When does a manager pull a pitcher in favor a pinch hitter?
Well, the Pirates decided to make a game of it afterall.
With seemingly nothing but pride left for the Bucs to play for coming into the top of the 9th yesterday afternoon, the lineup caught fire at the expense of shiny new Cards closer Jason Motte, roughing up the rookie for four 9th inning runs.
There is no doubt that these are the types of games that baseball fans crave. The come-from-behinder. The rally-cap-generator. The ain't-gonna-be-me-making-the-last-out conversation starter. They're beyond exciting and sticking it out gives us the right to make fun of anyone that didn't.
But lost in the shuffle, was a dismal performance out of Pittsburgh. Andy LaRoche's 2 errors were mind boggling. Yates' sitting fastball almost canonized Ryan Ludwick. And McLouth's 2 strikeout performance…God.
And while Maholm looked comfortable in an 85 (!!) pitch 6 2/3 performance, it was perhaps his base running blunder that most signifies trouble for the Bucs.
With two outs in the top of the sixth and runners on first and second, John Russell let Maholm bat. Maholm's pitch count was low – heck it would remain low all game – but the Bucs were down two and threatening to make some noise. Wins trump pitch count. Runs trump pitch count. So why did Russell send Maholm to the plate?
Maholm ended up walking on five pitches, and Morgan stepped up and laced a two run single. Russell kept his starter. Tied the game. And now had a chance to take the lead with runners on 1st and 2nd. Point John Russell.
And then it all fell apart.
Freddy Sanchez singled on a soft line drive to right field. Maholm took an exaggerated turn around third, fell and was tagged out by Molina. Three outs. Rally over. Russell red faced.
Without Mr. Wilson's late game heroics, this running gaffaw is what we would be talking about today and not the Pirates starting off 1-0.
Does this show Russell's lack of confidence in the bullpen? Yates totally showed that this feeling was justified and might be the only explanation that Craig Monroe, yes Craig Monroe, remained on the bench in the 6th. Russell figured it was better to trot out Maholm and let him wave his bat around, strike out, kill the inning, then to give the ball to anyone in the bullpen.
And not to belabor a point, but Craig Monroe stays on his feet where Maholm doesn't, does not take a wide turn around third and Pittsburgh gets a chance to take the lead in the 6th instead of counting on miracles in the ninth. Craig Monroe could walk just as well as Maholm.
Call me Nostradamus if you must, but at least play like there's a chance. Give McLouth a chance to do what he is paid to do: produce.
The point though is moot. Wilson was a hero. Maholm had an arm-saving, chin-up performance. The Pirates took a game from a division rival.
A win is always a win, unless it's not.
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Written by David Fulco