Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 11, 2004 · Page 36
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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania · Page 36

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Sunday, July 11, 2004
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D-6 PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE SUNDAY, JULY 11, 2004 BASEBALL Littlefield tries to hold off blitz of losing PIRATES REPORT SATURDAY'S GAME Expos 4, Pirates 0 Pirate ab Kendall c 4 JWilsonss 3 Machowidk 3b. .4 CWilson rf 3 Bay If 3 TRedman cf 3 Simon lb 3 Hill 2b 2 KWellsp 1 Gonzalez p 0 b-ANunez ph ....1 Vogelsongp 0 Total! 27 bi Ob to vg. .303 .336 .263 .289 .313 .252 .197 .282 .138 .261 .250 Montreal ab Wilkerson If 3 EnChavez cf 3 TBatista 3b 4 CEverett rf 3 JRivera rf 1 NJohnson lb ...4 OCabrera ss ....3 Schneider c 2 Carroll 2b 3 Biddle p 1 a-AFox ph 1 Vargas p 0 Morgan p 1 Ayala p 0 Totalt 29 U bb 0 1 avg. .234 .279 .231 .265 .246 .250 .240 .245 .269 .000 .093 .048 0 1.000 0 .500 5 Pirates 000 000 000 0 Montreal 100 000 30x 4 4 0 7 0 grounded out for Biddle in the 5th. b-grounded into double play for Gonzalez in the 8th. LOB Pirates 4. Montreal 4. 2B JRivera (11), Carroll 151. RBI TBatista (421, Carroll 2 (81. Morgan (1). SB OCabrera (12). CS TRedman (4), TBatista (3). GIDP Mackowiak. Bay, ANunez. NJohnson. Runner left In (coring petition Montreal 1 (NJohnson). Runners moved up EnChavez. DP Pirates 1 (Hill, JWilson and Simon); Montreal 3 (Carroll, OCabrera and NJohnson), (OCabrera, Carroll and NJohnson), (TBatista, Carroll and NJohnson). Pirate Ip h KWells L. 4 6 6'a 6 Gonzalez i 0 Vogelsong 1 1 r er bb to np era 4 4 3 4 107 4.71 0 0 0 1 6 0.66 0 0 0 0 10 6.93 Montreal Ip h Biddle W, 14 ....5 2 Vargas l'i 1 Horgan 2h 0 Ayala IVj 1 r er bb to 0 0 13 0 0 0 1 0 0 11 0 0 0 0 np era 56 7.09 18 5.87 13 6.75 14 2.96 Inherited nmnert-scored Gonzalez 10. Ayala 10. HBP by Biddle (CWilson). by Biddle (JWilson). Umpire Home, Larry young; First, Angel Hernandez; Second, Mike Fichter; Third, Mart Wegner. T 2:24. A 8.780 (19,000). HOW THEY SCORED Expos first. Wilkerson walked on a full count. Chavez grounded out, pitcher Wells to first baseman Simon, Wilkerson to second. Batista singled to left, Wilkerson scored. Batista was caught stealing, catcher Kendall to shortstop J.Wilson, Batista out. Everett singled to center. N.Johnson struck out.l run. 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Expos 1, Pirates 0. Expo seventh. Everett infield single to first. N.Johnson grounded into a double play, second baseman Hill to shortstop J.Wilson to first baseman Simon, Everett out. Cabrera singled to left. Schneider walked, Cabrera to second. Cabrera stole third. Carroll doubled to left. Cabrera scored. Schneider scored. Horgan singled to left, Carroll scored. Gonzalez pitching. Wilkerson struck out. 3 runs. 4 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Expos 4, Pirates 0. TODAY'S GAME Pirates vs. Montreal Expos, 1:35 p.m., Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico. No TV. Radio: KDKA-AM (1020) and the Pirates Radio Network. RHP Josh Fogg (6-6, 6.18 ERA) will start for the Pirates; LHP Scott Downs (0-3, 8.74 ERA) for the Expos. NOTEBOOK The last time Steve Blass and Nellie Brlles were in Puerto Rico was January 1973 to attend the memorial service for Roberto Clemente. Last night they joined former teammates Jose Pagan and Bob Robertson in a recreation of Clemente's 3,000th hit. Clemente's grandson, Roberto Luis Clemente, topped the pregame ceremony by rounding the bases, and the former players doffed their caps, just as Clemente did when he doubled in his final regular-season at-bat of the 1972 season. "It brings back lots of memories," said Blass, who delivered the eulogy at the Clemente service. "It's been 31 years, and he still has lots of staying power. He's unassailable. It validates how much he was head and shoulders above the rest of us. He wouldn't have lasted this long if he wasn't unique. He had that presence about him. He was a general. We were foot soldiers." "The meaning for me, at least, is to keep Roberto's memory alive," Briles said. "There was more to Roberto Clemente than being a ballplayer. People like Roberto don't come along every day in your life." Expos manager Frank Robinson was a right fielder with the Orioles when Baltimore lost the 1971 World Series to the Pirates. Clemente was named Most Valuable Player of the series. Robinson, who caught the ceremonial first pitch last night as part of the Clemente tribute, called Clemente the best fielding right fielder in history. "In the field, he was like Barry Bonds with the bat," Robinson said. Clemente wasn't bad with the bat, either. "He didn't see any pitch that he didn't like or couldn't hit," Robinson said. " '-Ttmswitliifll Nellie Briles i r Jason Bay Jason Bay leads all National League rookies in home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage despite missing thd firct mnnth rf tho caoenn uith chAnMor tr jSl problems. The 12 homers he had entering the game last night were the most by a Pirates rookie since Warren Morris hit 15 in 1999. In spring training, Bay joked that it would be hard to be rookie of the year with one arm, but he has emerged