Collier: No myths here, these Pirates making history
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Four hours before game time, an e-mail arrived from a distinguished academic, and the timing looked either extremely fortuitous or perfectly slapstick, without prejudice as to which would have been better.
It foreshadowed an historic and bumpy night on the North Shore, where the Pirates were hoping to somehow sidestep a history-making 13th consecutive loss, at least in regard to what is called modern baseball history, or that which has happened since 1900, which is, you know, a lot of stuff.
You have to go back through two centuries to unearth a 13-game Pittsburgh losing streak, a matter best left to academics, preferably actual historians, and that's why yesterday's e-mail from Purdue University professor Frank Lambert was so very welcome.
The subject line read, EXPERT SINKS PIRATES MYTHS, STEREOTYPES WITH REAL HISTORY.
What better accompaniment, after all, to such an historical loss as the 4-3 pie in the face from the White Sox last night than a serious, studied discussion of the all-time No. 1 Pirates myth: The House Untruth Built, the untruth being that a new baseball-only stadium would leave this franchise up to its crossbones in gushing revenue streams, the very public prescription for not only competitive baseball, but probably a return to the kind of National League plundering the city had grown accustomed to in the 1970s.
More currently, there is Myth No. 48, namely that left-handed pitcher Oliver Perez was the second coming of Sandy Koufax or Steve Carlton. Shame on us all for that little associative spasm. Now, as Perez sits in exile in the Pirates' bullpen awaiting the next Greyhound to Indianapolis, we're pretty sure we'd have settled for the next Larry McWilliams.
At game time, the ball for this little brush with destiny got handed to Paul Maholm, who looks to be something between the next Randy Tomlin and the next Oliver Perez, but for most of 90 minutes, Maholm pitched like the world champion White Sox were some random list of Class AA suspects.
He breezed through six innings, allowing but three hits and a walk. He scratched out a run-scoring infield hit to help the alleged Pirates' offense construct a 3-0 lead. But 10 pitches into the seventh, the score was tied, 3-3. Juan Uribe's three-run double after three soft-serve singles loaded the bases chased Maholm, and Scott Podsednik's two-out single to right off former Sox reliever Damaso Marte put Chicago on top to stay.
But enough. For the real sunken myths, and the import of buried treasure the Pirates never seem to find anymore, here's professor Lambert.
"When historians try to put the Pirates into historical context, it only raises more questions about who was a real Pirate," Lambert wrote.
Exactly, like Jeromy Burnitz. Is that a real Pirate? Bounced a 3-0 pitch from Freddy Garcia into an inning-ending double play in the third with Freddy Sanchez on third. Garcia had just walked Jason Bay, but Burnitz was apparently in no mood to let Garcia help this offense.
"You might say a Pirate is in the eye of the beholder," professor Lambert went on. "The definition of a Pirate is a robber at sea without sanction from a nation. But under that definition, the Barbary Pirates, perhaps the most famous of all, are not Pirates. They were privateers, many from Europe, encouraged by Britain to raid American shipping because the new country was a competitor."
"Disney is making piracy safe with these movies," Lambert went on, oblivious to our topic. "These are romantic figures in a magical, mythical story. The Pirates in fiction, as well as the Pirates from 200 years ago, are a lot safer than the Pirates we face today."
That pretty much concludes our expert testimony, inasmuch as Lambert's e-mail was obviously an attempt to capitalize on the release next Friday of the sequel to "Pirates of the Caribbean." As for our own Pirates of the Caribbean, Jose Bautista launched his fifth homer of the month and ninth in only 134 at-bats, and Ronny Paulino slapped a couple of hits even as he was thrown out trying to stretch a fourth-inning single into a double without actually sliding by any accepted definition.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who revered Roberto Clemente and now, with some irony, managed the club that delivered unto these Pirates this history making loss, insisted the Pirates aren't as rag-tag as maybe your typical 26-53 club.
"I don't want to say things that people are going to go, 'yeah right,' but to me that looks like a pretty good young ballclub," Guillen said. "They threw the ball real well tonight. They're fun to watch. In the ninth inning, they got after one of the best relievers in the American League [Bobby Jenks] pretty good [with Bay completing an 0 for 4 by leaving the tying run on second].
"I know people are going to read this and say, 'Yeah, keep talking,' but I mean it."
The Pirates face righty Jose Contreras today. He has won 16 games in a row. Things could continue to be historic, but I guess there's no need to get all professorial about it.
First Published June 29, 2006 12:00 am