The Phillies went on the road tonight to face the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Nothing says "Pittsburgh" to me more than the Pirates, unless it is the Steelers, Primanti Brothers, Three Rivers, or George Washington starting a world war with the French in the 18th century. In baseballing terms, though, the Pirates and Phillies are my childhood - We Are Family vs. the Dallas Green Misanthropes...Cocaine vs. Greenies...Tekulve vs. McGraw. Endless hours on the Turnpike! I miss the old Phillies-Pirates games, and used to think there ought to be more, but the fires have burned out. I hope to god that there are not more games like this one, anyway.
In that era, I hated **hated** Dave Parker. God, I hated that guy. And Stargell. And Bill Madlock. Later, I grew to at least dislike Drabek, Bonds, Bonilla, and Andy Van Slyke.
Now, the Pirates are kind of "meh" to me. I think of them like I think of the San Diego Padres. They are another National League team. It would be nice for the Phillies to beat them, but I no longer have a burning hatred in my heart for them.
Right now, honestly, I am pretty ambivalent about the Phillies. I expect them to lose, especially on the road, especially in Pittsburgh, and especially with Kevin Correia pitching. I can look on the Pirates with equanimity now.
When the teams meet up, though, I often reflect on how I ended up being a Phillies fan growing up in Pirates territory. Per MLB, I probably should have been a Pirates fan. There are large areas of disputed territory in the middle of Pennsylvania where divided loyalties such as mine (Phillies and Steelers fan) are relatively common.
Here's how it works:
If you follow the Turnpike west, you pass from Phillies country to the Neutral Zone to Pirates territory. From the Susquehanna River to the Tuscarora tunnel is the Neutral Zone. West of Tuscarora (the land purchased from native Americans in 1754 as part of the Albany Purchase) lie the Pirate lands. There is an Orioles bubble to the south of the Turnpike, but it is mostly within broadcast TV range of Baltimore - a relic of the pre-cable era of fandom. Think of it as the [Wawa] - [Turkey Hill/Rutters] - [Sheetz] continuum.
I grew up west of the Tuscarora tunnel but not over the mountains in Pittsburgh. My home was the land of the "Borderlands to the Backcountry" migration described in the last section of Albion's Seed. It is the land of one of the greatest Americans you have never heard of (Herman Husband) and the Whiskey Rebellion. It is where George Washington is not the Valley Forge hero, but the bumbler who started the aforementioned world war as an impetuous youth. It is the place to which he later returned at the head of an invading army that stole food from local subsistence farmers headed into a hard winter to feed the federal army sent to enforce the will of monied interests of eastern financiers and land speculators. And when Washington left, they went right back to making untaxed whiskey. This is the origin myth of my part of western Pennsylvania. Some of them still fantasize about excommunicating Philadelphia from Pennsylvania. This bleeds over into sports loyalties, as you might imagine.
People steeped in this tradition were the people who cheered for the Pirates back then when I was a kid. I was an outlander, with relatives in the Susquehanna valley where I could see Phillies games when I visited. We had only moved to western PA thirty years before my baseball fandom blossomed, so we were still furriners. I still am thirty years later.
The team I loved had Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, and Bob Boone. I loved them, and still do. All my friends were Pirates fans, and I took a lot of shit for it, but that only dug me in more. Despite being a furriner, I was (and remain) one of them culturally. We're bitter clingers, bitter enders, and hopeless causers. I mean, some people still live in Johnstown. We sing Waylon Jennings songs, not the Skye Boat song, but we're all cut from that cloth. We're American Jacobites.
My formative baseball memories included many bus trip ballgames with working class western Pennsylvanians going to see the Pirates with giant coolers full of cheap beer in cans with pull tabs. Hairy 1970's guys with working man hands who swore, chewed, and drank way too much. And when we all got back to the bus departure point after a long day (and night), they all drove their kids home on twisting, rural mountain roads in trucks without shoulder belts, airbags or antilock brakes. Somehow, nobody died.