as a solid candidate to become the first Pirates player to win that award. "Obviously, that would be nice, but it's something that's out of my control," Bay said. "I wouldn't have scripted it this way." Bay admits he has been surprised at his power numbers. "Considering the at-bats I have and the time I missed, yes, I'm surprised." Hitting coach Gerald Perry said it was good to see Bay come off a five-game layoff with a four-hit game Friday night. "He came out with a bang, that's for sure. It was definitely good to get that first one out of the way," Perry said. "He's a big part of our lineup." Since taking over Ryan Vogelsong's spot in the rotation, rookie LHP Sean Burnett has posted three consecutive wins, including a complete-game shutout Friday. "It's been a dream. I couldn't have asked for anything better," Burnett said. Remarkably, he was only 1-5 with Nashville before he joined the Pirates. "What can you say? He's been outstanding," pitching coach Spin Williams said. "His poise is off the charts. I'm anxious to see how he is when he has a little adversity, though. That will tell us a lot about him." In 25 games since the team ERA reached a season-high 4.84 after a June 13 loss to Oakland, the pitching staff has gone 15-10 with a 3.00 ERA. MINOR-LEAGUE REPORT Friday's results NASHVILLE (42-45) won, 3-2, at home vs. Omaha. Frank Brooks (5-3) won in relief of starter Justin Reid, who allowed two runs and six hits with seven strikeouts in six innings. Mark Corey picked up his 14th save. C J.R. House hit his 12th home run, a solo shot. CF Rich Thompson singled and tripled. ALTOONA (53-34) won, 2-1, in 10 innings at Portland. DH Ryan Dou-mrt tied the score in the ninth with a solo home run, and 2B Jeff Kep-plnger got the winning single in the 10th. IB Josh Bonifay had two hits. LYNCHBURG (40-44) lost, 5-4, vs. Salem. Tom Gorzelanny (0-1) pitched into the fifth inning and allowed four earned runs and nine hits. CF Rajal Davis had three hits. 3B Avelino Asprilla had two hits and scored two runs. RF Vic Buttler had two hits and an RBI. HICKORY (47-38) lost, 11-9, in 13 innings vs. Hagerstown. Alexander Lisslr (2-1) lost in relief of starter Justin Lord, who gave up four runs and eight hits in five innings. IB Jon Benick hit his 19th home run and had three RBIs. SS Javier Guzman had four hits with two doubles and two RBIs. 2B Craig Stansberry had two hits and scored two runs. WILLIAMSPORT (7-13) lost, 4 2, vs. Aberdeen. Derek Drage (1-1) lost in relief of starter Blair Johnson, who gave up one earned run and three hits while pitching into the seventh inning. BRADENTON (12-5) defeated the Twins, 4-1. Luis Valdez (2-1) allowed one run and four hits in six innings for the win. Alex Gordon got his first save. C Steven Lerud tripled and drove in a run. IB Kerllngton Made doubled and scored a run. By Robert Dvorchak He'll awaken on the morning after the All-Star Game to start his fourth year at one of the hardest jobs in baseball, and the lingering presumption is that David M. Little-field wouldn't mind a bit if he could just bring a little football to it. As a linebacker at the University of Massachusetts a few lifetimes ago, he could ameliorate the inevitable frustrations of competition by firing on a blitz and knocking someone on his wallet. One master's degree and a couple of decades of backstage baseball later, he operates in an era when the game's greatest administrative challenges grow from the fact that some players' wallets are roughly the size of Massachusetts. "Certainly it's a lot easier when you're an athlete and you're able to exert yourself," he said on the phone from Puerto Rico this weekend. "When you're just sitting above it and watching it all play out, it's tougher. Part of what drives you is not liking losing. You just have to realize you play a lot of games and you're going to lose a lot, especially when you're the second-youngest team in baseball. "You just have to stay balanced and tell yourself the valleys aren't that deep." And that would be true if it were, you know, true. But then these Pirates will lose 21 of 25 and you're in a valley deep enough to think you'll never win again, and then they win 11 of 12, and then they lose to the Montreal Expos, and then maybe you're thinking it'd be awfully nice to put on some pads and drill somebody. "No, not really," he said. "There's no issue with my mental stamina." The issues with Littlefield are only those common to his position as the 11th general manager in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Of the 10 others, the average tenure of the nine not named Joe L. Brown was 3.7 years. Branch Rickey himself barely lasted five and his teams never won more than 66 games. With the exception of Brown, who served the organization nobly for 21 years through 1976 and again in 1985, the Pirates' GM is most always a polarizing figure, and, though the fan base is, in the majority, solidly behind Littlefield, the minority needs GENE COLLIER only to yelp "Jason Schmidt" to ignite the interminable debate. It doesn't help that in Littlefield's tenure, the Minnesota Twins have won two divisional titles (and are on course for a third) while spending about $174 million on player salaries, and the Pirates have spent about $187 million