Gene Collier: A shake turns out well


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Among the product warnings you've read a thousand times or more, two describe the same general problem.

One is, SOME SETTLING MAY OCCUR.

This is the explanation (excuse) for why the 20-ounce bag of Doritos you just grabbed looks like it can't possibly have more than eight chips in it.

Two is, SIGNIFICANT PRODUCT SETTLING MAY OCCUR.

This is the warning that the product you're anticipating has not only settled but probably separated into its primary elements, and you had better shake it more than just a bit to avoid severe disappointment.

That's the Pirates kind of settling, significant product settling, and it not only may occur, it does occur, just about every July and August of recent memory.

Why else did general manager Neal Huntington look at this team this week and decide it was time to SHAKE WELL, adding Marlon Byrd and John Buck from the New York Mets?

But let's examine, for a second, this specific strain of settling, which to so many has proved so very unsettling, most especially those with the-collapse-is-coming crowd.

From July 1 through Aug. 28, the Pirates have gone 26-25, significantly tempering the most promising first half around here since Roberto Clemente's last summer.

From July 1 until Aug. 28, 2012, the Pirates went an identical 26-25, tempering a first half almost as promising as this year's.

From July 1 until Aug. 28, 2011, the Pirates went 21-21, tempering ... yeah, that's right, you get it.

So Wednesday night, there was the veteran Byrd, hitting cleanup in the first draft of Clint Hurdle's right-handed lineup, nearly sparking a four-alarm first inning until the rocket he launched on Tom Gorzelanny's 0-1 pitch went smack into the pitcher's glove to start a double play, then making Gorzo work through 14 pitches and five attempted pickoff throws before striking him out in the fourth.

It wasn't so much that Byrd's second at-bat lasted longer than the Tyson-Spinks fight, it was the immediate evidence that there was suddenly a very tough out in the middle of a habitually non-threatening lineup.

"I never got a hand like that for striking out, but I was disappointed I couldn't finish the at-bat," Byrd said after a boffo Pittsburgh debut. "I was battling, but Gorzelanny made a good pitch.

"I was enjoying it, the fans, taking it all in. I'm a Pittsburgh Pirate fighting to get to the playoffs. The first three at-bats I was disappointed it didn't go the way I wanted, but it finished up the way I wanted."

Byrd brought the smallish crowd to its feet with a three-run shot into the topiary 'S' in the seventh, and took a curtain call in his first game aboard ship.

"That was my first one," he smiled. "Perfect timing."

The deal for Byrd and Buck, bringing to Pittsburgh a combined 36 homers and 131 RBIs, showed that Hurdle and Huntington were wrong when they both said independently there was enough talent in their clubhouse for the offense to self-correct.

It hasn't.

That Garrett Jones would spring to life. He hasn't.

That Neil Walker's production would pick up in the third and fourth quarters. It has, but not to anything like the optimal extent.

That's why Hurdle has had to SHAKE WELL as well.

He put Josh Harrison in the leadoff spot where Jose Tabata had been, Jordy Mercer in the No. 2 spot while Walker sat instead of surrendering against left-handed pitching, put Gaby Sanchez in the 6 hole in front of Russell Martin, and batted Tabata eighth.

When he turned the key, the thing started like a Rolls-Royce.

"I'd like to say it always works that way," Hurdle said after a 7-1 victory that moved his club back within a half-game of the St. Louis Cardinals. "I hope that wasn't the first time, but it sure played out well. You envision things going in.

'You try to get the catalyst [Harrison] at top of the order that we wanted to get things going against a left-hander, and he gave us the at-bats we were looking for. Mercer has kind of put his foot down in that [No. 2] hole against left-handers, giving us good at-bats, swinging the bat and putting the bunt down.

"Byrd's in the cleanup spot, and the lineup is stretched out, giving Martin a bit of a blow hitting seventh; it played out well tonight."

But, ultimately, it'll all be a matter of what you'll settle for.

pirates - genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com. First Published August 29, 2013 4:15 AM


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