Welcome to Total Pittsburgh Sports. I give my opinions on, analyze, and discuss all things related to the Penguins, Pirates, and Steelers. Hope you enjoy, and comment your thoughts!

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Pirates In The Playoff Chase: 2014 Edition

The Pirates, surprisingly find themselves in a very similar position as they did at this point last season. They sit three games back of the first place Milwaukee Brewers, and just 1.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot.  With over two months of baseball left, they have as good a chance as any to climb into a second consecutive postseason berth.  This comes as a surprise because the team got off to its worst start in eight years (18-26 to start the season).  Their current position is thanks to a dominant run that saw them pick up more wins since May 1st than any other team in baseball.

Unlike last season, the Pirates' offense has been their strength.  Andrew McCutchen is the anchor of there lineup, and he is on a collision course with a second consecutive NL MVP award.  Starling Marte has shown potential, and seemed to be a good fit in the two spot, sandwiched between McCutchen and rookie Gregory Polanco.  Polanco started his MLB career on June 20th, and impressed immediately.  He cooled off in mid-July though, but it looks to just be growing pains.  Neil Walker is having a career year, hitting .290 with 50 RBI and 15 homers.  Russell Martin's OBP is through the roof, which is totally different from last year.  Jordy Mercer is getting in on the act, as well.  The bench has been a surprising strength, too, with Travis Snider emerging as a pinch hitting hero.

And then there's Josh Harrison.  J-hay could well be the surprise player of the year in all of baseball.  He simply entertains. He's been hitting around .300 all year, hitting extra-base hits with regularity.  He is known for his hustle in the field, and his ability to play left/right field, second base, shortstop, or third (in fact, he even pitched once last year).  In July in a game against the Rockies, J-hay was caught between 2nd and 3rd, but he escaped the rundown by hitting the deck and avoiding tags three times.  He did it again this week against the rockies (in Denver, this time).  McCutchen is the team's MVP, and Harrison is the team's spark plug.

The starting rotation has been a bit of a mess this year. Passable, but a bit of a mess.  Francisco Liriano simply has not been in 2013 form.  The slider that made Joey Votto look like a child lost in a mall during the Wild Card game last year has been less elusive and with lower velocity.  He is walking too many batters as well.  He's been showing encouraging signs lately, though, so perhaps he'll be a help down the stretch. Gerrit Cole showed off his dominant stuff early in the year, but (save for one or two starts) couldn't roll it all together to dominate a game.  He's been injured for most of the time since June, so maybe he too can be a help down the stretch when he returns from the DL.  Jeff Locke has been more than satisfactory since being inserted into the rotation in June, but people are understandably wary of another collapse from Jeff.  Vance Worley has been consistent, but he is in the most danger of being bumped into the bullpen upon Cole's return.  Edinson Volquez, by the numbers, has been good.  He just always gives me an uneasy feeling on the mound.  Overall, the pitching doesn't look like a playoff rotation, but there's a lot of variables.

The bullpen is the real concern of this team.  Mark Melancon has been nothing short of an elite closer since he was put into the role in June.  Tony Watson is arguably even better than Mark.  Justin Wilson can usually be counted on for one to two innings in relief, and he can bring the heat.  Jared Hughes has been a nice surprise.  He's made getting out of bases loaded jams his trademark.  That's where things get iffy.  The rest of the bullpen consists of Ernesto Frieri, Stolmy Pimentel, and Jeanmar Gomez. None of whom you would like to see in a must-win situation.  Personally, I think there are better options in the minors. Vin Mazzaro is a start.

The Bucs are in the most competitive division in baseball.  The Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds are all fighting along with the Bucs for the coveted NL Central crown.  If the Bucs want to take it, they need Cole and Liriano to return to, if not 2013 form, "pretty good" form. They need Pedro Alvarez to remember how to throw across the diamond.  And, lets face it, they need to trade for a reliever.

Let's Go Bucs

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Baseball Is Back

There are a lot of annoying things about baseball.  Umpires getting calls wrong, players inexplicably making stupid decisions, pitchers saying they will sign with one team then signing with another, to name a few.  Those three examples are all part of the game, though. They are all pieces in the puzzle that, when put together, makes the game we love.  The only thing I truly cannot stand in baseball is the fans' obsession over predicting things.  We sit, on this February 16th, forty-two days out from opening day.  All you can hear is people rambling on about how the Pirates will or won't make the playoffs, or whether the front office blew it, or whether the sky will fall.  Nothing but gloom surrounds the Pirates, on the day before Spring Training.  I can't stand it.  Since when have preseason predictions been anywhere near accurate? Last year, almost every expert picked the Pirates to finish below .500 for the twenty-first consecutive season.  And, guess what? They not only achieved eighty-two wins, they racked up ninety-four exciting, heart-pounding, unbelievable wins.  So you can keep your predictions.  I'd rather just enjoy the season as it comes to me, instead of insisting on trying to rush through it.

