Monday, April 28, 2008
1. It rains.
2. The Phillies lose.
Case-in-point: the last Phillies - Pirates game I attended was Sunday, August 19, 2007, at PNC Park. After leading the game 4-0 going into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Pirates reeled off seven runs in the bottom of seventh on their way to a 8-4 win. The game took several hours to complete as we sat through several rain delays. A loss and rain.
So last week, for my birthday, my wife handed me two tickets to the Phillies and Pirates. Brett Myers vs. Paul Maholm. The tickets were great: Section 29, right along the third base line.
Rain? Defeat? Would we be greeted by either yesterday?
1:05 PM – My wife & I arrive at PNC Park. Sadly I’ve never been to Citizens Bank Ballpark, but I’ve been to a dozen or so games at PNC since it opened in April of 2001. The ballpark is pretty nice – instead of the concrete bowl that typified stadium construction in the 1970’s (see, Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, and Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati), PNC is one of the numerous stadiums that correctly chose to utilize an open design to give fans a view of the downtown city area as well as of the Allegheny River. On a hot summer day, when you get tired of watching the Pirates lose, you can turn your attention to watching the boats glide by on the river. My wife & I cross the Roberto Clemente Bridge and enter PNC by the centerfield entrance. Stopping outside the bullpen area, I snap a few pictures of Carlos Ruiz catching Brett Myers before the game. I take the opportunity to don my Pat Burrell jersey. Wearing the opposition’s jersey in a passionate sports town is inadvisable typically – woe be the fool who wears an Eagles jersey to the Steelers game at Heinz Field – but with Pittsburgh’s apathy towards the Pirates in its sixteenth year, I figure I can get away with it. In any case there are legions of people standing around wearing Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels jerseys. We cross underneath the bleachers in leftfield and take our seats in Section 29, along the third base line.
1st Inning – After a 1-2-3 Phillies first, the Pirates Nate McLouth smacks a leadoff home run to rightfield over the head of So Taguchi. Half of my sections stands and applauds while the other half, wearing Phillies jerseys and t-shirts, sits on its hands. Pirates 1, Phillies 0.
2nd Inning – Pat Burrell draws a walk. Forget the 400 foot home runs, this is the play that excites me. Burrell is my favorite player because Phillies fans just don't appreciate what he does. Watching the patient, savvy Burrell work the count off the Pirates Paul Maholm is great stuff. It’s a pity that Burrell never became the next Mike Schmidt and struggled to put up decent numbers in ’03 and ’04. Since he regained his form in ’04, Burrell has been a terrific player. How many other players in baseball hit 30 Home Runs, 95-100 RBI, and have OBPs near .400? Naturally Pedro Feliz grounds into the inning-ending double play. On the other half of the inning Myers gets three strikeouts. Not bad. Still 1-0 Pirates.
3rd Inning – Ruiz walks with one out and the Phillies try to have Myers bunt Ruiz to second, a strategy that fails miserably when Myers bunts into the inning-ending double play. Ouch. Worryingly, I notice that the Phillies have hit into two double plays in three innings and haven’t gotten a hit. It’s not that Pirates starter Maholm is throwing a great game – in reality he’s tossed as many balls as strikes – but the Phillies hitters are grounding and popping out. It’s just not their day. Meanwhile Myers gets McLouth and Jason Bay to strike-out in the bottom half of the inning, his fifth K of the day. 1-0 Pirates.
5th Inning – After a pop-out by Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell doubles to give the Phillies life (see, left). Alas, Feliz, who hits a hard ball to third, cannot advance Burrell. Two outs. Then Bruntlett surprises me with a clutch hit to bring Burrell home. Pirates 2, Phillies 1. Those were the only two hits the Phillies got all day. Bruntlett is caught stealing, but the Phillies are on the board. In the Pirates half of the inning, the wheels come off Myers train. After walking Maholm, Myers serves up McLouth is second home run of the day with a weak shot to the rightfield bleachers. Pirates 4, Phillies 0. With Myers slated to hit in the top of the sixth inning, Charlie Manuel leaves Myers in to try and pitch himself out of this mess, which he does, but not after giving up a single to Bay. Still: Pirates 4, Phillies 1.
