Game 22: Nationals (10-10) @ Pirates (9-12)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

So let us revisit Sunday for a few minutes before we look ahead to tonight’s makeup game since manager Clint Hurdle took some time to do so this afternoon.

I just can’t shake Hurdle’s response on Sunday afternoon when he was asked if it was smart to have Andrew McCutchen try to score on a sacrifice fly with two out in the ninth. For those of you who were off enjoying your Easter and not in front of the television… the context was this: McCutchen was on third with one out and the Pirates trailing, 6-3. Jose Tabata lifted a fly ball to middle right field. Jayson Werth camped under it for out No. 2. McCutchen tagged, took off for home and was tagged out on Werth’s terrific throw. Game over. With Lyle Overbay on-deck and Neil Walker waiting behind him.

The key to this situation is the club was down by three runs. With two outs. In the ninth.

I thought it was plenty appropriate to ask why McCutchen would run in that situation, so the first question I directed at Hurdle was — “Given that you were down by three runs, would you have preferred that McCutchen stay on third in that situation?”

Hurdle’s response: “No.”

Really?

Hurdle then began his defense: “The only reason we’re asked that question is because he’s out. I bet everybody in the ballpark, including you, thought we were going to send him.”

Actually, I didn’t think McCutchen would be sent. But I thought it might be rude to mention that in a press conference.

More from Hurdle: “You never want to make the last out at home, but sometimes those things are going to happen. It’s not a perfect world. It’s not a perfect game. Our mentality is to play aggressive. That’s going to win us more games. We get one there, who knows where it takes us. We’re going to send that guy.”

I’m still entirely unconvinced. McCutchen’s run in that situation means so little. He should not take off for home unless he is 100 percent — no, 150 percent — positive he is going to be safe. I agree that 9 times out of 10 that fly ball scores McCutchen. I’d advocate for him to run in that situation in innings one through eight. I’d advocate for him to run in the ninth if the team is down by one.  But not when the club was going to need at least two more hitters to come to the plate for the chance to tie the game.

Hurdle’s final comment on the play: “Look what kind of throw it took. There are probably two guys in the league that can make that throw. He’s one of them.”

Hurdle is absolutely correct. But since it’s obviously no secret that Werth has a heck of an arm, isn’t that even more reason not to try and run on him?

I never got the impression Hurdle was giving these answers in an effort not to call out third base coach Nick Leyva or McCutchen for the decision to run. He firmly agrees with it. And he backed that up with what he said on Monday.

“It’s about doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason. And I do believe all of those were in place. We got the wrong outcome. … I expected him to go. I would have been more shocked if he wouldn’t have gone. I don’t ever want to wonder if he would have been safe.

“We’re not a conventional team. Things happen within this game that are instinctive and impulsive. Yes, in hindsight, when it’s 30 seconds later, that shouldn’t have happened. But in the heat of the moment with adrenaline fueling and excitement and an aggressive mentality…

“I think now we have a better yard mark on when we go and when we don’t go as far as distance into right field. Was it a gamble? Absolutely. Did it not work out? Absolutely. Am I happy with the aggressive mentality? Absolutely.”

For the record, Leyva told me on Monday that he told McCutchen to run: “It’s very easy to say that wasn’t the right situation, but I thought he could make it. It’s a judgement call. They don’t give you a do-over. He’s probably the fastest guy on the team. I thought the ball carried far enough. I know Werth’s got as good as arm as anybody. I know [Rick] Ankiel has as good an arm as anybody. If I didn’t think he could make it, I wouldn’t have sent him.”