Keeping in the optimistic mood, I have a few reasons to believe that the Pirates can repeat their success of 2013. Here are some of them.

Pitching Won't Miss A Beat - Many are looking at the Pirates' pitching staff and wondering "how have they improved?".  While that is a hard question to answer, it is also hard to find a place in which it has declined.  The only departure was made by an aging AJ Burnett. His loss will be felt, no doubt, but I think his spot will be filled by the aspiring Jeff Locke, or the phenom Jameson Taillon.  The rest of the staff looks solid.  Francisco Liriano is coming off of a dominant season, and, while an identical repeat would be a lot to ask, it seems reasonable to expect a solid season from Frankie.  Gerrit Cole is poised to become a dominant pitcher in the league.  He developed over the course of last season, complimenting his 100 mph fastball with an effective curve.  Wandy Rodriguez reported yesterday that he threw a bullpen session with no pain in his previously injured forearm.  While these injuries can be unpredictable, if all goes well, we could be seeing good old efficient Wandy back on the mound this April or May.  Charlie Morton was lights out after returning to the rotation in June, combining his ground-ball inducing sinker with a swing-and-miss curveball.  The fifth spot has a bit of uncertainty to it.  The Bucs signed Edinson Volquez to fill it, but I really don't like his chances.  I'd rather see Jeff Locke or even Brandon Cumpton get a shot, they are two guys who showed promise last year (especially Locke).  Jameson Taillon is the next Pirates prospect who is waiting to burst onto the scene, and probably will do so in June.  I'm finding it hard to not feel good about this rotation.

Hitting Can Hold Down The Fort - Last year, the Pirates succeeded by having their pitchers shut the opposition down, while their hitters got just enough to win. I firmly believe that we have the pieces on offense to "hold down the fort", and maybe more.  Yes, I know we are lacking a first baseman.  We also lacked one last year.  Obviously, reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen leads the charge.  There's no reason not to expect another big year at the plate for Cutch.  I personally am really excited to watch Starling Marte this year. We got to see some of his incredible raw talent in the first half of last year, but he declined a bit because of injury.  I wouldn't be shocked if he put up a monster season this year.  Pedro Alvarez can be frustrating at the plate, with his lack of discipline, but as long as a sends thirty balls over the fence, who are we to complain?  Of course, it would be nice if he could raise his average twenty points (to a whopping .260).  If Neil Walker can get his consistency back, and Jordy Mercer and Russell Martin can chip in a big hit once in a while, this offense might just do the job. And, hey, there's no rule that says Gaby Sanchez isn't allowed to get hits (although you might think so based on what people are saying around here).

Why Not? - My biggest question to all the doubters is why not? Why should it not be us?  Let's assume that St. Louis, LA, and Atlanta will win their respective divisions.  That leaves the Buccos, the Reds, the Nationals, the D-backs, and all the bottom-dwellers to contend for the final two playoff spots.  Is it so ridiculous that the Pirates would end up in the top two of that list? I don't think so.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What Stands In The Way Of A Fourth Stanley Cup For The Penguins?

