Cabrera's sacrifice fly.
To avoid 100 losses, the Pirates, losers of 19 of their past 22 games and 28 of the past 41, must go 7-8 the rest of the way.