Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bottom of the 9th

It's been a blast blogging this spring. Now it's one more walk to the more trip down the more walking past persistent autograph seekers...three more outs of spring baseball left.

Two outs left. Bomback just grounded out to short.

Or is there? Garcia singles, while the word "Rally" flashes on the scoreboard.

One out left. Josue Paley popped out.

And the spring falls on the shoulders of Marcus Davis - whose routine pop up goes for an error. There is still life at McKechnie! And Tom Hagan fuels it, grounding a two-run single to center.

Nothing like a little drama, huh? Guess Watt? Kris Watts singles, and we have ourselves a real, true-blue rally...and it's time for Webster, whose two doubles have won over a crowd that gives him a rousing ovation.

Webster is ahead 3-1...and he walks...setting the stage for PRASCH!

PRASCH. Prasch has GOT to be the hero! No one named Prasch lets the crowd down, right? This one days - he flies out, and Pirates lose 5-4.

Hope you enjoyed hanging with us this spring. For the last time from McKechnie Field, this is John Lembo, signing off.

Top of the 9th

The Twins go down without much action.

Here we go - three more outs left in spring, Bradenton.

5-2 Twins.

Bottom of the 8th

The players may be no-names - as in, there are no names on their jerseys - but most of the more than 5,400 fans are still here, soaking up the final moments of spring baseball.

It's a tad toasty out, so the bleachers have cleared a bit. But most folks crammed into the cool shade are still here.

Webster doubles for the second time today, and that brings up Prasch. I just like typing Prasch. Prasch. Sounds as if he should be headlining the next WWE pay-per-view event.

Prasch walks, but Andrew Biela flies out. 5-2 Twins.

Top of the 8th

Evan Meek, who pitched well enough to make the 25-man roster, is on for the Pirates.

I like Meek because his favorite movie is "The Boondock Saints," a cult film about Irish brothers who turn vigilante in order to clean the crime out of their Boston neighborhood. It's killer. Pick it up if you can.

Until I interviewed Meek earlier this spring, I thought I was of nine people who saw "The Boondock Saints."

I guess there are 10 of us.

5-2 Twins.

Bottom of the 7th

I guess not all the stars are done for the spring - closer Joe Nathan, one of baseball's best, has come in to pitch for the Twins.

As expected, the guy with 161 saves in four seasons cruises, striking out two.

The Twins still lead 5-2.

Top of the 7th

Matt Capps - wow, a name I recognize! - has come on to relieve Morris.

When I interviewed with The Bradenton Herald in the summer of 2003, I did a feature on Capps, then with the GCL, for my test story.

Last month, I interviewed again for a feature I wrote. The best part? He still sounded like the same down-to-earth guy, as if the major league success hadn't gone to his head. I hope he stays that way.

Wow - there are a LOT of Twins fans here. Jon Knott hits a roller down the third-base line that stays for and goes for an infield single, and the place erupts. Who knew?

Brock Peterson reaches when centerfield Edwin Garcia drops a fly ball, and the Twins take a 4-2 lead. Capps' day is done. On comes Kyle Pearson.

Juan Portas singles, and it's 5-2 Twins. Meanwhile, the beer vendor announces last call for the spring.

Punto pops out, and we head to the stretch with the Twins ahead.

Bottom of the 6th

Anthony Webster - wonder if he knows the dictionary guy? - leads off the bottom of the sixth. And he stirs the crowd by doubling in the gap.

These kids are all right!

Here is a baseball name for you: Eddie Prasch. That just belongs on the back of a bubblegum card. He gets the job down, grounding out to second and moving Webster to third.

But Webster is stranded at third.

Three, maybe four, more innings of spring left in The Friendly City, and the Twins and Pirates are tied at 2.

Top of the 6th

Morris is still on the hill, and he's pitching better - granted, he's now facing a lineup full of Twin farmhands, but it's something to build on.

Morris zips through another inning...we're locked in a drab 2-2 tie.

Bottom of the 5th

Jesse Crain is pitching for the Twins, and since he has appeared in 183 major league games, he is a star today, as all the starters - with the exception of Jason Bay, who is now batting - are pretty much done for the day.

Bay, who has looked better with each day this spring, singles to center - but he is gone, replaced by pinch-runner Marcus Davis.

Tom Hagan, who hit .344 with the GCL Pirates last year (God bless media guides) stands in against Crain. He laces a single to left, making the most of his spring at-bat.

This has now turned into a minor-league game - though you can't blame anyone for this. You never want to get a guy hurt, especially when you're playing an exhibition game two days before the start of the season.

Kris Watts ground into a double play, and it's 2-2.

Top of the 5th

There are a bunch of new Pirates out there - none of whom have names on their jerseys. And it's Morris and a bunch of kids. This place will be empty in no time.

Morris puts runners on the corners with one out, but wiggles free. We are still tied at 2.

Bottom of the 4th

If the stars are your thing, this isn't the place to be. It's the last day of the spring, so the starters won't see much game time today. To wit - Morneau was pulled after two innings at first base, and Mike Redmond has assumed the catching duties from Mauer.

This crowd is QUIET. You wouldn't know there are over 5,000 people here. You can hear a rosin bag drop.

Rivas beats out of grounder, and that is met with a smattering of applause. Rivas, of course, is pulled for a pinch runner.

McLouth lines out, and we are still knotted at 2.

Top of the 4th

I saw a kid wearing a Rays hat and a Pirate shirt.

Gonna be a long year, man.

Meanwhile, the Twins have drawn even. It's 2-2.

Bottom of the 3rd

I just had one of the best ballpark pretzels I've ever tasted - doughy, but fresh, and just enough salt. My compliments to the chef - or whomever put the pretzels in one of those warmers.

I was able to chow down and not miss LaRoche and Doumit stroke doubles, giving the Buccos a 2-1 lead.

Top of the 3rd

Morris strikes out Carlos Gomez, but catcher Ryan Doumit, in an attepmt to throw the ball around the horn, airmails the ball into left field.

Uh, you know spring training is over, right guys?

The Twins have broken through with two outs, as Mauer doubles and Michael Cuddyer singles him in. Morris has a had rough spring, and while the numbers mean nothing, I'm sure it wouldn't hurt for him to have one solid outing before the season starts.

It may still be today - he gets Justin Morneau to fly out, preserving the 1-1 tie.

Bottom of the 2nd

I hope the lights bring something or someone to McKechnie Field. Hard to believe this place is dormant for more than 40 weeks out of the year. It's too nice to sit here empty, to only come alive for about five weeks out of the year. Besides, I need another excuse to sit in the press box and take in the view.

As for the game, Luis Rivas laced a pitch off the wall for a triple, which rivals only the suicide squeeze for the most exciting play in baseball.

In typical Pirate fashion, he triples with two outs, so the Buccos still need a hit. McLouth doesn't deliver, as he goes down looking.

1-0 Pittsburgh.

Top of the 2nd

As it has been all spring here at McKechnie Field, an opposing player draws more cheers than a Pirate. This time, Justin Morneau gets a warm ovation from a very subdued crowd.

Maybe the fans are depressed about the Pirates leaving. Maybe not.

Former Ray Delmon Young slashes a single to left, and while this guy was a bit of a nuisance last year, I'm sure Tampa Bay wishes they had him back. With Rocco Baldelli's career in doubt, the Rays have a gaping hole in right field - a position Young played so well last year he finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting.

Following a walk to DH Jason Kubel - Craig Monroe was a late scratch - Mike Lamb steps up. He's an interesting story - Lamb was going to be the Yankee third baseman in 2004 before the team managed to land Alex Rodriguez. Today, he's robbed of a hit, as right fielder Xavier Nady makes a running lunge and snares Lamb's liner.

(Too baaaad, Lamb.)

Morris, meanwhile gets another former Ray, Brendan Harris, to ground out with runners on the corners.

1-0 Pirates.

Bottom of the 1st

Well, that didn't take long - Jack Wilson singles in Nate McLouth, and the Pirates are off to fast start against Slowey - that's Kevin Slowely, the Twins' starting pitcher.

They cool, however, just as quickly. Jason Bay singles, but Adam LaRoche strikes out, Ryan Doumit rolls into a fielder's choice and Xavier Nady strikes out looking.

1-0 Pirates after one.

Top of the 1st

This is it, the beginning of the end of the 2008 spring training season. I'm gonna miss it - if you're a baseball fan, how can you not? Granted, it'll be a lot more fun when the games start to count. But spring training is awesome. There is nothing in sports like, from the intimacy of the venues to the contact with the players.

Bedeviled by some bad defense in his last outing, Matt Morris cruises through the first.



Here are the lineups for today's McKechnie finale:

The Twins:
1. Carlos Gomez, cf
2. Joe Mauer, c
3. Michael Cuddyer, rf
4. Justin Morneau, 1b
5. Delmon Young, lf
6. Craig Monroe, dh
7. Mike Lamb, 3b
8. Brendan Harris, 2b
9. Adam Everett, ss
Kevin Slowey, p

Can't complain when you get to see Mauer and Morneau, two of the best young players in the game. I wonder if Rays fans will cheer for Young and Harris, who spent last year in St. Petersburg.

The Pirates:
1. Nate McLouth, cf
2. Jack Wilson, ss
3. Jason Bay, dh
4. Adam LaRoche, 1b
5. Ryan Doumit, c
6. Xavier Nady, rf
7. Jose Bautista, 3b
8. Nyjer Morgan, lf
9. Luis Rivas, 2b
Matt Morris, p

McLouth may have beaten out Morgan for the starting job in centerfield, but McLouth played well enough to make the team as fourth outfielder, and will get one last workout today. If the Pirates want to reverse the last 15 years, they need Bay, LaRoche and Nady to do some raking.

Live From The Last Day

This is John Lembo, staff writer for The Bradenton Herald, and I am live from McKechnie Field, where the Pittsburgh Pirates play their final game of the spring against the Minnesota Twins.

It's been an interesting sprig, replete with a night game and a flap with city hall.

