Gene Collier: Pirates uncork another bitter defeat


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According to my official correspondence from the Pirates front office, Wednesday is Wine Tasting Night at the ballpark.

Sweet.

Or rather, Suite.

If you're willing to lay out $70, you get to go to one of the luxury suites for a round of wine tasting before they pull the cork on the second game of the Pirates-Reds series.

Seriously, you can't afford not to do it.

I'm not much for wine, but I didn't want to let the occasion pass, so instead of wine tasting, I made Tuesday night Whine Testing Night.

Among the notable whines available were:

A semi-bodacious 2014 Pedro Alvarez -- are there any key hits forthcoming from the guy who led the National League in home runs a year ago and drove in 100? Don't want to say this is a robustly strong whine because Alvarez's OPS is at least in the 2013 ballpark, but would it be too much to ask for something with a little more body than .207 with runners in scoring position?

Alvarez came up with the bases loaded in the third inning against Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto and lifted a feeble fly too shallow to score even Andrew McCutchen from third, but McCutchen ran into a double play at home anyway because scoring chances against Cueto have been purely hypothetical this year.

In two shots at him this year, the Pirates were 6 for 63 against him as he waltzed through all 18 innings.

Alvarez came up with two on and two out in the fifth, as well, and with Cueto's pitch count nearing 100, tapped weakly to third to snuff that opportunity. At that point he was on pace for a 30 percent reduction in home runs and a 20 percent reduction in RBIs from a year ago.

Clint Hurdle had seen enough by the seventh when the Reds, clinging to a one-run lead again, brought in left-hander Manny Parra to pitch to Alvarez. Hurdle sent Gaby Sanchez up to strike out. That took only four pitches.

But to fully appreciate this whine, note the bouquet of the Alvarez throwing error in the sixth, his 17th of the young summer. With his next error, Pedro will have three times as many errors as doubles.

That's some real Mad Dog stuff right there.

Also, there was this selection, the curious Rotting Bullpen -- remember when relief pitchers commonly strode to the front lines of the Pirates defense and actually got people out?

Me neither, but I know it's happened because it used to be a point of rather prideful emphasis. Tuesday night marked the fourth consecutive game in which the first person to arrive from the bullpen carried with him a match and an accelerant.

This time it was Justin Wilson, who after swirling two soft-serve singles, allowed Joey Votto to rip a two-run single to center and inflate the Reds' lead to three times its original size. When Wilson exited with two outs in the seventh, the past nine bullpen shifts had resulted in 14 hits, 13 runs and 8 walks across 101/3 innings. That includes Jeanmar Gomez's four scoreless innings Friday night in Miami, without which the whine becomes almost unpalatable.

That 2-0 pitch Todd Frazier hit about halfway to the Clemente Bridge to put the Reds ahead in the ninth off Jason Grilli left a severe aftertaste, right?

Finally, for your inspection, a 2014 Whoopsee Daisy Whine, a surprising little number like when you suddenly look up and discover that the three-game Cincinnati series in progress on the North Side features the team with the fewest errors in the league against the team with the most errors in the league. With their first two errors of the series, the Pirates had more than doubled the season total of the Reds (55-27), so when you consider the close proximity of the clubs in the NL Central standings, this whine has serious implications for the balance of the summer unless something changes drastically.

Basically, if the Reds had the Pirates defense, they would be the Cubs, a reliable non-factor. But the Pirates have the Pirates defense, and the death struggle for third place is on. Their advanced-metrics defense can put every single player in the exact correct spot on every pitch for the rest of eternity, but painstaking research continues to suggest that for the analysis-sensitive shifts and overshifts to work properly, THE BALL MUST BE CAUGHT!

Or thrown in a manner that it can be caught.

If it weren't for the Cleveland Indians, the Pirates would have more errors than anyone in, as they like to say, all of baseball.

There are three more Wine Tasting Nights on the promotional docket for this year. Whine Testing, however, knows no such limitations.

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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