Pitcher wanted to make a difference ... and he is
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
I can't claim to know Pirates pitcher Kevin Correia well. We have chatted twice, Sunday for brief introductions and Monday afternoon for a longer time in the dugout at PNC Park. But I can say this with some certainty about the man: The Pirates should be glad to have him on their team. The reason has little to do with his five wins, which are tied for the National League lead going into his start tonight against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Correia blamed himself for the San Diego Padres failing to make the playoffs last season. When is the last time you heard such a thing? A player actually taking some responsibility for his performance rather than looking for an excuse, which, in Correia's case, is right there, hitting him between the eyes at some point every day?
I'll take my chances with that guy on my team. He's going to help me win more times than not.
Correia made 33 starts, pitched 198 innings, won 12 games and had a 3.91 earned run average in 2009 for a Padres team that went 75-87. His starts shrunk to 26 last season, his innings to 145 and his wins to 10 at the same time his ERA soared to 5.40, second highest in the National League among full-time starters behind -- how's this for a familiar name -- Zach Duke (5.72). The '10 Padres were in the chase until the final day, finishing 90-72, two games behind the West Division champion San Francisco Giants and one game back of the wild-card Atlanta Braves.
"It's a shame that team didn't make it because it would have been one of the biggest underdog stories out there," Correia said. "I definitely should have had a better year. If I had pitched better, we would have made it. I just didn't have anything close to the season I expected."
In more ways than one, as it turns out.
That's the kicker about Correia: No one else in San Diego blamed him for the Padres falling short. They knew his story there. Rather, they knew his brother's sad story.
Sunday was such a great day for Correia and the Pirates. They beat the Houston Astros on Ryan Doumit's three-run home run in the eighth inning to move to .500 for the first time this late in a season in six years. But it also was a difficult day for Correia. It was the first anniversary of Trevor Correia's death. He was just a few weeks from his 22nd birthday when he died in a fall while hiking with his girlfriend and friends off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif. An investigator's report cited by ESPN.com in November quoted eyewitnesses as saying Trevor Correia "ended up looking like he dove off the cliff." Authorities ruled it an accident but said alcohol intoxication was a factor in his death.
"It was Mother's Day. I just focused on my wife and [two] kids," Correia said when asked how he handled the painful anniversary. He said it in such a steely tone, his eyes hidden from the late-afternoon sun behind sunglasses. I waited for more, but there was nothing.
"I made up my mind I wasn't going to talk about it this season," Correia said. "It's my situation to deal with, not anybody else's. I'm not the kind of person that wants the attention. I have to do deal with it my way."
Correia, 30, grew up in San Diego and spent all or parts of six seasons with the Giants and two with the Padres. If he were running away from the West Coast, his most recent memories there and the unanswerable questions about his brother's death, no one could blame him. I was thinking that had to be a reason he picked Pittsburgh when he became a free agent after last season. Hardly anyone picks the Pirates if he has other options, but this town is a long way from San Diego.
"No," Correia said, shaking his head.
Again, I waited. Again, nothing.
"I liked the situation here," Correia had said earlier. "It was similar to the situation in San Diego when I left San Francisco. In San Francisco, they had a really good pitching staff and I would have been the No. 5 guy. I went to San Diego for the chance to be more than that. I went there to make a difference. I think I pitch better and I enjoy baseball more when I can make a difference."
"I pitched against these guys enough in the past few years to know it was going to be a better team than they've had here in a lot of years," Correia said. "I didn't come here expecting to lose. It's a good enough team to win some games. I'm not going to say we're going to win the World Series this year. But we are going to win some games. We'll see where that takes us."
It has made for an interesting start to the season. Correia's start has been especially impressive. It's not just those five wins. It's the 2.91 ERA. He has been really good in five of his seven starts.
It's no coincidence the Pirates rotation has been much improved from a year ago. The starters took a 13-10 record and a 4.06 ERA into the game Monday night against the Dodgers. Compare that with their pathetic numbers from '09 when they were one of the worst rotations in baseball history: 34-84 with a 5.28 ERA.
Give Pirates general manager Neal Huntington a lot of credit for getting Correia to Pittsburgh with a two-year, $8 million contract. Before Correia started and won on opening day in Chicago, Huntington talked of him having a "bounce-back year." Huntington, too, knew of the horrific circumstances surrounding Correia's '10 season.
"I just want to have a normal baseball season again," Correia said, his eyes still behind those glasses, looking out on the PNC Park grass. "I want to show I can pitch like I did the year before."
So far, so good.
Correia came here to make a difference?
He's making one.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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