Gene Collier: Charlie Morton sends overdue message for Pirates



Shin-soo Choo?

What did he do?

Nothing terribly annoying that I can remember, but Choo happened to be standing in the batters box Tuesday night in Cincinnati when Charlie Morton did what any of several Pirates pitchers should have done the night before at the first opportunity.

Morton plunked him, and there was no doubt -- no doubt -- as to what the point of that pitch was.

It's a credit to Morton that even though he has been away from the game for most of a calendar in surgical recuperation, he hasn't forgotten how to negotiate the darker contours of what it takes to play major league baseball.

As we've been advised all the way back to Biblical times, the meek shall inherit the earth, but not the National League Central, necessarily.

Beside which, Evan Meek is no longer in the big leagues, much less the division.

From those same beatitudes, you'll no doubt remember, we learn that blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God, but, again, not in the National League Central.

When it comes to the Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals, among others, the peacemakers are called only the most unflattering things.

Such as, uh, meek.

This has for too long been a peculiar problem for the Pirates, whose pitchers usually hit opposing batters at a pretty fierce clip, but, when it comes to delivering what is still sometimes called a purpose pitch in the game's modern politics, they've been staggeringly ineffective.

The Pirates will hit you with pitches, but no one ever walked up a dugout runway to the clubhouse feeling like they'd just been intimidated by Clint Hurdle's team. The notion verily amuses.

No team brings the Pirates' shortcomings in this area oozing to the surface like the Reds, who have been throwing at Andrew McCutchen like he's a stack of milk bottles in a Coney Island arcade for four consecutive summers.

"My father worked at Coney Island; he had a concession on the boardwalk, where you knock over milk bottles with baseballs, which I could never do for my entire childhood," the great Woody Allen used to say in his stand-up act. "There was a tidal wave at Coney Island, when I was a child, ripped up the boardwalk and did about a million dollars worth of damage, houses and everything. The only thing left standing was those little milk bottles."

Sorry, that story just kind of begged to go there, right?

Anyway, one of these days, this tidal wave of purpose pitches the Reds keep whipping at McCutchen is going to take him down, so, when Mike Leake drilled him in the fourth inning of the first game of four Pirates-Reds entanglements this week, it was clear the Pirates needed to do something that would at least attempt to ensure that a McCutchen beaning wouldn't have the same impact as the one Aug. 5.

On that night, Reds closer Aroldis Chapman nailed him in the ninth inning, or at the point in time when the Pirates were a season-high 16 games over .500. They were 60-44. They did not respond with any purpose and spent the rest of the season with their collective tail tucked between their legs. They went 19-39 the rest of the way. The Reds went on to the playoffs.

To escape from the potential Groundhog Day rhythm of all that, the Pirates likely needed something like Morton's fastball off the front knee of Choo some 24 hours earlier, as when Leake appeared in the batters box one inning after hitting McCutchen, 10 months after hitting Josh Harrison in the same batters box, three years after hitting McCutchen in the neck.

In the neck.

But no one in black and gold, most especially pitcher Francisco Liriano, saw any reason for a purpose pitch to Leake. Leake might not have intended to hit McCutchen, after all, but intent is not part of this equation.

Leake hit McCutchen, your top player, and has in the past.

Now Leake is in the batter box, which is the beauty of National League baseball; pitchers have to bat. They cannot just nail opposing batters with impunity and duck behind the tawdry construct of the designated hitter.

But there Leake stood, and the Pirates made no purpose pitch. Sent no message.

Mind you, it doesn't have to be a particularly nasty or violent message. A basic 90 mph dart to the rib can have both purpose and comportment. Its message can be, "Look, in the future, please use caution when pitching to our young Andrew." It can even be complimentary to Leake: "Congratulations on not getting arrested for shoplifting in more than two years!"

Doesn't have to be nasty is all I'm sayin'.

Hurdle said before the game Tuesday night that his pitchers want to defend his hitters. I haven't seen nearly enough of that. He said he hoped his club would be "professionally reactive."

If Morton nailing Choo with the first pitch fulfills that requirement, then that's at least a start.

mobilehome - pirates - genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com. First Published June 19, 2013 4:00 AM


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