34,264 fans were on hand last night at PNC Park to see the Jason Bay and the Pirates win 2-1 behind the excellent pitching of one very cute young pitcher named Zach Duke. Okay, well, maybe 20k were there for that, and the other 14k were there to get Jason Bay bobbleheads and drink beer. I'm not sure.
Seeing a game at PNC Park on a nice day is one of the true joys of being a baseball fan. It's just a really nice place with a really nice view of downtown and really good seats, most of which are available due to the lack of interest of Pittsburghers in anything besides football (and, of course, half the people there were wearing Steelers jerseys, and maybe a quarter were wearing Pirates shirts). I mean, we ordered tickets about 3 hours before the game and got seats by the third-base side that would have cost $55 each in Seattle, and they were $24 each instead. Also, PNC has an incredible selection of food -- I could smell the buffalo wings from the Quaker Steak and Lube that the people next to us were eating, and the cheese fries from the people in the row ahead, along with Primanti Bros' cheesesteaks, and Mrs. T's Pierogies, and other things I associate primarily with Pittsburgh and people drinking beer.
Anyway, the game was pretty entertaining. I went with my best friend, who is not a baseball geek at all, but who has gone to games with me in the past, and he's really good at picking up knowledge, so I just sat there rambling off stuff about what was going on. Like in the second inning when Angel Pagan (that's pah-GAHN to you, sir) was on first and had taken a huge lead, I said "He's going to steal." and Carl said, "Well, why doesn't the pitcher just pretend to pitch and tag him off, then?" and I started explaining the balk rule and pitchouts, and how if they step towards home they have to throw to the catcher and then the catcher can throw out the stealer, and not two seconds later, Pagan took off, Duke threw, and catcher Humberto Cota nailed him at second. I couldn't have scripted it better myself.
Infact, there were several times during the evening where I'd have just explained a play and then a minute or two later it'd happen on the field (like the unassisted double play at first when they hit a liner to the first baseman, who gets the batter out, and also tags the bag before the runner at first can get back. Not two minutes later, Jason Bay walked, and then Jeromy Burnitz hit a liner right to Derrek Lee, and boom). It was pretty cool.
Anyway, in the second inning, Craig Wilson, who scored both runs for the Pirates in the game, led off by walking. He "stole" second during Joe Randa's at-bat, by which I mean he broke for second and should have been out by a mile, only Barrett's throw went over Cedeno's head into shallow center instead. Castillo grounded out, advancing Wilson to third, and then Cota hit into what should have been a 6-3 to end the inning, but again, the throw went over Derrek Lee's head and he jumped off the bag, so Cota was safe at first on the error, and Craig Wilson scored, no RBI though. The PNC scorers seemed to be very lax about what was actually an error in general, but they got this call right, at least. Zach Duke struck out to end the inning, but the Pirates were up 1-0.
They had a trivia segment where a fan had to guess who a player was based on three clues. The first one she got was "He was the 2005 South Texas pitcher of the year." So she giggles like "Zach Duke?" No, not Zach Duke. "He has appeared in 118 major league games and only had one plate appearance." "Umm... Oliver Perez?" Er, no. "His nickname is 'Gonzo'". "OH! Mike Gonzalez!" Yes. Very good. The funny part is, I would have probably guessed Zach Duke after the first one too, but knowing Perez is a starter, it's pretty obvious he'd have come to bat a lot more than just once in all those years. Oh well.
The Cubs were actually kept scoreless by Zach Duke for the first six innings, though some of it had to do with some great plays made in the field. Michael Barrett hit what looked like a sure home run, but Chris Duffy broke for it as soon as the ball was hit, and ran back, back, back to the wall, and caught it just inches short of running into the bullpen screen. Zach Duke even leaped for a grounder off Juan Pierre and got it in time, as well as fielding an earlier bunt by Pierre. (Pierre's line for the day: K, B1-3, 1-3, 1-3. Heh.) And Joe Randa made an excellent snag of a Derrek Lee shot and threw to first in time as well. Given how many errors the Cubs made (credited and uncredited), it was really nice to see the Pirates fielding so well.
It's also good to be at a stadium to see the gags they put on the board. Instead of the hydro race, they have the Pierogie race, which ends with four people dressed up in Pierogie costumes running out onto the field and racing to the dugout. And in their version of "Ask the Pirates", the question of the day was: "Do you play the cowbell?" which had some pretty funny answers, mostly along the lines of Johnny Grabow saying "No, but we need more cowbell," and Zach Duke going "I tried, but I suck... you always need more cowbell though!" and Sean Casey going "I hear that Craig Wilson plays a real mean cowbell." It was pretty funny. There were other silly pop culture references abound in various parts of the game, including how one of the Pirates had, as their "name painting", a picture of a Liger, even with the note "Bred for its strength in magic..."