And with that, we turn the page to Monday’s news and notes…

  • Lyle Overbay and Pedro Alvarez are out of the lineup, with Steve Pearce and Brandon Wood taking their places. Hurdle said he wanted to get Overbay a day off simply because the first baseman has started every game of the season so far. Hurdle also wanted Wood to get some playing time and figured sitting Alvarez against a lefty could be a good idea.
  • Sitting Overbay and Alvarez also loads the lineup with right-handed hitters. Nationals pitcher John Lannan is allowing righties to hit .360 against him this season. Left-handed hitters are batting .167. Lannan’s career splits aren’t so drastic, however (.273 batting average for right-handed hitters; .272 mark for left-handed ones).
  • A number of Pirates players have had success against Lannan, led by Matt Diaz (11-for-22)
  • Evan Meek is still sick. It’s a viral thing, he says, but the guy has been under the weather for weeks now. Not that it’s going to stop him from pitching.

Lineups:

PIRATES: A. McCutchen (CF), J. Tabata (LF), M. Diaz (RF), N. Walker (2B), S. Pearce (1B), B. Wood (3B), C. Snyder (C), R. Cedeno (SS), P. Maholm (LHP)

NATIONALS: D. Espinosa (2B), I. Desmond (SS), J. Werth (RF), A. LaRoche (1B), M. Morse (LF), W. Ramos (C), J. Hairston (CF), B. Bixler (3B), J. Lannan (LHP)

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB 

5 Comments

I’d respect Mr. Hurdle more if he admitted what a bad decision this was, rather than try to defend it. If this is typical of his thought process, I am sad to say, then the Pirates will continue to wallow in incompetence.

Clint Hurdle is doing what no Pirate manager since Leyland has done… change a losing culture into a winning one. He was 100% correct in sending Cutch. If you are going to be “aggressive” with your ballclub, you are aggressive no matter what the situation (we ARE talking about one of the 5 fastest players in MLB, by the way). 2 or 3 of our wins are the result of playing with this type of attitude and focus. This ballclub is much different than any club we have seen in Pittsburgh since Barry left. The road record proves it. The home record has yet to show it. There’s a manager in the AL that Hurdle reminds me of- Mike Scioscia. Hurdle will win here if management gets him some arms.

Jennifer –

Mr. Hurdle is trying to defend the indefensible, while insulting the intelligence of his fan base. We all learned in Little League that the situation called for no risks.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading “The Extra 2%” this weekend. It’s a book about the Tampa Bay Rays, and how new ownership and management transformed the franchise from a laughingstock into a World Series contender — while competing in the same brutal division as the powerful Yankees and Red Sox. I can’t imagine Joe Maddon, Tampa’s manager, uttering the nonsense that Mr. Hurdle offered.

As a lifelong Pirate fan, it pains me to see the franchise held hostage by such incompetence.

Yes, my comments were triggered by this one incident, but it’s just the latest in a pattern of poor management decisions on the field and in the front office. Why isn’t this ownership group and management team held accountable for their failures? Must we wait for a shrewd businessman (or woman) like Tampa’s Stuart Sternberg to swoop in, clean house, install intelligent management, and liberate us?

Joe Maddon is another perfect example of a skipper who WOULD have sent Cutch in that situation. He often makes decisions based on his gut, rather than “the book.” Those who haven’t actually played the game have a tough time understanding that baseball is not a game of second-guessing, after the fact. Baseball is a long, grinding season and it is a manager’s job to set a tempo for his squad. It is more important for this team that Hurdle is establishing direction (aggressive) for the Bucs than it is to have a meaningless win or loss in April. Hurdle has a proven track record and those who can’t see the change in the 2011 squad are too jaded by upper management.

Now, I have zero problems complaining about ownership, but, on the field- it was the right call for his team.

HI JENIFER, I AGREE WITH YOU 2 GOOD BATTERS ON DECK 1 RUN DID NOT MAKE A DIFFERENCE 2 GOOD BATTERS COULD HAVE,JENNIFER I REALLY APPRECIATE YOUR COLUMN, I LIVE IN MECHACICSBURG PA, THIS IS THE FIRST SEASON IN OVER 10 YEARS THAT ICAN REALLY KEEP UP WITH THE PIRATES, I WAS BORN AND RAISED IN THE MON VALLEY AND A LIFE TIME PITTSBURGH FAN. JIM BEVAN

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