   As many supporters of the team have grown accustomed to over the past four years, the Penguins are once again near the top of the list of teams that are believed to be legitimate contenders for the Stanley Cup.  After all, they have possibly the top two players in the world, in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, on their roster.  Those two, complemented by dynamic scorers Chris Kunitz and James Neal, make for a dangerous offense. If the “defense wins championships” theory is a concern, the Pens have former Norris Trophy (for the NHL’s best defenseman) finalist Kris Letang, along with shutdown defensemen Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi.  Goaltender Marc Andre Fleury currently leads the NHL in wins, with twenty-nine, and ranks in the top ten in average goals-against (2.26). 
All of this combines to form one massive expectation: the Penguins will be playing games into early June.  That has been the expectation every year since 2008. While they reached the finals and lost to Detroit in ’08, and then won the Cup in 2009, the expectation hasn’t been met lately.  The Pens have lost in the first or second round in three of the past four years, and haven’t recorded a win past round two since that Cup run in ’09.  The Penguins should be building a dynasty with multiple Cups, like Chicago has been doing.  Instead, the team has been haunted by the likes of Jaroslav Halak, Claude Giroux, Marty St. Louis, and, most recently, Tuukka Rask.  While all signs point to the Pens having a great chance to erase that this spring by bringing home the big prize, there are a few reasons to be wary of another disappointment.
The first is a lack of secondary scoring.  While Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Chris Kunitz have been filling the net, the team has received very little production from the rest of the offense.  Players like Brandon Sutter, Chuck Kobasew, and Craig Adams have been all but nonexistent on the score sheet. While it is expected that the top six forwards will carry the majority of the offensive load, a Stanley Cup-winning team needs the occasional big goal contribution from the bottom six, too.  Part of this will be resolved over time.  Chris Conner, Joe Vitale, and Beau Bennett all should return from injury well before the time the playoffs roll around.  Another possibility is making a trade, perhaps shipping one of the team’s many defensive prospects away in return for a winger.  If nothing is done to address this problem, this would be a serious concern as we head towards April. 
Another worry is defense.  The Penguins have a wealth of talent on defense. As stated above, they have a solid top three of Kris Letang, Paul Martin, and Rob Scuderi.  They are well complemented by the heavy hitting Brooks Orpik, and the dynamic pairing of Matt Niskanen and rookie Olli Maatta.  Sometimes, however, the way the defense operates is more important than the talent itself.  Kris Letang, for instance, has the talent to be one of the best two-way defensemen the league has ever seen.  However, instead of being smart with the puck, he is often creating turnovers or making poor choices. Another problem is a lack of defensive responsibility, or “paying attention to the little things”.  The Cup-winning Penguins of ’09 prided themselves on their attention to detail. Their miniscule number of mistakes meant they allowed far fewer goals, which meant they won more games in spite of not having the explosive offense that the 2014 team has.  If the defense becomes more responsible—which we have seen, at some points this season, that they can do—then this concern isn’t really a factor.
Another potential problem is injury.  It is a fact of life that has plagued the Penguins seemingly forever.  Old people will remember how Mario Lemieux’s career was hindered by his back problems.  In recent memory, Sidney Crosby was sidelined for nine months with a concussion, and Evgeni Malkin had to have reconstructive knee surgery.  This season alone, the Penguins were without Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik, and Deryk Engelland all at the same time!  While they found ways to operate and get by for the time being, such a rash of injuries would certainly spell the team’s demise in the playoffs.  A rational proposition would be that the Penguins need Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik, and Marc Andre Fleury to stay healthy 100% of the playoffs in order to reach their goal.  Not much can be done to prevent injuries from happening.  However, we’ve seen it ruin a team’s chances before. For instance, the 2011 Penguins entered the playoffs without the services of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, and they were eliminated in the first round.
The Penguins, as they stand, are one of the top five contenders in the NHL.  Obviously, being top five doesn’t necessarily get you the Cup. The Pens are interested, and only interested, in being number one. To do that, their bottom-six forwards need to start chipping in some goals (or GM Ray Shero needs to trade for a better one(s)), the defensemen need to play soundly and responsibly, and they need to stay healthy. 

In 2011, the abundance of injuries to forwards left them with little finishing capability, allowing Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson to put up a forcefield in game 7:

In 2012, a lack of defensive responsibility allowed Flyers forward Claude Giroux to fill the net, an lead the Flyers to victory: 

In their Cup run in 2009, the Pens played well defensively and received goals from secondary forwards, which led them to victory in games like this: 

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Steelers Weren't As Close As You Think To A Playoff Spot

The kick went wide right.  It was hard for Steelers fans to digest, even though it took place in a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers.  A Chiefs win would send the Steelers to the playoffs.  A win by the Chargers would send themselves to the playoffs, and knock the Steelers into the offseason.  Kansas City, despite only starting two of its twenty-two starters, held a ten point lead in the fourth quarter.  The Chargers tied the game, setting up the Chiefs, led by backup QB Chase Daniel, with a chance to mount a game winning drive with the clock winding down.  Daniel and his offense marched down the field, into field goal range.  They were content to run down the clock, and attempt a field goal as the clock expired.  Steeler fans were already clearing their schedules for next weekend. Except the kick missed. San Diego would go on to win it in overtime.