And today, it ends.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pirates-Twins, bottom of ninth

Minor-league left-hander Correy Hamman will try to close this one out. But he's in trouble, with two men on, one out and Jason Kubel up.
Kubel lines a shot to Durham at first, and the kid starts a nifty double play that gives the Pirates their first four-game winning streak of the spring.
That's progress, and it's back to McKechnie for the final exhibition game Saturday against these same Twins!

Pirates-Twins, top of ninth

This spring was my first experience blogging.
And while I've no idea who's reading them -- dang, I wish someone would call and ask me to lunch -- it's been fun most of the time, and there's no turning back.
That's the thing about this false spring in this part of the world. No matter how bad we want to recapture our past, the world keeps moving full-speed ahead.
Change is the only guarantee.
See, if I don't blog -- "Yeah, that's for people with nothing else to do in their spare time," I might have muttered years ago -- there are about 50 kids in line waiting to take my place.
Miles Durham just doubles for the Pirates with two outs.
Yeah, it's not too much what I thought it would be like when I was letting Bill Murray in the Al Lang gate as a worldly college student. Sometimes, I even wonder if it is what it is.
Matt Cavagnaro doubles, extending the Pirates' lead to 3-1.
But you begin to realize all you can ask is the first line of some ancient ritualized saying, "Give us this day." And try to make the most of it, even though you fall short.
That's what all these kids below me are doing. A lot must know they'll never be major-league players, but their gifts are their gifts and wasting them is not the thing to do.
So until someone other than myself says I absolutely cannot write, I'll muddle along with a purpose, and occasionally I'll take one deep.

Pirates-Twins, bottom of eighth

Franquelis Osoria and his sinkerball get two quick outs, with the Pirates clinging to a 2-1 lead.
It's warmed up considerably since this morning, but is still pleasant. The humidity arrives for good in the next 3-to-5 weeks.
Can't say I'm expecting much from the Pirates. I think new manager John Russell will make a positive impact, but baseball success is still tied too closely to payroll.

Pirates-Twins, top of eighth

Most of the minor-league guys have taken over the game, although Ryan Doumit has a chance to extend the lead with a man on first and two outs.
He grounds to third, and we're a step closer to reality-based I-75 traffic.

Pirates-Twins, bottom of seventh

Right-hander Jesse Chavez, who was in camp earlier this month, retires the Twins without incident.
I had to abandon my post and by the time I got back, we'd moved ahead to the eighth inning.

Pirates-Twins, top of seventh

Funny how a simple foul ball can rile people up.
Jose Bautista is leading off against Brian Bass. It's time for one of these teams to scratch out a run, and the Pirates might do just that after a double by their third baseman.
Pirates third-base coach Tony Beasley grabs a foul off the bat of Ronny Paulino and flips it into the stands. That's class, Tony.
Paulino singles and Bautista stops at third, but Paulino alertly moves to second when the throw from the outfield misses the cut-off man. Ducks on the pond for Mientkiewicz, the former Twin.
Mientkiewicz, a practiced deep-sea fisherman, reels in Bass for a walk. Second baseman Chris Gomez can break things wide open (Miles Durham is running for Mientkiewicz).
Gomez grounds into a double play, but the run scores and the Pirates are up 2-1 as the crowd rises for the seventh-inning stretch.

Pirates-Twins, bottom of sixth

Chris Hernandez, a minor-league right-hander, is on to pitch for the Pirates. He spent most of 2007 at Double-A Altoona.
Michael Cuddyer greets Hernandez with a leadoff single. Justin Morneau fails to advance the pinch-runner, swinging at a changeup for strike three.
Hernandez next gets Delmon Young to ground into a double play. Maybe Triple-A Indianapolis isn't far away.

Pirates-Twins, top of sixth

Brian Bass replaces Liriano on the mound for the Twins and gets two quick outs, bringing up the switch-hitting Ryan Doumit.
He lines one right at the head of the photographer in the visitors' dugout well, but the guy saw it coming and scooted out of the way.
Bass used to be with the Royals organization. He gets Doumit to fly out for a 1-2-3 inning.

Pirates-Twins, bottom of fifth

Do race horses enjoy being sent to stud at 3 and 4-years-old and being bred to upward of 100 mares? Or are they ticked off at being retired in their primes and not being able to compete?
Something commercial breeders need to examine, I think.
The Twins have two singles, and they're both bloops. Mike Lamb led off the fifth with a shallow fly to center that dropped in off new pitcher John Grabow.
A walk to Brendan Harris, and Grabow is in a bit of a jam facing No. 9 hitter Adam Everett.
A line-drive single to third, and we're tied 1-1. But Carlos Gomez pops out foul to catcher Ronny Paulino and Joe Mauer grounds out.

Pirates-Twins, top of fifth

Doug Mientkiewicz leads off, and while the majority of Pirates are ultra-cooperatie with the media, Mientkiewicz deserves credit -- yea, admiration -- for allowing himself to be interviewed.
Questions abound whether his bat can make a difference, even in a bench role.
Chris Gomez singles to right. This is an encouraging outing for Liriano, who needs to be productive for the Twins to have any chance of challenging the Indians and Tigers in the tough American League Central.
Nyjer Morgan puts a charge in one, but Carlos Gomez catches up to it on the warning trck. So the Pirates lead 1-0 on that Bautista homer in the second.

Pirates-Twins, bottom of fourth

Tyler Yates is on in relief to make his first appearance in a Pirates uniform since being acquired in a trade with Atlanta earlier this week.
The first batter, Michael Cuddyer, grounds to Doug Mientkiewicz at first.
I can't believe all these teams are getting ready to leave just when the weather's getting good.
Sometimes, this laptop serves as a protection against the outside world, but I doubt that's a good thing.
I like the little grassy area down the right-field line here at Hammond Stadium. Very much family-oriented.
Yates, who struggled with his control with the Braves before getting traded, walks Justin Morneau. Here's former Ray Delmon Young.
The experts say my San Francisco Giants might be the worst team in baseball. Funny, they said the same thing about my St. Louis Rams before the 1999 NFL season.
I wonder--who is the Giants' Kurt Warner? Sometimes in too-short dreams, it's me.
Yates gets Young on a double-play ball.

Pirates-Twins, top of fourth

We're getting the Twins radio call in the press box -- another source of childhood bliss (HEY, IS THERE A LAW AGAINST BEING HAPPY? NOT IN BHUTAN, THERE'S NOT.)
When we moved to Florida from Connecticut in the early 1970s, there of course were no big-league teams in Florida (insert Rays-Marlins joke here).
Some of the area radio stations carried teams on the weekend, so we occasionally got Bob Prince doing the Pirates on Sundays. That was a treat.
But "The Gunner" couldn't match the hilarity of White Sox announcers Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall.
Which reminds me -- if you've never seen "Fear Strikes Out," the movie about the life of Piersall -- you've never seen a baseball movie, in my opinion.

Pirates-Twins, bottom of third

The first hit for the Twins off Phil Dumatrait is a bloop single to left by Mike Lamb. Interesting that Nyjer Morgan didn't dive for it; was he thinking common-sense, don't get hurt this close to the season, or was he caught in-between?
They have Hampton Farms peanuts salted and roasted in the press box; absolutely, positively what I needed.
Bob Gibson was a real tough autograph back in the day. A friend of our dad's had played in the low minors with the Cardinals' right-hander, but that didn't impress Gibby.
Looking back, I almost think he was trying to impress on our teenage minds his signature on a program didn't amount to anything.
One thing's for sure: I've certainly remembered his refusal a lot longer than any of the barely legible autographs we received.
One memento I've long treasured -- as Joe Mauer comes up with runners on the corners and two outs -- is an autographed photo of me with 1968 World Series hero Mickey Lolich, albeit in a Mets uniform.
The portly Lolich defeated Gibson 4-1 in Game 7 to lead the Tigers to a dramatic come-from-behind triumph. He would have probably been in the Hall of Fame had not then-Tigers manager Billy Martin pitched him 700-plus innings in 1971 and '72, hastening his decline.
Here's another piece of trivia, although the subject was anything but: Lolich missed two weeks of the 1967 season to serve in the National Guard during the Detroit riots. The Tigers lost the American League pennant that year by a game.
Who do these guys serve today? Just askin.'
Mauer strikes out, and it's 1-0 Pirates.

Pirates-Twins, top of third

Of course, Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty starred in moviedom's "Splendor in the Grass." I choke up when her father tells her Bud is living on the farm with his wife near the end of the flick.
Luis Rivas beat out an infield single, but when the throw got away down the right-field line, he was thrown out at third by a wide margin. Those kind of risks won't fly in the regular season.
I've spent a lot of time around the Pirates this spring, done a lot of interviews. Written stories, tried to learn one-tenth as much as the team's beat writers.
In short, I've been real busy.
But next week, it's back to work.

Pirates-Twins, bottom of second

It was Wordsworth, I think (OK, I just checked on the Internet to make sure) who wrote "Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass. ..."
Isn't that a big part of spring training for many, trying to retrieve that magic of youth, if only for a few fleeting moments?
Over the course of a period of time, the names and faces change. But the game retains its majesty, and the spirit of hope reigns supreme until the teams head north for the cold realities of the season.
For now, it's Jose Bautista scrambling to stop a hot smash by Craig Monroe, scrambling to his feet and throwing to Doug Mientkiewicz at first for another 1-2-3 inning by a guy who didn't know if he'd be on the team when he woke up.

Pirates-Twins, top of second

Once at Al Lang Stadium, Yogi Berra's pal -- ex-catcher-turned-announcer Joe Garagiola -- told us he would sign for everybody after the game. He promised.
Joe, I never held it against you, because I knew you were fibbing when you said it.
Something the Pirates have done very little of all spring just happened. Jose Bautista hit a home run off Liriano over the left-field fence, only the Pirates' 18th this spring. It was Bautista's second.
1-0, Pittsburgh.
I was 16 or 17, my brother Owen 11 or 12, when we spotted a golden autograph opportunity outside Al Lang in 1974 or '75. It was Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel leaving the park, accompanied by his caretaker.
We got behind another boy and waited patiently while Stengel launched into his patented Stengelese routine, butchering all rules of English and grammar while still making an insightful point about the game.
Finally, our turn. "May we please have your autograph, Mr. Stengel?" I said, angling Owen closer to play the little-kid card.
"No! I'm done signing!" Stengel harrumphed.
I thought he was kidding at first, then felt the hot flush you get when you're in sixth grade and get turned down for a date.
Not that we'd have saved it, but I always regretted not getting the Ol' Professor's signature.
Bautista's home run is the only noise of the inning.

