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Opinion: Time for Pirates to deliver

April 17, 2014
By MATTHEW PEASLEE - Sports Writer (mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com) , The Herald-Star

There I stood, sweating, as the seconds seemed like hours.

My anticipation was building, my heart was pounding and my breath was deeper and deeper and deeper...

I can't imagine how Andrew McCutchen was feeling. After all, he was the one at the plate in Great American Ballpark.

I was in my living room in northeast Ohio.

The pressure he had to endure, National League MVP and all, to deliver in the ninth inning, with two outs and two runners on base and his team down by two runs, was like trying to smash through a brick wall with only a wooden Louisville Slugger bat.

That brick wall on Tuesday in Cincinnati was Reds' closer Jonathon Broxton.

McCutchen worked a full count as I inched off my couch and spilled my popcorn. Then, he fouled off four pitches.

That's when the sweat started to drip.

And then, he popped out.

Brandon Phillips caught the final ball in play, which was launched almost to the height as the previous night's lunar eclipse, to end the game.

McCutchen didn't deliver, but he sure did battle.

And that's what valuable players do. The most valuable, though, come through in that situation.

McCutchen has eight walk-off hits in his six years of major league baseball, four are home runs and two came in his rookie season. While a hit or home run against the Reds on Tuesday, which resulted in a 7-5 loss, wouldn't have won the game right there, it would have put the Pirates in a good situation with Jason Grilli coming on in the bottom half for the save.

But that didn't happen.

Nobody delivered at the plate for the Bucs on Wednesday as they were shut out by Cincinnati, 4-0, behind a career-high 12 strikeouts from Johnny Cueto.

Not bad revenge for a guy who was humiliated in front of more than 40,000 black-clad renegades in PNC Park on Oct. 1 in the Wild Card game.

"That's right, Pittsburgh," he was probably thinking in his head. "I am Cueeeee-toooo. Remember the name."

But as the Pirates return home from a nine-game road trip, in which they went 3-6, they will have to forget the struggles of the past week and a half.

One of the many anecdotes of manager Clint Hurdle is to "shower well." Hopefully the Pirates used extra Old Spice before today's game against the Brewers.

I know I said to forget the recent past, but here's a friendly reminder - Pittsburgh was swept by Milwaukee last weekend and scored just five runs in the three-game series.

The Brewers extended their winning streak to nine games, which was eventually snapped by the Cardinals on Monday, by limiting the Pirates to just 16 hits on the series. Pittsburgh didn't help its cause by committing four errors.

The optimism from the first week of the season has faded a bit as the opening month of baseball hits the midway point and the Pirates sit a game below .500 - the first time they have experienced a losing record in 363 days.

Funny enough, no every day player in the Pirates' lineup has a batting average above .300. McCutchen leads with a .268. He is riding a five-game hitting streak, to overcome a recent 3 for 17 drought, into today's 7:05 p.m. game which pits Edinson Volquez against the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo.

McCutchen is still searching for his first home run of the season.

Surprisingly enough, Neil Walker is tied for second in the league with five home runs, the same number as prototypical Pirates slugger Pedro Alvarez.

Walker's power stroke is a welcome sight as he has only hit 59 career home runs through five seasons.

Pittsburgh has been scoring runs in some unique ways - especially with the long ball. On Monday, they belted six home runs in a suspended contest against the Reds.

The Pirates didn't even need a full game to make baseball history.

They hit three pairs of back-to-back home runs becoming the first team to do so since the Red Sox in 1977. Once the game picked back up on Tuesday, Pittsburgh added a run for an 8-7 win.

As they are now one game below .500, the Pirates are minus-four in run differential, scoring 57 and surrendering 61.

The starting pitching isn't quite the lights-out rotation that it was at the end of last season. But it's not the dumpster fire some predicted it would be. The staff is 14th in all of baseball with a 3.70 cumulative earned run average and Francisco Liriano is third in the majors with 28 strikeouts.

After taking two wins in their first three series, the Pirates have lost their last two, dropping four of their last five games.

Coming home is a boost they need.

It won't be easy against the Brewers for three games and the Reds for four.

It's time to make up some early ground, as Milwaukee sits with the best record in baseball and a two-game lead in the Central standings.

It's time get the pitching back on track.

It's time to find consistency at the plate.

It's time to deliver.

(Peaslee, a Youngstown native, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com and followed on Twitter at @thempeas)

 
 
 

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