I once nearly caught a foul ball off of Pete Rose's bat in Three Rivers, but some loathsome Pittsburgher holding a beer knocked a 10 year old kid out of the way and snatched the ball without spilling a drop. I was irritated then, but his craft and cunning (and dexterity) were remarkable. It was kind of a mean-spirited, drunk, uneducated David Cohen ice cream catch, and I admire it respectfully in retrospect. It's right up there with the shirtless bro with a black eye who cut in front of me and my son last year in Philadelphia during batting practice to snatch the John Mayberry ball that was ticketed for my glove.
Anyway, Pirates! (If you look closely at the video below, you'll see a cameo by John Candelaria).
Ted Hamilton is worth the price of a rental for that, by the way. Great, great movie. "Pumpin' Blowing" wasn't part of the original Gilbert and Sullivan score, I am sure, but it works.
So, there was baseball tonight, not just reminiscing. Kevin Correia faced off against the Pirates with Jeff Locke going for the Pirates. Correia did just about as much as the Phillies could have asked of him.
I expected the worst from Correia tonight -- my default "Phillies watching" perspective is to expect the absolute worst from them because, well, they are the worst. Their run differential is -88, best for worst in all of Major League Baseball, and it isn't even close. The Brewers are "second" with -59. The Phillies could (hypothetically, hypothetically...) win a game 29 - 0 and still only be tied for second-worst in MLB in run differential. The Pirates, on the other hand are fifth in MLB with a +42. In addition to watching the worst team in baseball play (arguably) the fifth-best, Ben Davis is grettably still alive and regrettably participating in CSN tv broadcasts.
Correia somehow managed to avoid being infected (tonight) by the airborne and highly contagious virus of suck that has turned the 2015 Phillies into rotting, flesh-eating baseball zombies. Hold the phone for the sequel, though: "Five Days Later". During his 86 pitches tonight, Correia ate innings, not brains. Scoreless innings, even. He tossed five and two-thirds scoreless with 4 strikeouts, 1 walk, and 5 hits scattered over that 5 2/3. He threw strikes and mostly kept the ball on the ground (9 ground balls vs. 3 fly balls). Elvis Araujo got the last out of the sixth for Correia.
Jeff Locke matched him, going 6 scoreless before being lifted for Arquimedes Caminero, whom I had never heard of. Locke had a scare off the bat of Cody Asche which Gregory Polanco caught, leaping at the wall in right. Locke was efficient, geting 12 ground balls, striking out 2, and walking 1 over 95 pitches.
Caminero, despite the slight of not having been heard of by me, dealt effective, high 90's heat, striking out 2 Phillies on 7 pitches before retiring Ben Revere on a lazy fly to right on the second pitch. Three outs on nine pitches.
In any case, the battle of the bullpens was on. And on. And on.
Luis Garcia came in for the Phillies in the bottom of the seventh. He looked great pitching the Phillies out of a jam with runners at second and third. He created the jam and everything, but at least he worked out of it, too. For this team, that's a victory.
Tony Watson held serve for the Pirates, despite letting Maikel Franco drive one to deep center, where Andrew McCutchen flagged it down near the warning track. A Darin Ruf grounder to a shifted infield ended the inning quietly, and the Pirates had their big guns up for the bottom of the eighth inning.
Into this ballgame came Ken Giles. McCutchen was out on a dropped third strike. Neil Walker grounded out to second on a hairy play by Andres Blanco, who bobbled it before collecting himself just in time to nick Walker. Josh Harrison "singled" on a grounder back to Giles that got away from Giles, he grabbed and threw wildly to first, resulting in Harrison going to second on the throwing error. Pedro Alvarez was intentionally walked, causing Giles to have a mini hissy fit on the mound and a glare from him into the Phillies dugout. Francisco Cervelli walked to load the bases, and Giles threw three balls to Jordy Mercer. Giles came back with three strikes, getting Mercer swinging. The second called strike and the third (swinging) strike looked ballish to me, but Giles got him. There was dugout barking between Giles, McClure, Sandberg, and feral garden gnome Larry Bowa. Unwritten baseball rules and master/servant conventions were likely violated by Giles, but ultimately, he got dudes out.