Pirates-Twins, bottom of first

Emergency Pirates starter Phil Dumatrait strikes out Carlos Gomez to start the game.
Dumatrait is a replacement for Paul Maholm, who reported stiffness in his lower back. Nothing serious, we're told.
Twins catcher Joe Mauer -- one of baseball's most athletic-looking guys -- walks, but just as quick, Michael Cuddyer grounds into a double play. It's 0-0 after one inning.

Pirates-Twins, top of first

Francisco Liriano is 2-2 this spring with a 5.06 ERA. The left-hander missed all of 2007 recovering from Tommy John surgery on his elbow. He was 12-3 in 16 starts in 2006 with a 2.16 ERA.
He strikes out leadoff batter Nyjer Morgan on a high fastball, but he walks Luis Rivas. Nate McLouth grounds out, Rivas moving to second.
Yeah, it was 1979 and I was home on spring break from college, where I'd finally met the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with (more on that much, much later).
I'd finagled a press credential for the Al Lang night game, but noticed a camera crew being held up outside the gate. Moving closer, I recognized Bill Murray -- star of Saturday Night Live!
He and Garrett Morris and their crew were in town to tape a skit on fictional player Chico Escuela, but the security guard was having none of it. He refused to let Murray in because he didn't have the proper credential.
"But it's Bill Murray!" I protested to the gent who is now 108 if he's still with us.
He was unswayed. "I've only been on the job since Saturday," he explained.
What that had to do with anything I don't know, but I remember Murray's amused expression at the delay. The next thing I knew, the SNL CREW was on the field.
Anyone who saw that show knows how funny it was. I thought you should learn of my role in it.

Pirates-Twins lineups

Howdy, I'm Mike Henry and I'm conflicted.
I'm blogging from the Pirates-Twins game at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, it's my first trip here and the place has a charm and ambience that's a far cry from the circus-like surroundings of Legends -- er, George M. Steinbrenner -- Field in Tampa.
It's going to be a good time.
Yet part of me is at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, where the Rays are playing their final game before heading down to Charlotte County next spring.
Like a lot of fans who grew up in St. Petersburg, I've got a history at Al Lang. Heck, I'm the guy who got them to let in Bill Murray so Saturday Night Live could tape the Chico Escuela ("Baseball been berry, berry good to me") skit.
More on that later.
So if I wax nostalgic, hopefully you'll be understanding. Maybe we can even meet for lunch.
Here are today's starting lineups:
Nyjer Morgan, LF
Luis Rivas, SS
Nate McLouth, CF
Ryan Doumit, DH
Jose Bautista, 3B
Ronny Paulino, C
Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B
Chris Gomez, 2B
Jonel Pacheco, RF
Phil Dumatrait, P

And for the Twins:
Carlos Gomez, CF
Joe Mauer, C
Michael Cuddyer, RF
Justin Morneau, 1B
Delmon Young, LF
Craig Monroe, DH
Mike Lamb, 3B
Brendan Harris, 2B
Adam Everett, SS
Francisco Liriano, P

Unfortunately, this public-address announcer is the second-loudest I've ever heard, obliterating the peaceful surroundings. Maybe he'll lower the volume as we move ahead.
The Pirates are 12-16, the Twins 14-13.
"YOUR MINNESOTA TWINS1" Now, raise the decibels to the roof and you still won't appreciate it. Oh well, here we go.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pirates-Yankees, bottom of ninth

Left-hander John Grabow will try to close out a Pirates victory. A four-run lead should be safe against guys few of their non-relatives have heard of.
In an era when pitchers rarely finish what they start, left-handers Grabow and Damaso Marte fill important roles bridging the gap from the starter to closer Matt Capps.
Two easy outs brings up Nick Green, who keeps the game alive with a homer to left. It's 5-2, Pirates.
It's always fun in Tampa, and I hope you've enjoyed the insights and observations (Jose Molina just doubled; to paraphrase Frank Morgan, Grabow is ruining my exit).
Greg Porter finally strikes out, and it's off to Fort Myers in search of a four-game Buccos winning streak.
Enjoy the hoops festival!

Pirates-Yankees, top of ninth

Holy cow--Pirates farmhand Kent Sakamoto just clubbed an opposite-field home run to right off Josh Schmidt. Sakamoto hit 14 homers last season at Single-A Hickory of the South Atlantic League. It's 5-1, Pirates.
That's only the 17th homer of the spring for Pittsburgh, compared to 34 for their opponents.
That is a disturbing statistic, if such a thing exists this time of year.
The Yankees leave after the game for south Florida, where they will meet the Marlins at Dolphin Stadium the next two evenings.

Pirates-Yankees, bottom of eighth

So Osoria gives up a leadoff single to Cody Ransom, and the scent of late-inning lightning permeates the air.
Wilson Betemit strikes out, bringing up Jason Lane. The stands already are one-third empty as people get home for Sweet 16 action in the NCAA Tournament.
I'd love to see Davidson win it all.
Two outs, bringing up Jason Brown. Lane, Brown but no Giambi -- saving the best Jason for next week.
Brown strikes out on a slow changeup way out of the zone. The chances of winning one for Steinbrenner on this special day look remote.

Pirates-Yankees, top of eighth

Winding down fast. A trip to Fort Myers on Friday to face the Twins, a return engagement Saturday against Minnesota at McKechnie and the Pirates head north -- ready or not.
If you head out to McKechnie on Saturday, remember to thank a booster for all they do to make the spring-training environment pleasurable for all.
Ryan Doumit singles, to no avail. The next Pittsburgh pitcher will be sinker-baller Franquelis Osoria.

Pirates-Yankees, bottom olf seventh

Most of the regulars are out, so the fans are rooting for their cities, uniform colors and insignia.
Loyalty to the brand -- that's what it's all about, even when they all look like Brand X.
Bresnehan just struck out Greg Porter on a pitch in the dirt, giving you an idea what we're up against.

Pirates-Yankees, top of seventh

Nate McLouth is on second base after a single and an errant pickoff throw by Yankees pitcher Ross Ohlendorf. Albert Laboy has come in to run for McLouth.
Two outs, runner in scoring position, Adam LaRoche batting. No he's not; he just got picked off second base.
No. 93 is coming in to pitch for the Pirates, a right-hander named Pat Bresnehan. The Pirates have made wholesale defensive changes we are counting on the official scorer to keep straight.

Pirates-Yankees, bottom of sixth

This performancer by Gorzelanny is one Pirates manager John Russell wouldn't mind bottling and taking up north.
Good pitching always beats good hitting, and Gorzelanny is one of those young arms the Pirates need to ride hard to improve on last season's 68-94 mark.
Somebody from Wesley Chapel made a nifty grab of a foul ball off the bat of Derek Jeter, who is batting with two outs.
Jeter draws a walk, bringing up Shelley Duncan with a chance to narrow the gap.
The Pirates are trying to finish the spring with a 3-1 mark against the Yankees. A strong outing by Gorzelanny has them on their way, as he gets Duncan to hit into a force.

Pirates-Yankees, top of sixth

Jose Bautista leads off against Scott Patterson, a 6-foot-6 right-hander from Oakdale, Penn., a little bit west of Pittsburgh.
He gets Bautista to whiff on a pitch outside the strike zone.
The lack of offense since the second inning -- and the warmth and sunshine -- has turned this into a languid affair. The Yankees could be jolted to reality weather-wise next week, when they begin the season with a seven-game homestand against Toronto and Tampa Bay before heading to Kansas City and Boston.
They also play series in Baltimore, Chicago and Cleveland in April.
The Pirates probably won't hit the cold until April 7 and the home opener against Lou Piniella's Cubs.

Pirates-Yankees, bottom of fifth

Jack Wilson makes a leaping catch at short of a Wilson Betemit liner to cap a 1-2-3 inning for Gorzelanny.
He's allowed two hits in five innings, which is impressive considering the Yankees started the day with a .300 batting average.

Pirates-Yankees, top of fifth

I believe you're either a Field of Dreams person or an Eight Men Out person.
Both are great baseball movies, but for me, once you've seen that cornfield scene, it's not necessary to revisit it every time it's on cable.
Duncan just robbed Adam LaRoche with a diving catch in right field.
Eight Men Out, I love the intrigue and the way the storyline is woven to depict the 1919 Black Sox fix. To me, its realism and film-noir approach capture the era, and John Cusack and D.B. Sweeney are excellent as Buck Weaver and Shoeless Joe.
Yeah, that's the baseball movie for me. That and Pride of the Yankees and The Winning Team.
Ryan Doumit keeps the inning alive with a two-out double. Karstens appears to have pulled a muscle on a pitch to Xavier Nady and is leaving the game, so there will be a delay while Scott Patterson warms up.

Pirates-Yankees, bottom of fourth

Derek Jeter's home run remains the only hit off Gorzelanny. The shortstop just drove one to right, but Xavier Nady caught up to it on the warning track.
Here's Shelley Duncan, the guy who started the ruckus against the Rays a few weeks ago with that slide into second. Duncan was named today as the winner of the James P. Dawson Award, given to the outstanding Yankees rookie in spring training.
Entering the game, he was batting .390 with five doubles, three home runs and two RBIs.
Duncan receives an engraved Burberry watch, meaning he can never be late for a team meeting.
A-Rod singles past the outstretched glove of third baseman Jose Bautista. "$6.50, sir," I hear an usher say. I don't need to look up to know he's selling a beer.

Pirates-Yankees, top of fourth

The cover of the Yankees media guide features an old photograph of 1920s-era cars parked in front of Yankee Stadium, a reminder of the influence the franchise has held since the opening of "The House That Ruth Built."
An error and a walk to Luis Rivas have Igawa in trouble again. But Nyjer Morgan helps by bunting the ball too hard, and Igawa gets a force at third.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has seen enough, and Jeff Karstens is summoned to face Jack Wilson.
Yankees catcher Jorge Posada just made a snap throw to pick Morgan off first. That's a rally-killer.
The yummy-yummy-yummy cotton candy guy is back. I think I've figured him out; he brings out only three or four cones to make it look like sales are brisk.

