By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Tony Watson(notes) #65 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the game on June 24, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
The Pirates have 48 homers; the Red Sox have 46 homers on the road. The Pirates on Clint Hurdle's lineup card Friday night had 28 homers; the Red Sox on Terry Francona's had mashed 49, and the head banger, David Ortiz with 17, wasn't even on it.
And none of that even begins to describe the offensive mismatch that provides the inescapable framework of the hotly anticipated weekend series now in progress.
At one point in a baseball season still not half over, Boston scored 14 runs or more six times in a 29-game stretch. The Pirates, one time, scored 10.
All right, two times.
It's got everything to do with talent, logically enough, which so often in Major League Baseball has everything to do with money, and Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez being this summer's Exhibit A.
Apparently no one informed Gonzalez that sluggers who sign obscene contracts in overheated baseball-centric markets often struggle to sustain anything resembling the casual excellence that crackled off his bat in laid-back San Diego.
When he came up in the seventh inning Friday night against Pirates rookie Tony Watson, Gonzalez was hitting .363, which meant he was leading the big leagues in hits, RBIs, doubles, extra-base hits, total bases, batting average, front office I-told-ya-so's and in the number of games in which he had a least three hits. He'd done it 14 times.
Adrian Gonzalez is astounding, and all it's costing the Red Sox is $154 million over this and the next half-dozen summers, which means, considering that Gonzalez averages about 595 at-bats in a full season, he's getting just a hair under $37,000 per at-bat.
He pops foul to the catcher? That'll be $36,974.79. Need a receipt? Have a nice day.
(It also means, with fellow free agent Carl Crawford and his seven-year $142 million contract on the disabled list, the Red Sox are paying as much for two players as the Pirates are paying for just about everybody).
Not to be bitter.
The Pirates were ahead 3-1 in that seventh inning, and Watson had just taken over for Chris Resop, who had gotten starter Paul Maholm out of the sixth with a double-play ball. Pinch hitter Josh Reddick swatted Walker's 2-2 pitch to right for a leadoff single, and, with one out, Dustin Pedroia walked in front of Gonzalez.
Pitching coach Ray Searage visited Watson and apparently told him to throw strikes, as hair-raising as that sounds. Gonzalez was a .317 hitter lifetime against the Pirates, including eight homers. But that's what Watson did: strike one called, strike two called, a foul ball and then another foul ball, straight up. Michael McKenry caught it, and on Hurdle went into every corner of the bullpen trying to preserve a lead like a man unsure of where his next two-run lead will come from this weekend.
He called in Daniel McCutchen to contend with cleanup hitter Kevin Youkilis, and McCutchen whiffed him on a 1-2 pitch to end the seventh.
He went to Jose Veras for the Boston eighth, when Darnell McDonald and J.D. Drew stroked back-to-back singles and moved to second and third on Jason Varitek's sacrifice. But Veras composed himself. He froze Marco Scutaro with a 1-2 breaking ball, then stared down pinch hitter Ortiz with the game on the line.
Hurdle went to the mound in a rare visit that didn't result in a pitching change.
"They can be pitched to," Hurdle had insisted as this series started, "but if you're going to leave pitches out over the plate, they'll crush you."
Veras left nothing that Ortiz could handle, and the menacing DH turned PH bounced harmlessly to short as the third-largest PNC crowd ever (39,330) erupted in anticipation of a Joel Hanrahan ninth.
With his 20 saves and 20 tries and his preposterous earned run average of 0.67 over the past 27 appearances, Hanrahan represented the best of a superb bullpen that joined Maholm in constructing the one kind of game the Pirates can win against Boston's strike force.
Two outs into the ninth, Gonzalez appeared again, this time getting his first crack at a right-handed pitcher.
Let's not minimize it by pointing out that Hanrahan did not appear to be intimidated. The first-pitch fastball came in at 98 mph for strike one. The second-pitch fastball was a 99 mph freight train. Gonzalez did everything he could just to meet it, and it nearly knocked the bat out of his hands before rolling softly to Neil Walker at second.
Game 1 to Pittsburgh, where a payroll 28 percent of Boston's is going a long way for the moment.
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org. More articles by this author
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