without wandering close to .500. But before anything good happened to the Twins, first time GM Terry Ryan first had to endure seven losing seasons. I happen to be in agreement with the optimistic majority, even though Schmidt, whom Littlefield sent to San Francisco with his first trade in July of 2001 for the spectacularly brittle Armando Rios and the maddeningly slow-to-develop Ryan Vogelsong, has turned into one of the game's dominating starters. When Littlefield made that trade, Schmidt was just another name on a list the Pirates had been writing for eight years, a shameful list of players they somehow just could not develop. Warren Morris started at second base in 1999 and hit .288 with 15 homers and 73 RBIs in 147 games, looking to every practiced eye to be the second baseman for the next generation. Two years later, he was back in the minors. Francisco Cordova was perfect one night in July of '97. Two years later, he was perfectly awful. Adrian Brown, Jacob Brumfield, Jer-maine Allensworth, Jose Guillen, and too many pitchers to name were all potentially key components dismantled by arrested development. Even Jason Kendall, an obvious major-leaguer from the day he arrived, was no better in 2002 than he was in 1998. "We didn't have very many minor-league players who were productive at the major-league level," Littlefield remembered about his initial assessment three years ago. "And the causes of that were the draft and player development. Those were the areas we looked to analyze, and it's always tricky because you don't want to be pointing fingers." During that first offseason, Littlefield put Brian Graham in charge of player development and made Ed Creech the director of scouting, ending the tenures of Paul Tinnell and Mickey White, respectively. Results were hardly instantaneous (Tike Redman remains something of a project in his ninth year with the organization), but, if you look around at the people the Pirates have had a chance to develop lately, it's a different picture. Jack Wilson has developed all the way to his first All-Star Game, and Craig Wilson is nearly as far along. Aramis Ramirez had moved to within earshot of stardom when the club's bleak financial position forced his trade to the Chicago Cubs last summer. J.J. Davis looks as likely to be an astronaut as an every day player, but Tony Alvarez, Jose Castillo, and a cadre of talented pitchers are progressing in a system once famous for stifling continuous accomplishment. "We can't be satisfied with what Castillo is doing or what a John Grabow or a Mike Johnston is doing because we haven't got the final answer," Littlefield said. "They're doing OK, but we've got to keep developing." I wondered if, three years into it, he thought this job was getting easier or harder. "I'm a little more comfortable in that I understand the position better, but these are challenging jobs. I think we're in much better shape in that we've got a team where there's some direction in regard to the players who are with us now. "Our pitching is in much better shape, and we've improved our record every year. But we're not satisfied by any means. "That said, I like this job, and I'm up for it." Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier(a:post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283. Midseason: A team still in transition REPORT, FROM PAGE D-l A month ago, general manager Dave Littlefield said the Pirates are moving in the right direction and that the foundation is better. It sounded like nonsense as the losses piled up. It sounds more credible with the record in July. "It was a first half of ups and downs. We dug a hole for ourselves. But we certainly fought our way back out of it," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "These guys are the most focused group I've ever been around. They don't let things affect them. I know a lot of teams would have folded. But we can't be satisfied with where we're at, either. Do we have holes? Yeah. Do we need to make improvements? Of course, we do." Some positives emerge Only one question matters for a franchise trying to match short-term solutions with a long-term goal of building respectability: Is the plan working? Some grumps adhere to the notion that it's always darkest before things go completely black. They don't believe the plan will work. But others strained hamstrings jumping back on the bandwagon during the winning streak, and these people think the current team likely will be weaker by the trading deadline at the end of the month, when Kris Benson and who knows who else are gone. Realistically, it's premature to say that this plan is working, especially since every other attempt has failed since 1992. You'd think they'd almost be better by accident. But consider some of the positives. Jack Wilson made the All-Star team as a backup shortstop thanks to a terrific first half. Two other members of the Class of 2001, Craig Wilson and Rob Mackowiak, remain streaky, but they have taken advantage of increased playing time by contributing more. Jason Kendall has been solid. Jose Mesa is the one player who signed in the offseason that has made a positive impact. Oliver Perez, 22, has anchored the pitching staff while drawing some comparison to Randy Johnson. Rookie Sean