You could blame the Kansas City kicker. It would be easy. But why would this Steelers team make the playoffs?  Sure, they had an impressive win here and there.  But there were too many blunders, too much incompetence, and too many errors.

Should a team who got essentially shut out through three quarters by the Tennessee Titans make the playoffs? Should a team who gave up the ball three times in the first quarter to the 8-8 Chicago Bears make the playoffs? Should a team who allowed the lowly Minnesota Vikings (led by Matt Cassel, no less!) make their defense look silly make the playoffs?

Should a team who allowed Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor to run ninety-three yards for a touchdown on the first play of the game make the playoffs?  What about a team who allowed fifty-five points to the New England Patriots?  Or the team that gave the Baltimore Ravens a free pass into the secondary, and killed their own rally by allowing Jacoby Jones to take a kickoff back for a "touchdown" (it only wasn't a touchdown because of Mike Tomlin's hijinx on the sideline)?  Maybe the team that let that Miami Dolphins receiver break three tackles (at once) and score a game winning touchdown?

That's what I thought.  There were far too many idiotic moments for this team to earn a playoff berth.  If they had won just one of the games I cited above, they would have been in the playoffs. Regardless of the Chiefs kicker.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Dream Is Over... For Now

I'll begin this the same way I began my last post: Wow.  That's the only word that comes to mind.  When I look back on what has taken place in the Pirates organization since the end of the 2012 season, all I can say is, wow.

Pittsburgh was a baseball town before it was ever a football town.  The Pirates were playing (and winning) World Series before the Steelers existed.  Baseball used to be king around here.  During the twenty year losing streak, all of that was erased.  The Pirates became a city-wide (and nation-wide) joke.  There was one Pirates jersey worn for every thirty Steelers jerseys.  The Pirates were accomplishing nothing, and nobody cared.  That's what makes the last year so incredible for this team.  They made Pittsburgh into a baseball town once again. The fact that they were able to do that, despite being the laughingstock of Western PA for two decades, means something truly amazing must have taken place.  Let's take a look at this amazing season.

It started last winter.  The Pirates were coming off another late season collapse.  Any baseball passion that had been rekindled around here had been crushed.  Many called for the team's front office, led by GM Neal Huntington, to be fired.  Owner Bob Nutting presented an ultimatum: either the Pirates would win in 2013, or people would get fired.  Many thought the current management team was hopelessly incompetent, and were essentially hoping we would lose just so they would be fired.  Huntington had other ideas.  He would prove them all wrong.

The Pirates had what must have been (correct me if I'm wrong) the best offseason in team history.  Huntington scraped together what seemed to be spare parts from around baseball, who all turned out to be stars.  Russell Martin was a defensive prowess behind the plate, Mark Melancon was lights out out of the bullpen, Jeanmar Gomez turned out to be a stellar long-reliever, and of course Francisco Liriano rose up to be the team's ace on the mound.  We didn't know it at the time, but Huntington set the Pirates up for success long before Opening Day.

The regular season was a six month dream for fans who haven't seen winning baseball in their lives (like me).  We got off to a fast start, posting twenty wins in April.  One memory I have from PNC Park in the very early stages of the season was a comeback win vs. the Cincinnati Reds, in which we were down 5-0.  This set the stage for the rest of the season, in a way.  The Pirates made comeback wins their trademark.  Any deficit of four runs or less in a ballgame was not worrying from a fan's point of view.

The Pirates' success this year came from their pitching, as it has for each of the past three years.  Francisco Liriano was a revelation.  He was dominant from the moment he made his debut at the beginning of May, all the way up until his last playoff start five days ago.  He was especially prolific at PNC Park, posting a 1.81 ERA there.  He quickly became the team's stopper, putting an end to any losing streaks, or getting a much needed win against a division rival.  AJ Burnett came back as less of a dominant ace, and more of a scrappy, get-it-done-somehow type of pitcher.  That style suits him well, in my opinion.  Charlie Morton returned from his Tommy John recovery about midway through the season, and was very impressive.  Jeff Locke faded down the stretch, but I still appreciate his impressive stuff from the first half of the season.  Gerrit Cole exceeded all expectations that came with his billing as our top prospect.  He came up in mid June, and pitched six shutout innings.  He consistently has a fastball that sits at 98 MPH, and his curveball has improved by leaps and bounds.  Down the stretch in August, September, and October, he was especially impressive and crucial to the team's success.