Pirates-Yankees, bottom of third

Wilson Betemit is batting eighth, but he looks as intimidating as any Yankees hitter in the pinstripes and high stirrups.
Wonder if Gorzelanny feels the same way; of course, he's paid not to.
Next spring, if I'm still blogging (they say you never stop), I've got to try using the laptop from the stands. That sunshine looks awfully inviting.
First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz stops a sharp grounder with his chest and beats Betemit to the base.
Nate McLouth makes a running catch of Melky Cabrera's fly to right-center, bringing up designated hitter Johnny Damon.
At 34, the likeable Damon is showing signs of slowing down. His .270 batting average in 2007 was his lowest since 2001, and his 93 runs scored marked the first time since 1997 he was below 100.

Pirates-Yankees, top of third

Ryan Doumit is on first with two outs after drawing a walk. Jose Bautista grounds out, then nearly collides with first baseman Morgan Ensberg, who is drawn off the bag by a wide throw.
Igawa finally records a scoreless inning, so the Yankees trail 4-1 moving to the bottom half.

Pirates-Yankees, bottom of second

It's pretty awesome gazing at the framed photographs throughout the George M. Steinbrenner Field press box.
The cement beam blocking my view of half the field sports a black-and-white of Babe Ruth, holding a bat in his left hand and appearing to be walking toward home plate.
There's a boyish-faced Mickey Mantle; manager Casey Stengel looking wise in the dugout; Roger Maris, relaxing astride the top step; catcher Elston Howard bracing for an oncoming base runner.
Yogi, Reggie, Whitey and the Yankee Clipper all have their place.
Gorzelanny and Igawa are both working slowly, but Gorz gets Morgan Ensberg to ground into a 6-4-3, inning-ending double play. Second baseman Luis Rivas does a nice job relaying a low feed from shortstop Jack Wilson.

Pirates-Yankees, top of second

The guy selling pink cotton candy behind home plate has a Jamaican accent, and he's doing great business. A melody of "Yummy-yummy-yummy, yeah-yeah-yeah," along with a series of exotic bird calls, fills the air as he makes his rounds.
I never really cared for cotton candy, although it reminds me of going to a little circus in our hometown of Fairfield, Conn. when I was a kid.
I remember holding a handful of peanuts under an elephant's trunk, and the pachyderm being kind enough not to sweep me up with the shelled delights. These days, liability issues usually keep kids from getting too close to elephants.
Let's see, the Pirates have runners on the corners with one out, having gone ahead 3-1 on a run-scoring single by Morgan -- his second hit off Igawa.
Jack Wilson's pop to shallow left-center falls between Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera, making it 4-1, but Morgan is forced at second because he thought the ball might be caught.
Let's see how Gorzelanny likes prosperity.

Pirates-Yankees, bottom of first

Tom Gorzelanny is the Pirates' starter. The left-hander is 0-1 with an 8.74 ERA, two strikeouts and five walks in 11 1/3 innings.
Derek Jeter livened up the home crowd by slamming a 1-0 breaking pitch from Gorzelanny over the left-field wall of George M. Steinbrenner Field for his first spring-training home run. It's 2-1, Pirates.
Gorzelanny has a 3-2 count against Alex Rodriguez, who I guess has been implicated by Jose Canseco in the ongoing steroids mess. A-Rod strikes out, preventing me from lamenting the sorry state of affairs plaguing the national past-its-prime.

Pirates-Yankees, top of first

Frank Sinatra's famous rendition of "New York, New York" washed over the stands as Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner toured the field in a golf cart to a standing ovation after the renaming of Legends Field to honor the long-time Yankees owner.
Now, it's time for the Pirates to take their crack at left-hander Kei Igawa, the one-time 20-game winner in 2003 with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan's Central League.
Igawa is 1-0 this spring with a 3.38 ERA and four strikeouts in eight innings.
Well, he's already in trouble, giving up a leadoff single to right by Nyjer Morgan.
This is a roomy press box, but I have the misfortune of being directly behind the concrete beam that supports the structure, cutting off my view from the left side of the field.
There is a television up here, but it operates on a 7-to-10-second delay, forcing you to stay attuned to the field.
Yeah, it's a hard life covering spring training.
Jack Wilson grounds into a force that might have been a double play, had Wilson Betemit not been slow getting the ball from his glove.
The weather is picture-perfect: 71 degrees and a virtually cloudless sky.
Center fielder Nate McLouth, who is batting third today, just bounced a single over the head of first baseman Morgan Ensberg, with Wilson taking third. The speedy McLouth, who probably will bat leadoff during the regular season, is a key component of the Pirates' rebuilding plans.
These left-handers are getting to Igawa already. Adam LaRoche just doubled to left-center, and the Pirates are up 1-0.
Igawa's body language does not seem to scream out "confidence." Switch-hitter Ryan Doumit grounds to second, making it 2-0.
According to the Yankees' notes package, they have already exceeded 3.8 million tickets sold for 2008, well ahead of last year's pace.
In fact, the Yankees tied a major-league record last year when they surpassed the 4-million mark in home attendance for the third consecutive year.
Wanna know the first team to do it?

Pirates-Yankees lineups

Howdy, I'm Mike Henry at a decked-out, festive Legends Field in Tampa for today's Pirates-Yankees exhibition game. In a few minutes, the facility will be renamed George M. Steinbrenner Field to honor the long-time Yankees owner, community leader, philanthropist and founder of The Gold Shield Foundation, which insures the families of police officers and firemen killed in the line of duty receive early financial assistance and are guaranteed a tuition-free college education.
Here are the starting lineups:
Pirates (11-16)
Nyjer Morgan, LF
Jack Wilson, SS
Nate McLouth, CF
Adam LaRoche, DH
Ryan Doumit, C
Xavier Nady, RF
Jose Bautista, 3B
Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B
Luis Rivas, 2B
Tom Gorzelanny, P

Yankees (13-10-2)
Johnny Damon, DH
Derek Jeter, SS
Shelley Duncan, RF
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Jorge Posada, C
Hideki Matsui, LF
Morgan Ensberg, 1B
Wilson Betemit, 2B
Melky Cabrera, CF
Kei Igawa, P
Dignitaries and media are grouped in front of the Yankees' dugout for the pre-game ceremonies, but I have yet to spot Gary Cooper.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tigers-Pirates, top of ninth

The Pirates travel to Tampa on Thursday to play the Yankees, head to Fort Myers on Friday to face the Twins and end the spring schedule Saturday at McKechnie against the Twins.
Then it's on to Atlanta for the games that count in the standings.
Left-hander Damaso Marte is on to finish up for the Pirates.
But not before Marcus Thames doubles.
I've seen some neat throwback jerseys the past couple days -- Roberto Clemente's No. 21 Pirates uniform, Harmon Killebrew of the Twins. Two very different players, both enshrined in Cooperstown.
Timo Perez just singled, so it's 7-4. Jim Leyland still has a shot against his former club.
Mike Hessman strikes out looking, bringing up Jeramy Laster as the minor-league show continues.
Laster strikes out and the Pirates win, 7-4. Can they make it three in a row against the Yankees?

Tigers-Pirates, bottom of eighth

You don't want your regulars getting hurt this late in spring training, which is why both teams have used an extensive number of minor-league players today.
Doug Mientkiewicz draws a one-out walk against Anthony Tomey.
Mientkiewicz has been a stand-up guy all spring, and could provide a solid boost to a team in need of an ego elevation. The Pirates have seemed to know they're bad for too many years.
Doesn't man they're going to win a lot more games, but maybe they can pull out more of the one-run variety.
We're going to the ninth with the Pirates leading 7-3.

Tigers-Pirates, top of eighth

Evan Meek is going to start another inning for the Pirates. He's one of four remaining contenders for two bullpen spots, along with Sean Burnett, Phil Dumatrait and Hector Carrasco.
Meek is struggling with his control. Mike Hessman lines a single up the middle, and Detroit has runners on first and second with no outs for Brandon Inge.
He flies to shallow center, so Jackson Melian will try to keep the rally alive. Meek wants nothing more than a double-play ball. Unfortunately, he walks Melian, raising the stakes for pinch-hitter and Sarasota resident Will Rhymes.
An elderly gentleman in the left-field bleachers failed to catch a foul ball and slumped to the aluminum, crestfallen.
Rhymes bloops one into no-man's land in short left for a single, and it's 7-3 with Joe Bowen representing the tying run at the plate.
Bowen grounds to the mound, and Meek gets the force at home. Freddy Guzman is now the potential tying run.
After several fouls out of play, Guzman is induced to hit a weak fly to Nyjer Morgan in center.

Tigers-Pirates, bottom of seventh

Detroit grows their pitchers tall. Their latest reliever is a 6-foot-5 right-hander, Dominican Denny Bautista, who was acquired in an off-season trade with Colorado.
Ronny Paulino nearly takes Denny's head off with a line-drove single up the middle.
Some baseball trivia, you'll always get a charge from. Did you know that in 1971, the Pirates' pitching staff included John Lamb, Bob Moose and Bob Veale?
Pass the mint jelly and sweet potatoes, please.
Today's attendance has been announced at 6,106, making this the second-largest crowd in McKechnie Field history (the largest, 6,221, came against Toronto in 1994).
It also is the seventh sellout of the spring, tying the record established last year.

Tigers-Pirates, top of seventh

That five-run first by the Pirates turned this game into a slog. Freddy Guzman leads off with a walk against Meek, but Audy Ciriaco grounds to Brian Friday at shortstop, who starts the 6-3 double play on a peaceful Wednesday afternoon.
Friday was a member of Rice's third-place College World Series teams in 2006 and '07.

Tigers-Pirates, bottom of sixth

Danny Zell, a 6-foot-5 left-hander, is on for the Tigers.
He strikes out Nady for the second out. Nady is really scuffling, which could open the door for more appearances by Nyjer Morgan and Nate McLouth together in the lineup when the Pirates head north.
Nice play by third baseman Mike Hessman on a Bautista grounder ends the inning. Pirates lead 7-2, and Evan Meek, the former Ray prospect, comes in to pitch.

