Pirates' path isn't always clear
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As the Pirates move purposefully toward this fascinating baseball season's third act, it is easy enough to separate that which is increasingly clear about the club from that which is increasingly muddled.
On the increasingly muddled menu you have the largely indecipherable summer of Jeff Karstens, the tenacious right-hander whose past eight starts can only be described in highly technical terms, so here goes: bad, good, good, bad, good, bad, good, and then, Tuesday night, neither.
As you like it.
Karstens climbed the North Side mound from the apex of which he'd thrown 20 consecutive scoreless innings and promptly allowed the Arizona Diamondbacks to score in three of the first four innings he worked.
He took an RBI single off the right buttock in the first, watched another sizzle between his feet in the fourth, and, in between, served a delectable 79 mph slider right up in the eyes of Stephen Drew, who rode it to the seats in right field.
Other than that he was sharp.
"I don't think he's that far away," said manager Clint Hurdle on a night when his pitchers absorbed a rare 10-4 spanking. "He just needs to sharpen his sword a little more. You saw some very good sequences. His sharpest inning was his last one, but left-handers got to him tonight.
"Command has not been his friend."
On the side of increasingly clarity stands The Fort, around which Hurdle simply has to station his starting lineup with much greater frequency. Michael "Fort" McKenry, clearly in the near term, makes the Pirates a more formidable offensive assemblage than does fellow catcher Rod Barajas, with virtually no empirical evidence to the contrary.
McKenry's one-out double in the sixth last night awakened a slouching offense that for the second consecutive night could not take advantage of a rookie starter. Patrick Corbin worked free even after walking Pedro Alvarez, but an inning later the Pirates overturned a 3-2 Arizona lead on another deafening signal from their own standout rookie, Starling Marte.
Talk about clarity. Marte is a bell tower.
Marte sent the third homer of his 12-day big league career whistling into the "s" in the Pirates center-field topiary to lead off the home seventh. Travis Snider's third hit of the night came right in front of the Andrew McCutchen double that sent him to third, where Neil Walker scored him with a sacrifice fly.
All of that allowed Hurdle to line up his familiar bullpen chorus line for a typical show-stopping finish, but it's not infallible, despite appearing so for most of the summer. The Pirates, who had led into the eighth 53 times this season and won every single time, got to experience the unavoidable.
Jason Grilli, who owned the eighth inning to the extent that he'd allowed only five earned runs in his previous 35 appearances, could not get an out Tuesday night.
Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who had his team's only two hits in a 4-0 skunking the night before, started the eighth with his third hit of the night, a double into the right-field corner. Justin Upton singled him to third, and Miguel Montero slapped Grilli's 0-2 pitch, a fifth consecutive four-seam fastball, through the hole on the right side to tie the score for the fourth time at 4-4.
That stung for only a second, because two pitches later, third baseman Chris Johnson blasted Grilli's 1-0 pitch to the seats above the ketchup bottle in extreme right center, making it 7-4 Diamondbacks.
But Grilli, should you be wondering, is still a bullpen force of great clarity. Opposition hitters still are only scratching out a .189 average against him.
The only part of this with which the Pirates don't seem to agree is McKenry's standing. He's the first right-handed hitting catcher around here with 11 homers since Jason Kendall knocked 14 back in 2000, a statistical aberration that wound up costing the ballclub $60 million over the next six years for a player who would never hit as many as nine homers in a season again if he played another 10 years, which he did.
They can't be hesitant on McKenry owing to that ancient Kendall history, can they? Don't go searching for weird karma on nights like this, because it'll find you:
Last night was the ninth anniversary of Raul Mondesi's walk-off homer for these same Diamondbacks over the doomed Montreal Expos, a performance that in some part wound up putting Mondesi in the Pirates outfield a year later, where he'd spend two inglorious months but somehow cast a near decade-long spotlight on management cluelessness.
The ultimate clarity of the moment is that these Pirates will put together a third act that will not only make people forget last year's 18-36 final third of the season, but free the franchise's loyalists from nearly two full decades of losing.
It's coming almost assuredly, even if the path right now remains muddy in spots.
First Published August 8, 2012 12:01 am