This season was full of pitching gems, walkoff wins, incredible comebacks, packed PNC Parks, Greg Brown outbursts, and so many memories.  I'm not mad that we didn't win the World Series.  Yes, I wish we beat the Cardinals.  We were bested.  We went down honorably.  I'm proud of this team.

Besides, there's only optimism for the Pirates' future.  With almost all of the core players on contract, this team will only get better.  Of course, it wouldn't hurt to resign Marlon Byrd, and maybe AJ Burnett.  Besides them, all the key players on the field, in the rotation, and in the bullpen are locked up. Top prospect Jameson Taillon (starting pitcher) seems to be poised to make his MLB debut next season. If you want to know what to expect, he's been rumored to be better than Gerrit Cole.  If that's true... Wow. OF Gregory Polanco had a breakout season with AA Altoona. He will be bursting onto the scene in 2015, maybe even as a September callup in '14.  And if you want to look way ahead, pitchers Tyler Glasnow, Luis Heredia, and outfielder Austin Meadows all appear to have bright futures.

It looks like we're in for many fun summers to come at PNC Park.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Definition Of Home Field Advantage

Wow. That's the only word that comes to mind right now. Wow.  I'm writing this at 9:20 PM, on Sunday, Buctober 6th, 2013.  I just got home from PNC Park, where I witnessed the best crowd I've ever seen (having been to Steelers games at Heinz Field and Penguins playoff games at the old Civic Arena).  From 2 1/2 hours before first pitch, to long after the final out, the people of Pittsburgh were all hands on deck.

The game was scheduled for a 4:37 first pitch. Naturally, I arrived at the stadium at 2:15.  I walked across the Clemente Bridge, tipped the saxophone guy, and grabbed a free "#WeBelieve" sign.  I, along with a few hundred others, waited about 15 minutes for the stadium gates to open. At 2:30, when they finally opened, many fans sprinted inside in order to get the best standing room and bleacher spots.   The Cardinals were still out taking batting practice, and some fans went down to the front row to get some early taunting in.  As we walked in, each fan was given a black rally towel complete with "Raise The Jolly Roger".

The ballpark was packed by 4:10.  There was a mix of booing and "Let's Go Bucs" greeting the Cardinals as they were introduced.  As soon as PA Announcer Tim DeBacco said "Aaand for your Pirates" the crowd leapt to their feet, screaming and waving their towels.  Likable players like Jeff Karstens, Michael McKenry, and AJ Burnett drew loud applause, but the big noise came for the starting lineup. Few got a louder ovation than manager Clint Hurdle, who was greeted by a bowing-down Pirate Parrot.

Pirate ace Francisco Liriano cruised through the first inning, drawing cheers for each strike, and standing ovations for each out.  PNC got rocking early when Marlon Byrd hit a single with men on 2nd  and 3rd, giving the Pirates a 2-0 lead.  Liriano would play with fire throughout the day, and eventually he gave up two runs to tie the game, off of a 2 RBI single by Mr. October, Carlos Beltran.  Those runs were controversial, however, because shortly before Beltran's single, Jon Jay was called safe at third on a play where he should have actually been called out.  Liriano, along with the fans, bounced back and got out of the inning.  The fans went bananas as Liriano walked off the field, as they knew it would be his last inning.

The fans chanted the pitcher's name again (KEL-LY KEL-LY), although it didn't seem to rattle Joe Kelly like it rattled Johnny Cueto on Tuesday.  Joe Kelly did his job superbly.  The problem was,  he wasn't very efficient.  The Pirates got his pitch count up, and we won the game getting hits off of their bullpen.

In the bottom of the 7th inning, a sacrifice fly scored McCutchen to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead. That didn't last long, as Carlos Beltran led off the 8th with a home run to tie the game.  Once again, the crowd stayed in it through thick and thin.  Trust me, I've been to some tough losses. Take September 20th vs. the Reds. We blew a three run lead in the 9th.  After that, half the crowd left and the rest were dead silent. Tonight was the polar opposite.  After Mark Melancon let up that tying home run, the fans stood up and cheered louder.  And it worked.  Melancon got out of the inning with no further damage done.

