The Washington Nationals hit the road for an Ohio River series, starting tonight in Pittsburgh against the Pirates. They’ll then head to Cincinnati for their road series with the Reds.
Leading off the trip, I have brought in Sam, The Maryland Bureau Chief Emeritus. The Western Pennsylvania native returned to his homeland after a decade in Maryland (most Columbia).
WFY: Last season the Pirates were in first place at the All-Star break, was it thought that they were turning the corner by the team, fans, etc?
TMBCE: Here’s what you need to understand. Pirates fans have been through a lot. We were not swayed by the early season success. However, being tied for first place late in July gave us HOPE at the time. Not hope for the playoffs. But hope for a winning season. It all ended in a 19-inning game in Atlanta, in which some say the worst blown call of all time by an umpire (ESPN) occurred. At the time of the game, the Pirates were 53-47 and tied for first. They finished the season 72-90. In case you don’t remember, here is another link. It is noteworthy that after the game, Jerry Meals admitted he blew the call. Many believe, as I do, that the team never got over that lost last year. The team was robbed of its momentum and never recovered. Be sure to watch the video of the blown call-the throw beat him by a mile!
WFY: From what I was seeing on Twitter, the Pirates were not hitting at all, but pitching was solid and keeping them competitive. Is that still the case?
TMBCE: It is basically the case, the pitching is starting to leak as well. Through the first 18 games of the season, the Pirates were 8-10 and did not play in a game in which more than 5 runs were scored. Since that time the Buccos are 4-8, with more than 5 runs given up 4 times, including the AJ Burnett special last week! (2.2 IP, 12 Hits allowed, and 12 Earned Runs. As you know I also root for the Yankees, so I have seen that act before).
WFY: Pedro Alvarez turned into Mario Mendoza 2.0, didn’t he? But something happened in the last week — he’s on fire. What’s going on? By the way, years ago I picked up one of those variety packs of baseball cards and Mendoza was in there. I thought, wow, this guy was terrible.
TMBCE: Alvarez is the team’s best, and only, power hitter. He is now protecting the whole plate, and actually taking the ball to the opposite field (something he refused to do before). I don’t necessarily like putting him back in the cleanup spot (too much pressure), but he is slowly putting it together.
WFY: The Andrew McCutchen signing is the best thing to happen to the Pirates since ______ ?
TMBCE: I’m a bit lukewarm on this. Its probably the best thing to happen since PNC Park was built, but that’s REALLY not saying much. Cutch (as he’s known in these parts) might not even be a 25+ HR a year guy. He has all the other tools, however. He is expected to do a lot right now and I think the pressure is weighing on him. If Alvarez starts to hit consistently, I think Cutch will start to see some better pitches.
WFY: Was it weird seeing so many ex-Pirates on the Nats when you were here for Fritz’s bachelor party?
TMBCE: Of course! When did the Nationals become Pittsburgh south? Of course, I was just shocked, SHOCKED to see Xavier Nady go 0 for 4. Its not like that never happened before!
WFY: Did they ever finish those light rail tunnels from downtown to the ballpark? How many different ways can you get to PNC Park and what is your favorite?
TMBCE: You are talking about the North Shore Connectors, and yes, they began service earlier this year. I have yet to ride them. Getting to PNC Park is really easy. I usually take the T (Pittsburgh’s version of the DC Metro) and stop either at Gateway Center or Wood Street and then walk over the Clemente Bridge. There’s a variety of places to park downtown as well, but anything that involves walking across the Clemente Bridge is preferred.
WFY: Didn’t Jim Leyland all but campaign for the Pirates job several years ago? Do you think he could have made much difference?
TMBCE: Its been a while, but I think he did interest about 6-8 years ago. But no, he would not have made a difference.
WFY: Where do you get your Pirates news from? How are the announcers?
TMBCE: The Pirates color analysts, Steve Blass and Bob Walk, are TREMENDOUS. I always learn something anytime they broadcast the game, particularly Walk. He is extremely insightful and actually did campaign for the job about 4-5 years ago. I think he WOULD have made a difference. Blass is also good, but only does the home games nowadays (he’s 70) and his broadcasting ability has slipped somewhat, but still solid. I am not as sold on the play-by-play guys. Greg Brown is the Voice of the Pirates and a bit of a homer, honestly. He has improved over the years, but I still prefer Lanny Fratare (since retired). Tim Neverett is in his 3rd year, I have no real opinion on him.
WFY: What is the quintessential food from PNC Park. Do you wash it down with Iron City?
TMBCE: There isn’t any one thing, but all the local joints (Primanti’s, Quaker Steak and Lube, etc) can all be purchased at the ballyard or at other locations. I do like Quaker Steak wings, and no, I don’t drink Iron City. I just have trouble paying $7-8 for a beer. Yes, I’m cheap!
WFY: Do you enjoy every Pittsburgh pro team wearing the same colors (more or less)? Do you see a lot of Pirates caps paired with Steelers or Penguins jerseys? IN fact, did you now that the Pirates cap is the sixth most popular in 2011 (Big League Stew, Yahoo!)?
TMBCE: Thanks for the tip. My son loves his Pirates cap, though he also has split allegiance with the Yankees. I do like the Black and gold colors, but let me tell you that I ABSOLUTELY HATE the Steelers 2012 “special” bumble bee uniforms. I also don’t like the Penguins blue jerseys.
WFY: Who takes this series and why?
TMBCE: Nats 3-2. The Pirates are not hitting at all. Plus, you have the advantage of facing AJ Burnett! Of course, Burnett always pitched well against the bad teams and poor against the good teams when he wore pin stripes…..you should be concerned if he pitches well against the Nats!