6th Inning – Hit the showers, Brett Myers. After Ruiz grounds out, Manuel sends Brad Harman to the plate to bat for him. Harman walks, but Taguchi and Werth both make outs. Myers line for the day: 5 Innings Pitched, 5 Strikeouts, 8 Hits, 1 Walk, 2 Home Runs and – most importantly – four runs allowed. In the bottom of the sixth, Rudy Seanez enters the game and promptly allows two singles by LaRoche and Bautista to put runners at first and third. The Phillies manage to turn a double play – their only of the day – on Rivas, but LaRoche scores again. Pirates 5, Phillies 1.
7th Inning – Ryan Howard walks and Pat Burrell hits a deep drive to centerfield, causing the crowd to gasp and stand up from their seats, but it is an out. Feliz is retired and the Phillies spoil another opportunity to score. The bullpen isn’t making me happy. Ryan Madson is in for Seanez and surrenders a single and a walk. After Jason Bay steals third base, there is a runner ninety feet from home plate for LaRoche, the Pirates struggling slugger. Alas, for Pirates fans, LaRoche strikes out. Still 5-1, Pirates.
8th Inning – Ruiz and Bruntlett fly out. Manuel pulls Madson for a pinch-hitter, sending Chris Coste to the plate. Coste launches a fly ball down the leftfield line that seems to be just inches to the left of the foul pole. Excitement finally builds in the air around the Phillies fans. Alas, Coste strikes out. Mighty Chris has struck out. Incidentially, it was just the second strikeout for Maholm all day. Groans from Phillies fans now coming to the realization that they are poised to have to endure a 300-mile trip on the turnpike with sunburn and a Phillies loss on their minds. Clay Condrey is in for Madson in the eighth and eventually retires the side after surrendering a lead off double to Bautista. Still, 5-1 Pirates.
9th Inning – Last chance. Taguchi lines out to third where Bautista makes a nice leaping grab. Just two outs left. Jayson Werth flies out to the warning track below the rightfield bleachers, prompting a gasp from my wife. Just one out left. Finally, Chase Utley, to a chorus of “M-V-P” chants from the Phillies section, launches a fly ball to the leftfield area. That’s it. Final Score: Pirates 5, Phillies 1. Paul Maholm gets the two-hit, one-run complete game despite allowing more walks (4) than strikeouts (2).
My wife and I gather our stuff and proceed to head towards the exit. On our way out one of the ushers pleasantly asks my wife & I if we want our photograph taken. We pause for a minute while she snaps our picture, then walk around a little to let the crowd thin out a little. (The pic of my wife & I failed to download, but on the left is a pic I snapped moments after the game went final.) I snap a picture of the Pirates fans heading over the Clemente Bridge to catch public transit in the downtown area of Pittsburgh (most Phillies fans are heading in the opposite direction to the parking lot to grab their cars. My wife and I head back to Wood Street to catch the train. With the Penguins and Rangers deep into the third period of a tight game, the train is mostly empty as we ride south to our house. As we sit down I listen to a train rider ask another rider what the score was. At being told it was a 5-1 Pirates victory there is surprise. Probably the only person not surprised is me. The Pirates always win whenever I go see them play the Phillies. No rain, but a big, fat "L" in the ledger.
Back in my house I slather Aloe Vera on my sunburned face and download the pictures from my digital camera. What a nice day. Too bad the Phillies only come over once a year. There’s always next year. Next time, I'll take a little rain.
ps You can wear your Phillie jersey anytime, afterall we have never booed Santa or the Easter Bunny. Wear it to work.
As for Maholm: you don't win many games surrendering twice as many walks as strikeouts. Phillies hitters put a lot of balls into play and Pirates fielders, who typically don't get to them, made great plays. Credit should go to Bautista and the rest of the Pirates fielders before it goes to Maholm.
Wear my jersey to work? There's an idea ...
I grew up and live in the Philly area but went to school at Pitt so it is really disappointing to see a good baseball town not have a team to root for. My wife, kids and I were able to walk up to the ticket window and purchase tickets 25 rows behind homeplate in section 116.
We really enjoyed the park and city skyline after dark. The game was great too. Though I can't help but think that all those Philles' fans have to p-ss off what Pirate fans attended.