Incredible magic show keeps Pirates in contention
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Anyone who scoffs at the fearful notion among baseball's so-called purists that instant replay will eventually cannibalize the game needs to reference the Pirates-Twins tussle Wednesday night at PNC Park for the final, dramatic, smoking gun evidence.
It was then and there, let the portentous history show, that a rogue replay episode played the key role in deciding not merely a home run or a fair-or-foul boundary call, but an actual result.
Replay viewers were, in fact, the first to know that in the nightly pierogi race, the photo finish between Jalapeno Hannah and the very intelligent Oliver Onion, Hannah had indeed won by less than the length of her purse.
There was indisputable visual evidence, and all grumbling immediately ceased, save for that which continues to burble from the people who still wonder why the Jalapeno dame gets to carry a purse in the first place.
But, look, the point is to get it right, and they got it right.
Before long, available technology will absorb everyone and everything in its path, sometime after swallowing everything in baseball within the range of a lens.
Someone like Joel Peralta, in that not-very-distant era, will never be able to carry a glove adorned with a foreign substance to the pitchers mound, because as soon as he crosses the foul line, 15 digitized infrared sensors will instantly alert the authorities, at which point six representatives of the commissioner's office in ill-fitting suits will sprint toward the mound and beat an eight-game suspension out of him.
But there is a phenomenon presenting itself to baseball right now, this summer, right here in river city, that no technology known to man nor to the CIA nor to NASA nor possibly even to CMU (possibly, I said) can validate, and it is perhaps best framed by this question:
How do these 2012 Pirates, who came into play Thursday night with only three batters hitting so much as a modest .250, whose 230 runs scored was still the fewest in baseball after 67 games, find themselves only two games out of first place on June 22?
It's a magic show.
This latest episode looked perfectly conventional, a 9-1 thumping in the Pirates' grand Lumber Company tradition, with doubles and triples and homers flying all over the North Shore, but is that elongated portion of our program when nine runs represented a decent week officially over?
"Nothing is official in this game," Andrew McCutchen rightly pointed out. "But we are doing a lot better job as hitters than we had been doing, with a lot more consistency. Now we have to keep it up."
Not one has really so much as approached the consistent excellence of McCutchen, who Thursday night tripled, doubled, went 3 for 4 and drove in three runs in a game he polished his batting averaged to .339. In fact, when popular utility man Josh Harrison singled in the second, he vaulted onto the Pirates' little Mount Rushmore of .250-plus hitters with McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Garrett Jones.
Jones chased McCutchen home with a two-out single in the first and swatted himself a birthday homer (he turned 31 Thursday) in the seventh as the Pirates put up their third '9' in the past five games, and an offense that averaged barely three runs per game for all of April and May has scored four runs or more 11 times in the past 15 games -- six or more six times in the past nine.
"It's nice to put up a bunch of runs and to be on the board early," said Jones, who didn't shy from suggesting the hitters have entered a new phase. "The offense is definitely coming around."
Still, it's hard to avoid the sense that this offense is so challenged that its recent surge is at best illusory. More than half of Clint Hurdle's lineup Wednesday night -- Walker, Jones, Alex Presley, Rod Barajas, and Pedro Alvarez -- came into the game a combined 0 for 31.
The fact that Alvarez hit his 13th homer and that Barajas launched his seventh has to be tempered somewhat by the reality that no team in baseball is surrendering more go-balls than these Minnesota Twins (93 in 68 games) and the starter Thursday night, still-winless-in-the-big-leagues Australian Liam Hendriks, brought to the mound an ERA that looked more like the combined grade point averages of co-valedictorians (7.83).
"We're putting good at-bats together," said Alvarez, who has five homers in the past five games. "We have a little better focus up there. We're really trying to accomplish getting quality at-bats."
"They're doing the things we thought they were capable of," Hurdle said about a club that has won 16 of the past 24. "But more challenges are coming this weekend with the three pitchers the Tigers will throw at us. They just keep coming in the big leagues. There are not many off days up here, unless you get a day off."
Uh-huh. I don't need a replay on that. I know exactly what he meant.
First Published June 22, 2012 12:00 am