What the Pirates did in the bottom of the 8th inning is what made this night unforgettable. That inning along was a rollercoaster of emotions.  Andrew McCutchen led off with a double, only to be thrown out at third on a ground ball off the bat of Justin Morneau.  That was a depressing blow to the rally, but Marlon Byrd came through with a single that moved pinch runner Josh Harrison to third.  Pedro Alvarez came up to bat, so Cards manager Mike Matheny decided to play some chess.  He brought in lefty Kevin Seigrist, because Pedro tends to be worse against left handed pitchers.  Pedro took matters into his own hands.  He threw the statistics out the window, and lined a single to left, scoring Harrison to give the Pirates the lead.  Russell Martin followed that up with a single to up the lead to 5-3.   No exaggeration, I felt the floor beneath my feet shake as the crowd went wild.

When Greg Brown yelled "It's Grilled Cheese Time!" as closer Jason Grilli trotted out for the ninth, the sea of black was pulsating.  My ears may still be ringing in fact.  Grilli didn't let a leadoff single by Matt Adams get to him.  He got the next three outs in short order.  The fireworks shot off, "New Pirates Generation" was blasted over the PA, and the crowd went nuts. It's something I don't think I'll ever forget. We stayed to hear some TBS guy interview Pedro, but we couldn't hear it.  We walked the winding path down the rotunda, as a loud Lets Go Bucs chant was shared by the thousands exiting the ballpark.  The Clemente Bridge was essentially a victory parade. Everyone was in good spirits waiting in line to get their car.  Pittsburgh collectively smiled.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Pirates Finally Made It

What a night.  What a night for the Pirates, what a night for the fans, what a night for Pittsburgh.  If there had been any doubt surrounding whether Pittsburgh was embracing its baseball team, last night cleared it up.  Sure the Pirates have had plenty of cool moments at PNC Park over the past few years. All of those paled in comparison to what occurred last night on the North Shore.  Michael McKenry had his iconic homer in 2011 (accompanied by an even more iconic call from Greg Brown).  That, however, preceded a monumental collapse which all but erased the shine from that memory.  Drew Sutton had a memorable walkoff homer in 2012, only to suffer the same fate as McKenry's blast.  Nothing compares to winning.  Nothing compares to the scene that unfolded last night.

It started hours before the first pitch.  fans flooded Federal Street and the Clemente Bridge starting around 5:00.  There were long lines at the stadium gates, which opened at 6:00.  Fans quickly filled up the standing room sections, and the entire stadium filled out shortly thereafter.  A record 40,547 showed up.  The blackout was pulled off incredibly well. In addition to that, the Pirates handed each fan a black "Raise The Jolly Roger" rally towel.  The place was ready to explode during the announcement of the starting lineups.  Chants of "Let's Go Bucs" drowned out most of the Cincinnati names, save for Brandon Phillips who drew a Baltimore Ravens level of booing.  All that was left was for Andrew McCutchen's mother to nail the National Anthem, and the game was off and running.

It started appropriately enough, with Francisco Liriano striking out Shin Soo Choo in impressive fashion.  The night continued smoothly for "Frank The Tank", who pitched seven innings giving up just one earned run.  The crowd roared with every strike, and exploded with every out made by the Reds.

When the Pirates came to bat in the second inning, you knew times had changed in Pittsburgh. Pirate killer Johnny Cueto took the mound.  Time after time, he had dominated the Bucs in Pittsburgh. This time was destined to be different.  He gave up a solo shot to Marlon Byrd to start things off in the second.  As I said before the game, "if the Pirates score first, the crowd can essentially take it from there". That they did.  They mercilessly chanted "CUEEE-TTOOO, CUEEE-TTOOO" before every pitch.  It obviously got into the Reds' ace's head, because he literally dropped the ball as he was getting ready to pitch to Russell Martin. Just dropped it. He had to walk about five steps off the mound to retrieve it.  It was an embarrassment; he had just let the 40,000+ on hand affect the game. On the very next pitch, Martin launched a towering home run into the left field bleachers.  The Buccos would chase Cueto after just 3 and 1/3 innings.

The Pirates took a 6-2 lead into the top of the ninth inning. Closer Jason Grilli enters from the bullpen. He promptly struck out the first man he faced, induced a shallow flyout on the second, and the third grounded out to the Pittsburgh Kid, Neil Walker.  The dugout, the stadium, and the city erupted after that last out.  It took a while, but the Pirates finally have a memory worth showing off.  Let's be honest, you were sick of seeing the highlight of that McKenry home run.

Note: Am I the only one who was extremely annoyed by TBS showing the clip of Sid Bream's slide in '92 before the 9th inning? Horrible timing.