But I digress. Jason Bay got on base four times for the day, without actually getting a hit -- he was walked three times and hit by a pitch once. In the third inning, after the HBP, Jerome Williams tried to pick him off yet again, and threw way over Derrek Lee's head, so he ran to second. Then Jeromy Burnitz hit a pretty hard single to Aramis Ramirez, who didn't quite stop the ball in time for the throw, so it was called an infield single. Jason Bay got to third, and probably could have broken for home, but he stalled. I'm actually not sure whether or not he would have made it home had he tried, but there were two outs and Craig Wilson watched a called third strike go by to end the inning after that anyway. If it had been the Mariners with their new "aggressive" baserunning, he totally would have run.
And on the subject of the difference between scorers at various parks -- the Pirates led off the 4th inning by having Joe Randa hit a "double"; remember I said the PNC scorers were very lax about errors? On this play, Randa hit the ball into shallow right field by the foul line, but fair. The right fielder, the second baseman, and the first baseman all ran out there to try to catch it. The second (first?) baseman lunged and almost got it, but dropped it. Randa had rounded first, so rather than heading back he went for second, and he might have been out if the ball had actually been thrown to the shortstop who was covering second, only the ball went way wide off his glove and the left fielder got it in time for Randa to stay at second. I was starting to write down the play as E3, when the board says "DOUBLE". So Carl's like, "Um, I know I don't know much about baseball, but didn't they just make an error?" and I replied, "*AN* error? They just made about *THREE*!"
Craig Wilson led off the 6th inning with an awesome triple. It looked like a homer at first, then it was obvious it wouldn't clear the RF wall, but it bounced high enough off it to confuse the hell out of Freddie Bynum, who had come in to replace Angel Pagan, who went limping off the field after failing to run out a close 6-3 play in the 5th inning. So by the time Bynum got the ball back in, Wilson was at third. It was very cool. Randa hit a long fly ball to right field and Wilson tagged up and scored to make it 2-0 Pirates. Castillo actually got a single after that, but then got caught stealing by about two miles. Seriously.
The Pirates' gags for the at-bat photoshoppings are that they do the players' paintings in the first time around the order, they do these buccaneer headshots for the second time around, and the third time around they were doing bobbleheads of the players (not sure if it was for Jason Bay Bobblehead Night or if they just do them all the time). The fourth time they had these cartoonish versions of the players -- Jason Bay's had him holding a magic sword and casting a spell, for example, though most just had the players with bats or whatnot.
Anyway, I was surprised Zach Duke went back out to pitch the 7th inning, as he was up to about 90-something pitches. Now, at this point I actually went to get food, since being about 3 hours off my normal schedule, I became hungry pretty late, so I didn't see what happened to Aramis Ramirez, except that by the time I saw Barrett fly out to right, Ramirez was standing on second, and the game wrapup says he got a double, so oh well. Bynum struck out after that, but unfortunately after that Matt Murton got a single and scored Ramirez. (I'd like to pause for one second and say that Matt Murton looks like one hell of a ballplayer. I don't think I'd heard of him before, but he apparently got traded to Chicago as part of the Nomar trade? A former first-round draft pick by the Red Sox from the whole Georgia Tech stronghold? I think I'll keep my eye on this kid from now on.) Cedeno singled after that, but fortunately Todd Walker, who pinch-hit, grounded towards first base and Zach Duke managed to get out there in time to cover it and end the inning.
I'm so totally used to hearing "Louie Louie" after the 7th inning stretch (they play it at every single game at Safeco, as it's the state song of Washington or something) that it was sort of refreshing to watch the Eat-n-Park smiley face bounce over the lyrics to Take Me Out To The Ballgame, and then hear them play "Saturday Night". I wonder if they play different songs at every game or not. Wouldn't that be nice for a change?
Not much to say about the 8th and 9th innings. Freddy Sanchez pinch-hit for Zach Duke in the 7th and swung so hard at a ball that he fell over on his ass, which is something I rarely see in real life, though I see it in the Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyuu videogame all the time. And honestly, Jack Wilson and Chris Duffy were really pretty awful at the plate. I wondered how Jason Bay could be batting .341 with 2 HR and only have 5 RBI so far, until I realized that the guys ahead of him simply weren't getting on base, although Jack Wilson's been getting a couple homers out of the 2-spot, so maybe he's ninjaing Bay's RBIs. I dunno.
Mike "Gonzo" Gonzalez came out to "Boom!", a song I primarily associate with Bret Boone. I guess it's okay for a pitcher to have a song like that -- "Ready or not, I strike out a lot (of batters)!" Anyway, he got a 1-2-3 ninth inning for the save, and OH MY GOD, THE PIRATES WIN IT!
The sad part is, I joked that I'd have to come to the games all week to make sure they kept winning, and I didn't go to today's (Sunday), and of course, they lost.