Tigers-Pirates, top of sixth

Pirates reliever Masumi Kuwata will announce his retirement after the game rather than accept an assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis.
The odds were against the 39-year-old Japanese right-hander, who was 0-1 with a 9.43 ERA in 19 games with the Pirates in 2007. Yet he was always cordial with teammates, reporters and opponents, and his comeback from an injured ankle suffered last spring in a collision with umpire Wally Bell was inspiring.
We'll miss Niko.
Miguel Cabrera just doubled, so the Tigers have men on second and third with no outs.
This stool in the back row of the McKechnie Field clubhouse is so uncomfortable, I'd rather be lying on a bed of coconuts.
The Tigers manage a run against Hamman, so it's 7-2 Pittsburgh under bright sunshine.

Tigers-Pirates, bottom of fifth

Luis Rivas draws a leadoff walk from Yorman Bazardo. Nyjer Morgan, pinch-hitting for Zach Duke, grounds out, with Rivas advancing to second.
Jack Wilson beats out a ball to deep short that is ruled an error on shortstop Audy Ciriaco, putting runners on first and third for Erik Huber. But he looks at strike three, and minor-league left-hander Correy Hamman, formerly in the Tigers' system, trots to the mound to protect this 7-1 Pirates lead for an inning.

Tigers-Pirates, top of fifth

The sound of the ambulance racing through the downtown streets is always sobering in this part of the world.
Tigers fans are advised to buy a recently released autobiography of Denny McLain, the team's 31-game winner in 1968. It tells the story of his climb and fall graphically, although McLain has never lost the knack for blaming others for his troubles.
Hard to imagine any pitcher winning 31 in a season again. In his final victory of 1968, McLain grooved a pitch to Mickey Mantle, which the Mick clobbered for home run No. 535, breaking a tie with Jimmie Foxx (Mantle added another off Jim Lonborg, meaning his final two homers came off Cy Young Award winners).
Duke is going about his business nicely and Pirates fans have reason to be encouraged. Through 4 1/2 innings, the Pirates are ahead 7-1

Tigers-Pirates, bottom of fourth

It's been a common occurrence for the McKechnie Field bleachers to be full this spring. Unless I miss my guess, this will be the seventh sellout of the month, fifth in a row.
Today, they look like the 2003 Tigers. Jack Wilson reached on an error by shortstop Edgar Renteria and moved to second base on a wild pitch.
Now, Bay walks on four pitches (leaving for a pinch-runner) and Jim Leyland comes out to grateful applause to bring the struggles of Dontrelle to a merciful end.
Yorman Bazardo is the new Detroit pitcher. Right now, I'd settle for Joe Sparma.
Things I've discovered while researching other projects: Since 1900, the percentage of Icelanders in farming has dropped from 77 to 4 (according to National Geographic).
The same issue claims sheep recognize faces (of sheep and people), so you never know, although the movie Babe now makes more sense.
Bautista rips a double down the left-field line off Bazardo to increase Pittsburgh's lead to 7-1. It still doesn't ease the sting of 1909.

Tigers-Pirates, top of fourth

For a moment, my browser's cookies functionality was disabled, which probably wouldn't have mattered much because I always get motion sickness.
Zach Duke strikes out Ramon Santiago to end a quick 1-2-3 frame. That's vanilla wafers, Vienna fingers and chocolate-chip delight stuff, Pirates fans.

Tigers-Pirates, bottom of third

Jose Bautista rips a single up the middle and Dontrelle Willis hits Ronny Paulino with a pitch. Please tell me this is Dontrell's last inning.
He helps himself by getting Luis Rivas to ground into a double play -- not what the Pirates needed.
Public-address announcer John Menig put his hand up just in time to divert a foul straight back off the bat of Zach Duke. Great job of protecting those vocal cords.
Duke is 2-for-2 with three RBIs after beating out a slow roller to third, making it 6-1, Pittsburgh.
McLouth strikes out. It could easily be 9 or 10-1.

Tigers-Pirates, top of third

Not getting to Lakeland this spring for a Tigers game was a disappointment, but you can't do everything.
Tigers Hall of Fame right fielder Al Kaline was one of my favorite players as a kid. He remains the youngest player to win a batting title, hitting .340 to lead the American League in 1955 at age 20.
Which means he's 72 or 73, and I don't want to think about that.
Kaline had one of the all-time classic responses to a smart-mouthed fan years ago, at least according to how it was written in a Mickey Mantle biography.
Some kid in line for an autograph told Detroit's No. 6, "You're not half as good as Mickey Mantle." To which Kaline answered, "No one is half as good as Mickey Mantle."
Kaline, who got his 3,000th hit off Baltimore's Dave McNally in 1974, batted .379 in Detroit's 4-to-3 World Series victory against the Cardinals in 1968 with two home runs and eight RBIs.
Marcus Thames gets a run-scoring double when his drive to right deflects off Xavier Nady's glove. But Jose Bautista makes a pair of nice plays at third on the next two batters, limiting the Tigers to one run and a 5-1 hole.

Tigers-Pirates, bottom of second

I cringe as Dontrelle Willis goes back to the hill.
However, he shows good mobility getting off the mound to field Jack Wilson's roller, although his lob throw is a few feet wide of the bag but in time.
Jason Bay lines a single to center. He's been hitting the ball hard of late.
There are a lot of ways to score runs, Pittsburgh manager John Russell keeps pointing out. But if I were a Pirates fan, I'd be worried they've only hit 16 home runs (four by Steve Pearce, who is back in Triple-A) compared to 33 by the opposition.
Another rip shot by LaRoche for a hit brings up Nady. C'mon, Xavier, this guy has nuthin.'
I will say one thing for Willis: He's refining his ability to throw a 3-0 strike down the middle.
Nady hits it hard, but right at Edgar Renteria at short for a double play. So Willis and the Bengals are staring at a 5-0 deficit.

Tigers-Pirates, top of second

Brandon Inge leads off by beating out a dribbler down the third-base line.
These teams met in the 1909 World Series, with the Pirates pulling out a seven-gme nail-biter behind three victories from pitcher Babe Adams.
It's also the Series where Tigers great Ty Cobb supposedly told Pittsburgh shortstop Honus Wagner "I'm comin' down!" before a steal attempt. Wagner was waiting for the ball and applied a horsehide sandwich to Cobb's lip.
Wagner hit .333 in that Series, compared to .231 for the Georgia Peach, who never claimed the brass ring.
McLouth covers a lot of ground in center top make an easy catch of a long drive by Ramon Santiago for the second out.
This has been an unseasonably cool March. We'd mention that it's because global warming is hastening the melting of the Arctic glaciers and causing that cold water to rush down the Atlantic seaboard, but we won't because it might tick off the executives of the big oil companies who need to eat, too.
Two strikeouts in the inning for Duke.

Tigers-Pirates, bottom of first

You know Pirates center fielder Nate McLouth is riding high after winning the starting center-field job. He reaches on a single when his dribbler deflects off the glove of Willis.
The Pirates aren't going to hit a ton of home runs this season, so I look for McLouth to be moving on the bases with Jack Wilson up.
Funny how you gain an appreciation for players over time. Wilson, the slick-fielding shortstop, doesn't get much national recognition because the team is never any good.
Yet you rarely, if ever, see him do the wrong thing on the field. His glove is as good as any, he's skillful in his use of the bat and he's emerged as a clubhouse leader over the years.
McLouth may have broken for second too soon, but Willis took too long to get the ball to first. So Nate winds up with a steal, even though he appeared to be picked off.
With no outs, Wilson will try to hit to the right side.
He succeeds, but it's directly at right fielder Clete Thomas (a late replacement for Ryan Raburn), so McLouth must stop at third. Jason Bay faces Willis with two on and no outs.
It's 69 degrees and slightly overcast, but the rain should stay away.
Bay strikes out, bringing up Adam LaRoche.
Combined, Bay and LaRoche struck out in almost 25 percent of their at-bats in 2007. Hitting coach Don Long's next contract could be based on his ability to lower that rate.
LaRoche bloops a single to left, making it 1-0, and a Willis wild pitch moves both runners up a base.
Xavier Nady whiffs, extending his spring woes. He's batting .196.
Jose Bautista walks, loading the bases for Ronny Paulino, who has struggled all spring with men on base.
Another walk makes it 2-0. Willis looks as comfortable as a tenderfoot walking across hot coals, drawing a visit from pitching coach Chuck Hernandez.
Four more outside the strike zone, so it's 3-0. A lot of experts expect Willis' innings to catch up with him; he pitched upwards of 200 the past three years with the Marlins.
He has to come in with a 3-2 pitch, and Duke responds by lining one up the middle for a two-run single and a 5-0 lead. McLouth comes to bat for the second time in the inning.
Willis had a 6.59 spring ERA coming in, so this really isn't new. He finally gets McLouth to ground out to end the inning.

Tigers-Pirates, top of first

Four springs ago, the Tigers were coming off a 119-loss season that made a mockery of the term rebuilding.
Team president-general manager Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland have turned all that around. Detroit got to the World Series two years ago, and the trade with the Marlins for third baseman Miguel Cabrera and pitchers Dontrelle Willis makes the Tigers a good bet for an American League Central title.
Edgar Renteria, the leadoff batter, reaches on a broken-bat bloop single to left. Cabrera comes up with a man on first and two outs.
Zach Duke last pitched nine days ago against the Blue Jays, hurling five scoreless innings (he was the starter in Saturday's rainout against the Rays). Manager John Russell and pitching coach Jeff Andrews would love to see him build on that success.
Good news for Doug Mientkiewicz fans: The Pirates have added him to the major-league roster. He can play first, third, left and right field and catch in an emergency.
Cabrera is unable to check his swing, ending the inning.