Burnett, 21, has stabilized the rotation. How about the other rookies? Jose Castillo looks better and better at second base. Relievers John Grabow, Mike Johnston and Mike Gonzalez have improved the bullpea When his shoulder is sound, Jason Bay shows that he has major-league talent and a promising future. And add all that to the fact that 14 minor- leaguers made their respective All-Star teams, and a crop of pitchers from John Van Benschoten to Zach Duke is seasoning in the minor-league system. "I challenge any major-league team to match the core of young players we have in the big leagues right now," said minor-league director Brian Graham. "Then you look at who's coming in the system. Things are much, much better than they were three years ago." And what if the Pirates get it right this time and finally have the makings of a contender? They still have to figure out how to pay and keep their core talent instead of serving as a feeder system for richer teams. They haven't done that yet. Negative history The Pirates' payroll dropped from $55 million to about $30 million after the Pirates made some trades last year that only an accountant could justify. They sent out one of the youngest rosters in baseball to compete against the big boys, and the results were predictable. Still, it's tough to lose 21 of 25 games. There can be little hope for pennant contention when the general manager says on the first day of spring training that his team doesn't have the talent to contend. The hope is the promise of tomorrow. Never before in the 118-year history of the franchise have there been 11 consecutive losing seasons. And the Pirates are approaching historical eround. althniieh it's nnt thp desirable kind. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the all-time record for consecutive , fr ,1 4 - i riTrirriiiinirfr A tmm - - f . Peter DianaPost-Gazette photos Even as the club bottomed out in early June, general manager Dave Littlefield insisted the Pirates were moving in the right direction. But has their resurgence been merely another false start? losing seasons is 16, an ignominious achievement accomplished by the Philadelphia Phillies from 1933 to 1948, a stretch that began in the Great Depression and ended in the Baby Boom. Two teams had droughts that lasted 15 years. The Boston Red Sox went into a rut from 1919 to 1933, after Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees and the Curse of the Bambino was born. The As suffered through 15 consecutive losing seasons from 1953 to 1967, spreading the misery between Philadelphia and Kansas City before moving to Oakland in 1968. The Pirates haven't had a winner since Barry Bonds was paying Pittsburgh's occupation tax. Neil Walker, this year's No. 1 draft pick from Pine-Richland High School, has been a fan all his life but can't remember the last time the Pirates had a winning season. And you'd have to be a 30-something to recall the time the Pirates last won a World Series. The latest plan The slide began with the decision of the corporate stewards to let Bonds go through free agency, but he's hardly the only marquee name to leave and flourish elsewhere. When Kevin McClatchy scraped together a group of investors to buy the franchise in 1996, he inherited a car wreck. The idea is to get the car repaired and in good working order. McClatchy's first plan was borrowed from the Cleveland model. The Pirates shipped out veterans and brought in young blood while lobbying for a new ballpark that would make the team competitive and stop the revolving door of players. It turned out to be a worse car wreck. That plan ended abysmally with a 100-loss season the year PNC Park opened. General manager Cam Bonifay was fired along the way, and the Pirates embarked on a new plan that borrows from the Oakland and Minnesota models. Those two teams built contenders through their minor-league system without having to put the arm on taxpayers for a new ballpark. For many years, the Pirates were paupers, lamenting that they lacked the money to keep up. When they finally got some financial flexibility, despite the reluctance of the taxpayers to participate in a bailout, they squandered it on some bad contracts and produced a nightmare scenario a bad baseball team in a bad baseball town. The latest plan was born out of that fiasco. But it begs the question: if the Pirates can't make a go of it with a new ballpark, how can they do it at all, especially if the same questions about being competitive remain from the pre-PNC Park era? But true believers cling to an old notion that no matter how badly people screw it up, the game is too pure not to survive The Pirates may be putting that theory to its ultimate test. Robert Dvorchak can be reached at bdwrchak(post-gazette.com. y 'ft 4 3 Peter DianaPost-Gazette 10 WHO'S WHO? Which team will show up? The Pirates have been very good at times and very bad at others through the first half of the season, putting together 10 streaks of three or more games that fall on both sides of the ledger. Winning Losing Streak Dates Streak 3 April 16-18 April 20-23 4 3 April 30 May 2 ' ' .V'- May 4-8 6 May 13-16 May 28-29 : May 30-June 3 5 June 5-13 8 June 18-22 5 . June 26-July 5 V V 1

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