Wet and Wild Walkoff in Pittsburgh; Cards Matheny Thrown Overboard

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Monday, July 16. While it’s true that the Pirates can’t keep their head above water in the standings, they swam to victory in a monsoon yesterday in the last of the 10th. Meantime, the Cardinals who are barely treading water above the Pirates in the NL Central standings unceremoniously gave their manager Mike Matheny  the    heave-ho.

In 2000, Joe Block who now broadcasts for the Pirates sat through his share of thunderstorms with me in Charleston.  We waited to see if the South Atlantic League game would begin, resume or be abandoned, depending on the weather.  In the high-stakes world of major league baseball, Block and Steve Blass were in the radio booth high above Pittsburgh’s PNC Park in the last of the 10th.  The Pirates were trailing the Milwaukee Brewers 6-5.  Two men were out  when what had been a mild shower suddenly became a cloudburst. The umpires showed no sign of stopping the game with the Brewers only needing to get one out.   After all, the All-Star break was about to begin and anybody not bound for Washington was likely to want to go home for a few days of rest.

Coming into the game the Pirates had won the first 4 games of an unusual 5-game series with their division rival.  As hot as they were they were 9 games behind the Cubs and 6.5 behind the Brew Crew.

Yesterday afternoon’s game was a quiet affair going to the 8th.  The Pirates had garnered but one hit against Brewers’ starter Jhoulys Chacin.  That hit was a 2-run home run by Corey Dickerson after Chacin had allowed his mound opponent Joe Musgrove to reach on a throwing error.  the quiet 2-2 tie game turned into a Talladega-style shootout in the 8th. The visiting Brewers struck with a 3-run triple by Brett Phillips. The Pirates answered in the 8th as Starling Marte singled home a run.  They tied the game an inning later. David Freese tripled home the tying run off the Brewers’ closer Corey Knebel, handing him just his second blown save all season. Phillips struck again in the 10th with an RBI single off the Pirates’ Tanner Anderson. But the rookie Anderson would reap the rewards when the Pirates stepped in against Dan Jennings. Gregory Polanco and Colin Moran singled as rain intensified.  In the seconds before Josh Bell took his swing, Steve Blass told his KDKA audience that he had seen lightning.  Had it continued, the game would have been delayed no matter how much anybody wanted to leave town.  Bell provided Pirates’ fans the 5:00 variety of lightning, slamming a double into the right-center field gap. While the throw home had runner Moran beat, it went through the wickets of Brewers’ catcher Eric Kratz. Bell brought pitcher Anderson his first win since joining the Pirates on June 27. It was Bell’s first walk-off hit and will probably be his most memorable one.

While the Bucs and Brewers were doing their thing, the word spread through social media that the Cardinals had fired their manager Mike Matheney.  In a game not known for job security, he had been manager since the start of the 2012 season in St. Louis. The Cardinals lost the 2013 World Series to the Red Sox, but Matheny had won 3 division titles and never had a losing season before getting his walking papers. Mike Shildt, their bench coach will replace him for the time being.

One problem the Cardinals’ upper brass seems to have was that Matheny allowed one of his veteran pitchers, Bud Norris  to be rough with newcomer Jordan Hicks. Matheny’s belief, on which I agree 100% is today’s players are softer than the ones that made baseball great.

Toughening up a guy doesn’t have to apply only to players. As a boy, because I was blind I had it pretty soft during grade school. One of my sisters knew that would change once I got into junior high.  Somehow, she got me away from my parents and told me I would be called every rotten name in the book, and she pulled out most of them.  She said the word “Blind” in front of every crude word she could think of and said I would hear that in school.  She was right, of course.  Because she had given me this Branch Rickey style of education, I only lost my head once during what was a difficult career in junior high and high school.   Passing on the tradition, during 2000 when Joe Block was doing an internship with the RiverDogs I thought he had what it took to make it to the bigs.  I told him, “I think you have it.  Because I think that, I’m going to be rough and demanding with you on purpose.  I’m going to act like the a–hole of the world.  If you can take what I’m going to hand out, you can take anything you will face in the big leagues.” And I wasn’t joking.  Repeatedly as the season went along I found ways to stick it to the kid, especially off the air but once in a great while on the air.    Not nice, I admit.  The payoff?  the last several years Joe Block has been a major league broadcaster-first with the Brewers and now in the Steel City.

Cardinals’ fans have had more problems with John Mozeliak, the team’s president of baseball operations than they’ve had with Matheny, from what a local source has told me over the last few years. It seems unlikely that Matheny hired the Cubs’ Dexter Fowler who is now hitting .174 with the Cardinals. Admittedly, he was an All-Star in 2016, the year the Cubs won the World Series, and age 32 is a young age to collapse as he has. Still, Mozeliak remains in office and will conduct a search for a new manager.  Two contenders as of now are the former Yankees’ skipper “Binder Joe” Girardi and former Marlins’ coach Tim Wallach. At 60, Wallach has just a year of AAA managing, compared with Girardi’s decade in the supremely difficult job of managing the Yankees.

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