Tigers-Pirates lineups

Howdy, I'm Mike Henry from a considerably warmer McKechnie Field and I'll be relaying my observations and thoughts throughout the afternoon on the Tigers-Pirates exhibition game.
Jim Leyland's Tigers check in at 13-12-3, while the Pirates are scuffling at 10-16 (but they'll be 0-0 in a few days). Here are the starting lineups:
Edgar Renteria, SS
Marcus Thames, 1B
Gary Sheffield, DH
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Brandon Inge, CF
Ryan Raburn, RF
Ramon Santiago, 2B
Dane Sardinha, C
Freddy Guzman, LF
Dontrelle Willis, P
And for the Pirates:
Nate McLouth, CF
Jack Wilson, SS
Jason Bay, LF
Adam LaRoche, 1B
Xavier Nady, RF
Jose Bautista, 3B
Ronny Paulino, C
Luis Rivas, 2B
Zach Duke, P
Duke will hit for himself, since the National League does not use a designated hitter and he needs to face live pitching to get ready for the season. Duke is a career .195 hitter.
Opening Day is just around the corner (OK, the Red Sox and Athletics beat everyone else to the punch).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Top 9 - Twins at Pirates

Big man Matt Capps steps in. He won't get the save because the Pirates scored three runs last inning and now lead by four.
Capps might be one of the best young closers in the game. The Pirates always seem to have a good bullpen. With Grabow, Marte and Capps out there again this year, the Pirates will be in good shape. Mike Lamp lined out, then Brendan Harris struck out as Danny Valencia steps to the plate. He lines to left-cente and gets to second on a double when the ball gets to gap.
I thought Valencia's name sounded familiar. He played his college ball for Miami. He has his own Web page:
Punto struck out to end the game as the Pirates put together a pretty nice late-spring performance. I hope you, loyal readers, feel the same way about my blogging. Once again, this is Doug Kaid bidding you a fine afternoon from McKechnie Field.

Final score: Pirates 7, Twins 3

Bottom 8 - Twins at Pirates

The smell of Tropicana spreads into the press box at McKechnie Field. That smell doesn't last much longer. When summer comes, the orange scent goes.
The Pirates score an insurance run when Jorge Velandia singles to right for an RBI. Pittsburgh now has 10 hits.
Doug Mientkiewicz got a nice applause as he walked to the plate for an AB. He's already a fan favorite here in Bradenton, and there are no doubt some Twins fans who remember his best years with them.
He popped one down the third base line and the Pirates added a run when Nick Punto dropped it. Velandia came around to score on another single. But the inning ends when Nyjer Morgan grounds out to the pitcher.

Pirates 7, Twins 3

Top 8 - Twins at Pirates

Marte, who the Pirates reacquired when they traded Rob Mackowiak to the White Sox for in 2005, pitched in 65 games last year and had a 2.38 ERA. He is a quality left-hander out of the pen. Don't be surprised to hear his name come up in trade rumors around the trade deadline. That's a long way off, but the Pirates figure to be out of contention by then guys like Marte com in very handy in stretch drives for contending teams.
Jon Knott singles with two outs, and Juan Portes hit and infield single as the Twins try to put together a rally.

More than 6,000 people turned out for today's game. That's 11th best all-time in McKechnie Field history. Matt Tolbert grounds out to end the inning.

Pirates 4, Twins 3

Bottom 7 - Twins at Pirates

Matt Gurrier takes the mound for the Twins in the seventh. Gurrier was once a Pirates farmhand. He was acquired by the Pirates for Damaso Marte at one point. He never made the majors with the Pirates and ended up being claimed on waivers by Minnesota. He's been a solid contributor out of the bullpen for the Twins. Last year he pitched in 73 games with a 2.35 ERA. That's not just solid. That's excellent. He retires the side in the with the help of a double play, as we head to the eighth.
Guess who is coming coming in to pitch for the Pirates? Damaso Marte, who came back to the Pirates and has been almost as valuable to Pirates as Guerrier has been to the Twins. More on him in the next part of this blog

Pirates 4, Twins 3

Top 7 - Twins at Pirates

The Twins get a run back as the Pirates second team enters the game for the top of the seventh. Pittsburgh's big league roster is down to 33 after some cuts today, but of course they can still borrow people from minor league camp. Among the cuts was Jonan Bayliss, who was out of options and must now clear waivers. The Pirates also sent Casey Fossum and Elmer Dessens to the minor league camp.

Pirates 4, Twins 3

Bottom 6 - Twins at Pirates

Ronny Paulino leads off the sixth with a double to deep left CF. If you don't mind me going back to Snell, the Pirates have to be pleased. That's his last outing of the spring, as Snell pitched six solid innings in his last spring start. He'll pitch next Wednesday on Opening Day in Atlanta. I wonder what he'll do the next couple days. Will he hang out in his Bradenton home, work out with the team or fly early to Atlanta? These are the questions that the people want to know. Sorry, I can't help. I'm just a blogger today.
Juan Rincon started the inning on the mound for the Twins. He almost became a Ray this offseason, but concerns about his arm led the Rays to seek Eduardo Morlan instead in the Delmon Young deal. Rivas flew out to CF, as Rincon worked around the lead-off double.

Pirates 4, Twins 2

Top 6 - Twins at Pirates

At this time a year ago, Ronny Paulino was swinging one of the hottest bats of any player on any spring training team. He was the Pirates catcher, no doubt about it. Now, he's splitting time with Ryan Doumit, and today Paulino is coming in mid-game to replace Doumit at catcher. Neither player is thought of as a great defensive catcher, but Doumit has shown he can hit it a little better than Paulino. I'm not sure either is the long-term answer at the position, but they are both still relatively young and can grow into solid regulars. The Pirates moved prospect Neil Walker to third base because they didn't think he could handle catching every day, and they had two young catchers already at the major league level. Now, you have to wonder if they are looking at other options for coming years. No catcher warrants being taken with a top 3 pick in the draft. Oh, by the way, Snell cruised in the sixth.

Pirates 4, Twins 2

Bottom 5 - Twins at Pirates

Luis Rivas blooped a ball to CF to start the inning. The ball dropped and no one hopped on it as Rivas alertly advanced to second. The ball dropping was no big deal, but the Twins failure to keep Rivas at first was a mistake. Then, Snell bunted and Slowey, likely on the advice of Joe Mauer, went to third where the Twins had no chance to retire Rivas. Another blunder. The Twins have been credited for no errors, but I can think of three plays that were absolute mistakes. The first one cost the Twins three runs. Let's see what these lead to. Jack Wilson, one of the best bunters in the game, bunts Rivas home and nearly beats out the play at first.
Bay lined one to right, but the Pirates had no intention of letting Snell try to score from second. The last thing they need is their Opening Day starter tearing his knee up in a meaningless spring training game. LaRoche grounds out to end the inning, but the Pirates add to their lead.

Pirates 4, Twins 2

Top 5 - Twins at Pirates

Jack Wilson nearly robbed Brandan Harris of single on a grounder up the middle. Wilon dove, and tried to throw Harris out from his knees. Looked to me like he got him, but the umps has a much, much better view.
Slowey lines a bunt to Snell and Harris gets back to first. Punto made pretty good contact on a ball that Xavier Nady chased down in the the right-center gap. Then Mauer flew out to Bay in left.
Snell started off slowly but is pitching much better as we head to bottom of the fifth. We might see him one more inning.

Pirates 3, Twins 2

Bottom 4 - Twins at Pirates

Where were we? Oh yeah, McLouth, who fittingly opens the bottom of the fourth. McLouth gets some of his own medicine as Monroe does a nice job of running down a fly ball hit to the gap in deep left-CF.
Punto makes a nice place on ball up the middle, and the Twins might be home before rush hour. Bay ends the perfect game with a single to CF. We were preparing to send an AP Alert, which is an inside joke for people who work at newspapers. Sorry about that.
Craig Monroe badly misplayed a ball hit to straight-away CF from Adam LaRoche, allowing Bay to score. They gave him a double, but if he didn't break forward he would several steps before retreating he would have made the play. That's the thing -- when you don't miss a lot of bats, you have to have some good defense behind you. A lot of things can go wrong when the ball gets put in play. That's why guys who can strike batters out are at a premium. Bay's singe wasn't hit all that hard, but when a hitter gets his bat on the ball, anything can happen. Doumit gets a legit single to right scoring LaRoche from second. We have a tie game. Doumit advances to second in the throw home.
The tie didn't last long as Nady singles Doumit home. That ball was hit well, and Slowey gets a visit to the mound. He has to be frustrated because he should be out of the inning without giving up a run. Instead he's given up three runs and his lead.

Pirates 3, Twins 2

Top 4 - Twins at Pirates

I don't think I mentioned it before, but Bert Blyleven is in the house and was sitting only a few feet away from me a few minutes ago. He does TV for the Twins, but he was doing some work in the Pirates booth for a couple innings. Bob Walk is now back in his seat. I always liked watching Blyleven pitch (great catch by Nate McLouth saves a hit in CF). BB had one of the best curves in the game in his day. He should be in the Hall of Fame in my opinion. Snell has his best inning (1-2-3), helped by McLouth, who got a nice applause as he walked off the field. McLouth seems to be a fan favorite here at McKechnie. I can remember when he was one of the young guys without a name on his jersey. Now, he's a big leaguer with a chance to be the starting CF on opening day.

Twins 2, Pirates 0

Bottom 3 - Pirates at Twins

Slowey doesn't miss a lot of bats, and that's why scouts aren't sure if he could ever be a top-line starter, but he does know how to pitch to contact - a skill a lot o young pitchers lack. As I wrote that previous previous run-on sentence, he struck out Rivas. Then Snell grounded out as Slowey has thrown three perfect innings. He's only struck out two. I'm not keeping a pitch count, but it has to be very, very low. Slowey is anything but.

Twins 2, Pirates 0

Top 3 - Twins at Pirates

Kevin Slowey just made better contact with the baseball than any of the Pirates have made on him so far today. Slowey flew out to moderately deep CF, eliciting a few oohs from the crowd. But the ball didn't even make the warning track here at spacious McKechnie Field.
Punto goes down on strikes before Joe Mauer doubles to right field. Cuddyer followed with a double down the left field line as Mauer rounded to score. The Snell gets out with only the one run crossing.

