Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Game 1: Pirates 12 Braves 11

I have no idea how to write this post. While doing my insane double liveblog (see here, or here and follow the links through if you're really interested) I had two recaps outlined in my head: a cautiously celebratory post recapping what I liked and didn't like about the first game of the John Russell era, and a baffled, heartbroken, I might never watch baseball again post dealing with the aftermath of what would have forever been known as "Bay Day." And I can't really use either of them in their entirety. So let me begin with this: I have watched a lot of baseball in my 23 years and I have never, ever, ever seen a game like the 2008 opener.

I suppose this recap will begin where every story must: at the beginning. Of course, that's impossible because I've lost all sense of time and space. Instead, we'll start with Ian Snell. I thought he looked about like most pitchers look in April. He wasn't great and he struggled at points, but he kept us in the game and that's really all you ever ask out of your starters. Of course, by the end this game really had nothing to do with Ian Snell, so we can move past him.

I'll first start and try to write the recap that I had mostly done in my head for the 9-4 Pirates win. I wasn't particularly pretty, since the Braves' defense kept us in the game early on when we shouldn't have been there, but we hung around, Jack Wilson turned an awesome double play to stem a Braves' rally that could've been huge, and Xavier Nady and Nate McLouth came up huge when we needed them to. I was planning on noting that Ryan Doumit had a nice game both at the plate and behind the plate, blocking several balls in the dirt and only letting one get away. It wasn't perfect, but it was perfectly acceptable. And I was going to say that while Jason Bay didn't hit very well, I was encouraged by the way he played. He made a couple of long runs to grab a couple of nice catches and hustled down first on a double play ball that made me think that his knee really does feel a whole lot better.

I was also going to do some critiquing of the new coaching staff. There is very little that drives me insane more than taking the bat out of a hitter's hand. I will grudgingly accept a bunt in a few situations because that's how everyone in the world plays baseball and it will continue that way, whether I agree with it or not. Watching Nate McLouth, who was killing the ball tonight, bunt with maybe the fastest guy in the National League in Nyjer Morgan on second base and no outs kills me. You mean to tell me that Russell has no faith in the top of his lineup to score that dude from second? I'm sorry, that's not an acceptable choice. Same goes with the ninth and the Pirates whacking random Braves' reliever X all over the park. Doumit and Nady rock lead-off singles and Bautista has to square up and bunt? This is going to get old, and it's going to get old quickly.

Anyways, most of my feelings about got completely washed out in the ninth inning. So Marte was rusty, whatever. So Capps was amped up to close out the opening win in front of his family and friends. That's fine, he calmed down. For the life of me, though, I will never understand what happened to Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, and Jack Wilson on Brian McCann's fateful two-out pop-up. Bay will be the one that's excoriated later today for that play, but the camera angle obscures just how close McLouth was to the ball. What kills me is that I don't think either one of them realized how badly they had misplayed the ball. Normally when a ball drops between two or three guys, you see people scrambling to get in position or out of each other's way and someone trips over themselves and the ball drops in. There was none of that here. It looked to me like Bay thought he had the ball lined up, and McLouth was close enough to the ball that he likely thought he had the ball lined up. And neither of them were even that close to catching it. I want to be livid and pissed at Bay, but it's impossible not to call the play fluky (because that will never happen again the way it did tonight) and really, it just made me sad. I thought to myself, "I've probably seen the Pirates lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 1300 games in the last 15 years, and somehow they found a new way to do it tonight." I don't honestly know if I've ever seen a Little League team lose a game like the Pirates almost did.

And THAT'S the rub of it. The Pirates only almost lost the game after the single worst inning I can recall watching the Pirates play in the past 15+ years. Somehow, everyone regrouped themselves, Capps got out of the 9th, and Osoria shut down the Braves in the 10th and 11th to let Xavier Nady do his opening day thing (remember this from last year?) by clubbing his second homer into the stands. Osoria was clearly gassed and almost didn't hold on to the lead, but the Braves bench was empty and likely just as confused and demoralized by that game as the Pirates were. And the Pirates won 12-11. I don't know how or why it happened, but I do know that you might watch baseball for 100 years and never see as many quirks as that game had tonight. I would love to tell you that a win's a win and the Pirates will certainly sit on top of the NL Central standings until at least Wednesday night when we play again, but that game did not feel or resemble a win in any way. That game felt like a microcosm of what it is to be a Pirate fan. Just when they do enough to make you care about them, they rip your heart out, only to somehow leave you with a glimmer of hope at the end.

Tuesday is an off-day, but I'll be watching again on Wednesday, and so will you.