Summer's here and time is right for Pirates
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As the summer officially arrives, as in 89 degrees for a first pitch at 7:07 p.m., we should all agree that several important distinctions already have been drawn for this still-somehow-promising 2012 baseball season.
For example, if you are present while the federal government is trying to prosecute a decorated pitcher for lying to Congress, you may be asked to leave for the simple and sometimes unavoidable transgression of falling asleep.
Not those two people.
By contrast, I'm sure that more than two people had fallen asleep among the 19,936 on hand Tuesday night at PNC Park, at least in the early innings as starting pitchers Kevin Correia and Minnesota's Scott Diamond took turns hypnotizing two of the hotter lineups in baseball. Diamond, one of nine starters the Twins have tried this season, was starting down a Pirates lineup that had pumped out 17 more runs in June than it had in all of April, and that was with 12 games left. Correia was merely facing a team that was hitting a best-in-baseball .294 this month.
One difference is, at the ballpark, you cannot be asked to exit for falling asleep, as long as you don't happen to be in either of the starting lineups. The other, marginally more relevant difference, at least for most of Tuesday night, was that the Pirates' Josh Harrison kept waking people up.
Harrison homered in the first just as everyone settled in, then in the fifth, after a long siesta by both offenses, Harrison singled, stole second, stole third, and scored when Casey McGehee launched Diamond's lollipop curveball to sufficiently distant center field.
Harrison singled again in the seventh, then drove a pitch to the track in right in the eighth.
Had all this happened in a game when starting shortstop Clint Barmes remained lost in a .188 season, Harrison would have vaulted right back to the top of the talking points of the JAY-HAY EVERY DAY contingent of the local fan base. But inconveniently enough, Barmes was himself going 3 for 4, including an RBI double that made the score 3-0 in the sixth, helping to send the Pirates galloping to a 7-2 victory, their third in a row and 15th in the past 22 games.
The Pirates' earned run average at home improved to 2.39, the best such figure in the major leagues, as a visiting club was begrudged two runs or fewer for the 20th time in 31 games. This favorable current is so strong that it even pulled in Correia, who was 0-6 in his past nine starts at PNC Park and had won exactly one of his past 10 anywhere.
But Corriea worked smartly into the sixth, and of the 16 outs he recorded, 11 were on the ground, probably the best start by a wavering rotation in more than a week.
If that rights the ship somewhat, the timing is exquisite, as the game Tuesday night was the first of 20 without a day off, leading directly to the All-Star break. It represents an obvious challenge, but is perhaps better viewed as a mammoth opportunity.
"The schedule is the same for everybody," Clint Hurdle cautioned. "Everybody's gonna have 20 [games] in 20 [days] or 20 in 21 at some point. For us, we have to use our experience from last year to turn this into an opportunity. We were able to finish strong going into the break last year.
"They'll be some tough teams in the way. We just have to keep everybody involved, and make sure our starters are giving us the length we need."
As the 20-in-20 series started, the combined record of the next six opponents was 189-211 (.472) and the combined record of the first five was an even less imposing 151-181 (.455). The schedule hands the Pirates the wobbly Twins, the underachieving Tigers, the underachieving Phillies, the moderately achieving Cardinals, the typically unachieving Astros, and then the solidly achieving Giants. Thirteen of the 20 games are at home, where the Pirates have won five in a row and nine of the past 10. In fact, on the other side of the break, there isn't a winning ballclub on the schedule until Aug. 3.
If that looks like an embossed invitation to extend the baseball summer in these parts well beyond last year's Jerry Meals mark (July 26 into 27), that's only because that's exactly what it is.
First Published June 20, 2012 12:02 am