Twins 2, Pirates 0

Bottom 2 - Twins at Pirates

Slowey is working quickly, as the first two Pirates go down very quickly. As I was blogging last inning, the Twins have quite a few good young arms they are counting on. Nick Blackburn, the team's top prospect according to Baseball America, appears to have an excellent chance to start the season in the Twins rotation with Francisco Liriano not being ready to go.
Liriano pitched four strong innings a few days ago, but the Twins don't think his arm is ready to go a full major league game just yet. They are giving him time in the minors to get his arm back in shape as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery.
Slowey clearly doesn't want me to write about the Twins pitching staff because he set down the side in order once again. Of course, that might have more to do with the Pirates bats.

Twins 1, Pirates

Top 2 - Twins at Pirates

Venice's own Jon Knott just went deep for the Twins. The wind is blowing in at 15 mhp, so he had to really get a hold of it. Craig Monroe, a curious signing for the Twins, followed up with a single to left. Snell is getting hit pretty hard here. The last three years have hit hard, but Snell's luck continues as Jason Kubel lines a one-hopper at Luis Rivas, who had plenty of time to turn an easy 4-6-3 DP.
I say Monroe was a curios signing because the Twins had to pick him up after he was designated for assignment by the Tigers. He was making some decent money, so the Twins accepted that contract from a veteran guy who didn't clearly have a spot in the Twins lineup. Monroe was a nice player when he wasn't making a lot of money and he added pop and speed and a little defense. But he's a bit older now, making veteran money and he doesn't run as well, he's never hit for an average and he eats up a lot of money on a small-market team's budget.
Mike Lamb lined hard to CF as the Twins continue to hit Snell, but the Pirates right-hander got Brendan Harris, acquired along with Delmon Young for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett this offseason from the Rays, to strike out.

Twins 1, Pirates 0

Bottom 1 - Twins at Pirates

Kevin Slowey is the Twins starter. He's not exactly a household name, and might never become one, but the Twins are very high on Slowey. He was very good last year in the minors and came up and impressed in limited time with the big league club. Slowey is solid. He doesn't have the great heat on his fastball, but he knows how to pitch and he has a good sinker. He's a Scott Baker are being counted on to pitch the entire season for the Twins, and make up as much as they can for the loss of Johan Santana. Talk about. The Twins also lost Carlos Silva, so they Slowey and Baker are that much more valuable. Also, keep an eye on Nick Blackburn, who emerged last year as one of the top young pitchers in the organization.
More on him and the return of Francisco Liriano later, but the Pirates just went 1-2-3, so we have to move forward.

Pirates 0, Twins 0

Top 1 - Twins at Pirates

Ian Snell will be the Pirates' Opening Day starter. The good people of Pittsburgh hope he doesn't walk the first batter of the season like he walked the first batter of Tuesday's game. Come on, Ian, it's Nick Punto. The next batter, Joe Mauer, is another story. He's not bad, but Snell struck out the young Twins catcher.
Cuddyer then lined a hard one to Bautista at third. Bautista made a leaping grab and doubled Punto off first. Punto had no business being that far off first base. Mistake.
Snell will take it and move forward.

Twins 0, Pirates 0

Twins at Pirates - Tuesday, March 25

Hey, Doug Kaid here, making and encore at McKechnie Field. I thought I was done here for the spring, but I read my schedule wrong.
But enough about me. Let's get you some lineups:

Minnesota Twins
Nick Punto
Joe Mauer
Michael Cuddyer
Jon Knott - Venice High grad
Craig Monroe
Jason Kubel
Mike Lamb
Brendan Harris
Kevin Slowey

Nate McLouth
Jack Wilson
Jason Bay
Adam LaRoche
Ryan Doumit
Xavier Nady
Jose Bautista
Luis Rivas
Ian Snell

Monday, March 24, 2008

Top of the 9th

No comeback here.

The Pirates go down 13-4 to the Rays in a forgettable spring baseball game.

This is John Lembo, dodging a flock of seagulls (not the band, though they too would have been a GREAT selection for Rays' 80s Night!) scouring the stands at Al Lang Field for some food, and signing off.

They should take advantage while they can. This place closes its doors Friday.

Top of the 8th

Games like this make blogging tough.

The baseball is bad. The buzz - and a large chunk of the fans - are elsewhere. And I'm bored.

This is when I don't like spring baseball. It's not as if this is a 13-2 game that has playoff ramifications. No, it's just a sandlot game that has turned ugly - only, if it was a sandlot game, we'd pack it in and go home.

But I shouldn't complain too much - covering this stuff beats working for a living. So a guess a day of pukey baseball beats a good day of office work. Unless you work in an office with Eliza Dushku. That would beat this.

Well, the Pirates are having some fun off Rays reliever Scott Dohmann, as Chris Gomez singles in two runs - though the scoreboard only shows one run. I guess they're board in there, too.

Now it's been fixed. Good. I was worried. Really.

Kevin Thompson flies out. Rays lead 13-4.

Top of the 7th

Wholesale changes for the Rays - the infield and outfield is stuffed with new faces, and the fans have begun streaking toward the exits.

Jackson is still in, though, and he retires Jason Bay with a runner on second.

8-2 Rays. It's stretch time.

Top of the 6th

Jackson seems to have settled in. He hasn't had any real easy innings, but he has kept the Buccos off the scoreboard since the first inning.

Of course, as I write that, Nady lofts a single to left field.

So what does a fan eat or a drink on a day like this? It's not hot, so you're not clamoring for something frozen. And it's not cold, so the there is no need for hot cocoa, either.

I guess it comes down to the ol' reliable - beer. We did spring break in Destin during our senior year of college, and while at a restaurant, a buddy of mine decided to order some gator bites.

"What wine would you recommend with that?" he asked the waitress.
"Beer," she replied.

We were all in deep smit.

The Pirates, meanwhile, fail to build on Nady's single, and still trail 5-2.

Top of the 5th

I missed the first two outs of the inning because I was wandering around, trying to find reasons why the Rays are leaving Al Lang.

Still haven't found any.

Adam LaRoche flies out, and we are still tied at 2.

Top of the 4th

Progress is me, spelling Dough Mientkiewicz's last name without needing help.

At the beginning of the spring, I had to double and triple check. I'd spell in Mintkawiucz or Mienktwicz or Mienkawicz. I still check from time to time - but this sort of improvement shows the spring has done me well, and I am in game shape.

Jackson walks Eye Chart. But he strikes out Nyjer Morgan, and we are still knotted at 2.

Top of the 3rd

Neither starter is too sharp today - Jackson walks Jason Bay and allows a sharp two-out single to Ryan Doumit.

Jackson has great stuff - just listen to the catcher's mitt pop when he uncorks a fastball. Why can't he put it all together.

Or watch Xavier Nady's bat split in half as he pops up to end the inning.

2-2, bottom of the third.

Bottom of the 2nd

A crowd is starting to build here at Al Lang, as the sun is trying to break through and the weather is growing warmer.

It's interesting, covering a game at Al Lang, especially sitting in the overflow media section, which puts you right in the mix with the fans. That's why I heard the Morris heckler so clearly - right place, right time, people.

Jackson escaped a two-out, two-on jam when Evan Longoria snags Nyjer Morgan's line drive.

Still 2-1 Pirates.

Top of the 1st

Just once, I'd like to see the umpires introduced with as much fanfare as the players. You know, each one has his own intro music, as well as his own cheering section. It's not that I'm a huge fan of umpires - I just like to see the world turned on its axis sometimes.

The Pirates are messing with Edwin Jackson's world right now - Nyjer Morgan leads off with a single and Jack Wilson triples Morgan in.

The triple is baseball's most exciting play, mostly because it's so rare. Home runs are great - but in today's day, even your most mediocre players can swat 20 to 25.

Triples? You hit nine or 10 in a season, and you're probably leading the league.

Jason Bay's groundout plates Wilson, and the Pirates are up 2-0 with the Rays coming to bat.

Right state, but...

For whatever reason, a throng of fans clad in Phillies gear has made its way into Al Lang Field.

Nothing wrong with being a fan of neither of the two teams playing. But these folks are wearing the colors as if the Phillies, not the Pirates, are playing the Rays today.

A few were here as early as 8 a.m., standing near the players entrance, waiting for autographs. Even I was thrown off - I asked colleague Roger Mooney if the Phillies were in town.

Dumb question. If the Phillies were here, I'd still be sleeping.

First pitch in less than two hours.


Here are the lineups for today's Rays-Pirates game:


1. Nyjer Morgan, cf
2. Jack Wilson,ss
3. Jason Bay, lf
4. Adam LaRoche, dh
5. Ryan Doumit, c
6. Xavier Nady, rf
7. Jose Bautista, 3b
8. Doug Mientkiewicz, 1b
9. Luis Rivas, 2b
Matt Morris, p

Paul Maholm hit yesterday, but being an American League park allows the Pirates to get Mientkiewicz and LaRoche in the lineup together. With Freddy Sanchez's future spotty, Rivas may be on track to be the team's second baseman on Opening Day.

1. Akinora Iwamura, 2b
2. Carl Crawford, lf
3. Carlos Pena, 1b
4. B.J. Upton, cf
5. Cliff Floyd, dh
6. Eric Hinske, lf
7. Evan Longoria, 3b
8. Dioner Navarro, c
9. Jason Bartlett, ss
Edwin Jackson, p

Not much to complain about if you're a Rays fan - while Longoria may be sent down, this lineup looks like one Tampa Bay will use during the regular season.

Take Two

My last trip to Al Lang Field was marred by technical difficulties and cut short by rain.

So here I am, back again, hoping for better results. So far, so good - I'm online and the skies look harmless.

This is John Lembo, staff writer for The Bradenton Herald, and I'll be blogging for both teams as the Tampa Bay Rays host the Pittsburgh Pirates. Today marks the second-to-last spring game to be played at tradition-rich Al Lang Field.

So let's see what happens.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Yankees-Pirates, top of ninth

The signing of Kim may have been a mistake, but we'll know more next week when the Pirates make their final roster moves.
It hardly matters today, with Pittsburgh up 8-0 and Derek Jeter and A-Rod doing whatever back in Tampa.
The bleachers are clearing out fast and the seagulls are circling in anticipation of various tasty delights -- popcorn husks, stale hot dog buns, leftover nacho cheese.
Greg Porter, whoever he is, pops out, giving Kim a 1-2-3 inning. The Yankees get a chance for payback Thursday in Tampa.
Thanks for playing and we'll talk at you later!

