By Joe Starkey, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, August 4, 2011
PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 03: Ryan Doumit(notes) (R) #41 of the Pittsburgh Pirates, fresh off of the disabled list, and teammate Chris Resop(notes) #30 sit in the dugout while watching the game against the Chicago Cubs during the game on August 3, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
A colleague wondered if I'd come to PNC Park on Wednesday night to bury the Pirates.
"No," I said. "They still have 54 games left."
Earlier, a radio caller had asked the following question: "What makes you think the Pirates are a contender?"
Me: "The standings."
It was, after all, only Aug. 3. And there was, after all, still 33 percent of the season remaining. And the standings, after all, looked like this:
Team: Record (games back)
Milwaukee: 62-50 (—)
St. Louis: 58-53 (3.5)
Pirates: 54-54 (6.0)
Sorry, but no matter how those teams arrived at those respective slots, the Pirates were, and are, by virtue of their position in the standings, a contender. That does not mean I'm planning my October weekends around baseball at PNC Park, especially in light of the team's sixth consecutive loss, which dropped it 6.5 games back. The situation has grown infinitely more bleak since the moment umpire Jerry Meals went blind in Atlanta. I don't think the Pirates are going to win the division.
In fact, I'm pretty sure they won't.
But I was pretty sure they'd lose 95-105 games this season, too. Weren't you?
Why so quick to bury the living? That caller wasn't the only one. As our perceptive civic observer @JanePitt tweeted the other day, I believe at some point during the shelling of Kevin Correia: "I can hear the bodies falling to the road as they fling themselves from my bandwagon. Tuck and roll, people. Tuck and roll."
Divorce yourself, mentally, from the five-game losing streak the Pirates carried into last night's game against the Chicago Cubs and ask yourself: Would you have signed up for this in April?
Of course you would have.
There is yet some entertaining, pressurized baseball to be played. Last night's game was a perfect example — a tense pitching duel between Chicago's Matt Garza and Charlie Morton, who might have been fighting to preserve his spot in the Pirates' rotation.
A decent weeknight crowd (19,106) — particularly on a rainy night — erupted in the top of the fifth when home-plate umpire Bob Davidson ejected Chicago's Tyler Colvin for arguing a called third strike. Davidson then tossed manager Mike Quade. Morton battled his way to seven shutout innings only to see reliever Chris Resop come down with a mild case of Correia in the eighth. Resop gave up what proved to be the game-losing home run to Starlin Castro.
Plenty of fans remain emotionally invested in this season, but it seems as if others have taken perverse pleasure in the club's recent slide. Still others are calling for the Pirates to suddenly become sellers and jettison players such as pitcher Paul Maholm.
Really? With nearly a third of the season left, including 20 in a row against divisional foes to end August? I'd prefer to see Maholm and his 3.27 ERA make the next scheduled start, thank you. He's the kind of player the Pirates need to keep, perhaps by tearing up that $9.5 million club option for next season and signing him to a multi-year deal.
Or they could deal Maholm for minor leaguers and thereby appease the prospect junkies out there — the ones who were so elated when the Pirates didn't "mortgage the future" at the nonwaiver trade deadline, the ones who begin their day with prayer readings straight out of "Baseball America."
The group that really gets me is the "I told you so" crowd. They no doubt feel validated by the recent spate of losses. They knew it would happen. They were telling you all along. They're bound and determined to prove that these are the same old Pirates.
Look, I understand that when you've been abused for 18 years, it's hard to love again. But this team, with the way it has battled through injuries all season, has earned some goodwill. It certainly earned a bunch of new fans. And if even it does fall off the map, it will have proven that Pittsburgh remains a spirited baseball town.
But it's still too early for an epitaph.