Jeff Francoeur started things off with a single, and Cesar Hernandez promptly bunted poorly, allowing Pirates pitcher Mark Melancon to cut down Francoeur at second. Hernandez compounded this by being caught stealing. With Hernandez off the bases, Cody Asche walked and Cameron Rupp singled, leaving all of us to wonder what could have been had the Phillies not wasted a bunted out and a TOOTBLAN, in our fantasyland of fallacious reasoning. At this moment, as I wonder whether Chase Utley can do anything with this 3 - 2 pitch, I realized that Rupp is built like Foghorn Leghorn with the upper body and long torso. Annnnnd Utley just grounded out weakly to Walker.
I'll take this moment to ask all of you this: What was the point in this game where someone should have been yelled at? Giles, after getting three outs for glaring into the dugout, or Sandberg for ordering the bunt by Hernandez? Or Hernandez for failing to get a sacrifice bunt down? Or whomever had Hernandez try to steal? In his defense, Giles did his job. Can the same be said of the others here? But do they get a public dressing down by three silverbacks on TV in the dugout? Nope. Phillies!
In came Justin De Fratus to try to deal with the Pirates in the bottom of the ninth. Jose Tabata promptly singled to left. Polanco flied out to left. I felt like someone in Pittsburgh would be playing Renegade, but it isn't football season. De Fratus struck out Marte, looking. De Fratus ran the count full to McCutchen, letting Tabata run with the pitch. McCutchen offered a check swing at a pitch in the dirt, struck out, and Rupp threw to first for the out as McCutchen stood at the plate, frozen in check swing position. Eat it, Pirates!
EXTRA, EXTRA! EXTRA INNINGS!
Jared Hughes came in for the Pirates in the 10th. Ben Revere chopped a single to deep short that didn't result in a throw. Blanco dropped a beautiful bunt to move Revere to second, and it almost resulted in a hit. A wild pitch to Franco moved Revere to third. After another close call on a ball in the dirt, the Pirates walked Franco to get to Ruf, who struck out on five pitches, with most of the swinging strikes out of the zone at sinkers. Francoeur rolled a slow dribbler to third that Harrison barehanded and gunned to first to get Francoeur by a whisker. It was a fabulous defensive play.
Into the breach for the Phillies went Jeanmar Gomez. Gomez gave up one-out singles to Harrison and Sean Rodriguez. Franco made a Harrison-esque play on a dribbler from Cervelli to get the out at first, but the runners moved to second and third. An intentional walk to Mercer loaded the bases for the mulleted Corey Hart who whiffed with the bases loaded. Hart was also the last possible position player substitute for the Pirates, other than their back-up catcher.
Having pitched a collective 20 scoreless innings through this point, the real winners tonight were the pitchers. With 19 hits, 8 walk, and a hit batter, you'd think that one of the teams could score a run, even if only by accident.
Rob Scahill came in to face the Phillies in the 11th. A good play on Hernandez up the middle erased him, and Asche went for two on a liner to the corner. A good throw by Polanco nearly got Asche at second, but Harrison could not hold the ball, as it fell into the dirt and laid there, exhausted as the rest of us. Rupp moved Asche to third with a ground out. Galvis struck out swinging on a 3-2 pitch that was shoulder-high.
In the bottom of the 12th, Dustin McGowan struck out two Pirates and gave up a mildly frightening fly ball to Revere to send it to the thirteenth. McGowan was hitting mid-to-high 90's with his fastball, and he looked very effective.
In the 13th, the Phillies faced old friend Antonio Bastardo who dispatched them as uneventfully as I have ever seen him dispatch anyone.
At this point of this game, I started to feel like a baseball version of Ernest Shackleton. There's been more futility in this game than in civilizations resisting the Borg. More futility than trying to nail Jello to a tree. More futility than pissing up a rope.
The Phillies apparently sensed this, as they sent Jerome Williams out to the pen to hang out with Jonathan Papelbon and the bullpen catchers. Still, McGowan was not done yet.
McGowan got two outs in the thirteenth, but had allowed Mercer on with a single. Mercer advanced on a groundout, and scored from second on a seeing-eye single by Starling Marte up the middle, allowing the Pirates to walk off with a 1 - 0 win and giving Bastardo the win. By that hour, it felt like a mercy killing.
See yinz tomorrow when Gerrit Cole faces off against Sean O'Sullivan, oh joy!