There's plenty to like about the Pirates, so just enjoy the moment
July 23, 2012 12:00 PM
Peter Diana /Post-Gazette
Pirates' Andrew McCutchen singles in the first inning against the Marlins.
By Ron Cook Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez put the Miami Marlins out of their misery Sunday with another monster home run, then attempted to school the many in the team's fan base who still are having a hard time believing their little ballclub is 54-40 and playing as well as anyone in baseball.
Enjoy the moment.
Please allow Alvarez to expand.
Don't keep asking when Starling Marte is coming up from Class AAA Indianapolis.
Don't keep wondering if general manager Neal Huntington is smart enough or has the guts to make a bold move before the July 31 trade deadline to bring in another bat or a starting pitcher or a leadoff man or a veteran bench player.
Don't keep thinking the team automatically will get rid of hammer Joel Hanrahan because he's going to make too much money next season and for many years to come.
Don't keep worrying that any trade involving Class A pitcher Jameson Taillon will blow up the 2015 season.
C'mon, people, something special is happening here. Savor it. Revel in it. Live as if you can't wait for the next game because you just know your team is going to win, not as if you're expecting a loss that will start another collapse like last season's.
OK, so Alvarez didn't actually say any of those things. That was just one man's interpretation of his observations after his two-run home run -- his 21st -- in the seventh inning completed the Pirates' 3-0 win. He made it clear he and his teammates aren't sitting around waiting for Marte to come riding in on a white horse. If anything, they are hoping Huntington doesn't make any roster moves.
Can you say unnecessary?
"I love every guy on this team," Alvarez said.
"I think we have all of the components to keep succeeding. I think we have great chemistry right now. We have pitching. We have defense. We're doing pretty well hitting the ball. I just love the dynamic we have on this team."
It is worth repeating:
Enjoy the moment.
It's getting a little harder each day to argue with Alvarez's thinking. The Pirates keep finding ways to win. Their five-game winning streak is their best of the season. They have gone 34-16 in their past 50 games.
The weekend sweep of the Marlins was fairly instructive:
Friday night, second baseman Neil Walker turned a superb double play, diving to tag out Justin Ruggiano between first and second, then throwing from the ground to get Greg Dobbs at first.
"That double play was as important as anything we did," manager Clint Hurdle said, not caring one bit that one replay angle seemed to show Walker missing Ruggiano.
Saturday night, the Pirates scored four runs in the fourth inning without a hit. Who knew two hit-batters, an error, a sacrifice fly and four walks could be so productive?
Sunday, pitcher Jeff Karstens allowed two singles and two walks in a 28-pitch first inning, yet didn't give up a run because he picked Jose Reyes -- a good base runner -- off first base. In the seventh inning, Karstens was able to overcome an overturned out call on a trapped catch by left fielder Alex Presley by getting Omar Infante to hit into a double play on the next pitch. Then, in the ninth, shortstop Jordy Mercer threw out Carlos Lee at first base after retrieving a deflection off of Alvarez's glove.
"It's not something we consider to be luck," Presley said. "You've got to put yourself in the right position to go out and make plays and win."
Or, as Hurdle said so astutely, "You get what you earn up here."
Wins -- improbable or otherwise -- have been coming for the Pirates for quite a while. The three against the Marlins seemed almost routine compared with a couple earlier in the season after rare blown saves by Hanrahan.
On May 8, catcher Rod Barajas -- hitting .131 at the time -- smashed a two-run, two-out home run in the ninth inning to beat the Washington Nationals. That was the night the whole Zoltan business really got going, right?
Then, on June 7, shortstop Clint Barmes and catcher Michael McKenry had consecutive doubles in the 10th inning to produce the winning run off Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman, who had been virtually unhittable. Hurdle has called that his favorite game of the season.
"Our dugout was just electric that night."
Is it really such a reach to expect more moments like that this summer and even in the fall?
"We've got a lot of games left to play," Hurdle said. "It's going to be all about our pitching and our defense and our offense scoring one more run."
I'm still thinking it will be nice if Huntington finds another starter, although Karstens' seven-inning performance Sunday was encouraging.
It will be nice if the Pirates can find a right-handed-hitting corner outfielder with some pop, although Alvarez's home run made it 11 games in the past 12 that the team has hit at least one home run.
It will be nice if the club can find a leadoff man or add to its bench. But I'm willing to take Alvarez's advice right up until the trade deadline before coming to any conclusions about the necessity of any deal.
The Pirates will play their next 10 games against the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros. They could be 19 or even 21 games over .500 by July 31.