Yankees-Pirates, bottom of eighth

Byung-Hyun Kim is warming up for the Pirates. If it wasn't 7-0, I'd suggest being very afraid and putting Sunday brunch plans on hold.
It seems as if the Yankees are on their 26th pitcher of the game. Ross Ohlendorf?
Well, it's time for the Kim show and his 18.00 ERA as the Pirates try to finish an 8-0 victory (Chris Gomez knocked in another run with a single, the Pirates' 16th hit of the game).
Anybody out there remember Leo Durocher?

Yankees-Pirates, top of eighth

Pirates reliever Sean Burnett will try to keep this two-hit shutout intact.
Pittsburgh president Frank Coonelly has a box seat behind the home dugout. Up to now, he likes what he's seen.
The beer man is making his last-call rounds as Burnett strikes out Chris Woodward, who might be in need of a cold one.
Burnett has done little wrong this spring and it would be no surprise if he accompanies the team north. Entering the fray, the left-hander had a 1.00 ERA with three hits allowed and seven strikeouts in nine innings.
A 1-2-3 inning here, and that sound down the left-field line is the Yankees' bus warming up. The 2000 first-round draft choice has not allowed a hit in his last seven appearances, covering eight innings.
That's called taking opportunity by the neck and seizing it.

Yankees-Pirates, bottom of seventh

The Pittsburgh scribes are headed down to the home clubhouse to talk to Paul Maholm, who should be in good spirits after handcuffing the Yankees.
Attendance has been announced at 5,791. It is the fifth sellout at McKechnie Field, but just shy of this month's top crowd of 5,836 for the night game against the Yankees.
As my old-fashioned dad might say, these new-fangled typewriters have come a long way. Who could have imagined 30 years ago sending your thoughts into the realm of cyberspace with the push of a button (OK, Al Gore and Bill Gates).
Edwar Ramirez is the next New York pitcher. He walks Kevin Thompson and gives up a single to Chris Gomez, and another single by Josh Wilson makes it 7-0, Pirates.
It's hard to fathom McKechnie being quiet next Sunday, but the Pirates already have begun packing equipment for the trip north and what seems likely to be a record-tying 16th consecutive losing season.
Three games at McKechnie remain: Tuesday against the Twins, Wednesday against the Tigers and Saturday against the Twins. Then, the games count for real.

Yankees-Pirates, top of seventh

The Pirates just made wholesale defensive changes, while bringing in Jaret Wright to pitch.
I'm not sure how much the Pirates like Wright, who has pitched in seven games with a 3.86 ERA and a single strikeout in seven innings.
His post-season experience dates to 1998, and he spent a bunch of time on the disabled list last season with Baltimore because of shoulder problems.
He gets the Yankees 1-2-3, so it's a fairly solid outing.

Yankees-Pirates, bottom of sixth

The new Yankees pitcher, Jose Veras, hits Jose Bautista with a pitch in the shoulder. Bautista is OK, but leaves the game for pinch-runner Jorge Velandia.
Catcher Ryan Doumit, who replaced Paulino behind the plate in the top of the inning, lines a single to right. Luis Rivas moves the runners up with a sacrifice.
Pinch-hitter Doug Mientkiewicz gets a run home with a sacrifice fly to left. The Pirates are up 5-0 -- can you say juggernaut?
A fan down the third-base line catches it from the crowd when a soft, foul liner by Nyjer Morgan deflects off the man's glove. But the third-base umpire retrieves the ball and hands it to the guy's son.
Morgan bounces a single up the middle for a 6-0 lead, with the Pirates rapping out 12 hits.
After a couple throws to first by Veras, Morgan steals second easily. His speed and defense will make it tough for the Pirates to send him to Triple-A.
The Yankees are in trouble today (but no one seems to worried about it).

Yankees-Pirates, top of sixth

Pirates starter Paul Maholm is going to get in six solid innings, despite walking the first two batters he faced in the fifth. That's nothing but a positive, considering the uncertainty surrounding the team.
Some people say Maholm and fellow lefty Tom Gorzelanny look alike. Call 'em up on the Internet some time and judge for yourself.
This is one sun-kissed day at McKechnie. Maholm walks Matsui with two outs, giving Morgan Ensberg a chance to extend a rally.
A good changeup gets Ensberg swinging, and Maholm becomes the first Pirate pitcher to go six innings this spring, allowing two hits and no runs.
It probably is worth repeating Jeter, Rodriguez, Posada and Giambi did not make the trip with the Yankees.

Yankees-Pirates, bottom of fifth

Jack Wilson leads off the frame with a single off left-handed reliever Heath Phillips and moves to second on a wild pitch, setting up an RBI opportunity for Jason Bay.
But a swinging strikeouts passes the chore on to Adam LaRoche.
He flies out to left-center, with Wilson moving to third. Xavier Nady already has two doubles; a single will do nicely here.
But the former Padre and Met bounces to shortstop, and the Yankees face a 4-0 deficit going to the sixth inning.

Yankees-Pirates, top of fifth

Monday could be a downer for several of the 37 Pirates remaining in major-league camp. Manager John Russell and his staff face some difficult choices paring the roster down to the required 25 by the March 31 opener in Atlanta.
The Pirates need to win each of their seven remaining spring-training games to finish at .500 (15-15). They haven't had a winning spring record since 2003, when they were 16-14.
Although everyone says spring-training results don't matter, it's worth noting the Pirates were a combined 40-29 in exhibition games from 1990-92, when they won three consecutive National League East Division titles.
They were 13-11 under Chuck Tanner in 1979, the year of their last World Series triumph, and a strong 18-7 under Danny Murtaugh in 1971, the year they beat the Orioles behind Steve Blass and Roberto Clemente.
Maybe we've been underestimating the importance of spring training all these years. Maholm just got a ground-ball double play to end a Yankees' threat.

Yankees-Pirates, bottom of fourth

Doubles by Adam LaRoche, Xavier Nady and Jose Bautista ignite a three-run rally that moves the Pirates ahead 4-0.
The inning could have been bigger, but Yankees center fielder Melky Cabrera threw out Ronny Paulino at third as the catcher tried to advance from first on a single by Luis Rivas.
That's the second big throw by a Yankees outfielder for a putout on the bases, which could prove important later in the game.

Yankees-Pirates, top of fourth

One year in Connecticut, we left Easter church service to discover it had been snowing for 2 hours. That was something to be thankful for -- we got the next three days off from school.
Matsui leads off against Maholm as the Yankees try to get something going. A ground-ball single into the hole between first and second may be the igniter.
Instead, Maholm shows another dimension, picking Matsui off first base for the first out. You rarely see a veteran such as Matsui make that kind of mistake.
This game is airing back in the metropolitan New York area on the YES Network. With the NCAA Tournament also on and Tiger Woods trying to make up a 5-shot deficit at Doral, it's a busy afternoon for sports fans.
Maholm appears to be pitching with great confidence and purpose. He gets Wilson Betemit to flail at a 1-2 off-speed pitch to end the inning with Pittsburgh ahead 1-0.

Yankees-Pirates, bottom of third

The older I get, the fewer experiences I share with the masses.
Folks, I grew up when the Yankees were a laughing stock. One year, they had two pitchers named Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich who engineered a trade -- of their own wives and families!
How bad were they? I remember one season, their much-maligned second baseman, Horace Clarke, broke up three no-hitters in the ninth inning.
We always enjoyed listening to Phil "Scooter" Rizzuto broadcasting the games. He made a name for himself in entertainment circles doing the voice-over for Meatloaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."
Yeah, as far as I was concerned as a kid, the years 1965-75 were glory years for baseball, in part because the Yankees were terrible.
It's been a long three decades since.
Karstens started the Yankees' exhibition at Virginia Tech early in the week, allowing two hits in four innings of an 11-0 victory.
Jack Wilson singles up the middle with two outs.
Jason Bay grounds to Cody Ransom at third to end the mini-threat.

Yankees-Pirates, top of third

Chris Woodward starts the inning for the Yankees with a line-drive single that deflects off the glove of leaping second baseman Luis Rivas.
Nice running catch in right by Nady of a foul fly by Melky Cabrera.
Maholm has looked sharp his last few outings. If he can control all his pitches, he's capable of vastly improving upon last year's 10-15 season.
A lazy fly to left ends the inning, and the Pirates return to their dugout ahead 1-0.

Yankees-Pirates, bottom of second

I wouldn't have bet a quarter on today's game being played when I woke up. But the skies have cleared, the sun is out and there's a sellout crowd on hand getting psyched for the regular season.
LaRoche struck out, but Xavier Nady has enlivened the crowd with a double over right fielder Jason Lane's head. That is only Nady's seventh hit in 40 at-bats all spring.
Jose Bautista's line drive into the Pirates dugout could have caused serious damage, but his teammates ducked in time.
Did anyone ever write a song called "Don't let your babies grow up to be Yankees fans?"
Bautista puts the Pirates on the board with a line-drive double to left. He is now hitting .200 for the spring.
Luis Rivas lined a single to right, but Lane made a great throw to home and catcher Chad Moeller tagged out Bautista to limit the inning to one run.
Love 'em or hate 'em, the Yankees can play the game.

Yankees-Pirates, top of second

Two up, two down for Maholm. That brings up Cody Ransom, the ex-Giant infielder who gave up his locker and No. 60 for Crystal in Tampa.
Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson has done it again -- and it never gets old watching him flash the leather.
Going far to his right, Wilson flagged down the Ransom grounder and threw in one motion to nip the runner by a half-step.
It's amazing he was able to get enough on the throw, but Wilson is stronger than he looks.

Yankees-Pirates, bottom of first

Pirates beat writers are discussing how the starting rotation might shape up the first couple weeks of the season.
Ian Snell is down to start the March 31 opener in Atlanta. Tom Gorzelanny will pitch two nights later (the teams are off April 1), setting the left-hander up to start the Pirates' home opener April 7 against Lou Piniella and the Cubs.
Matt Morris pitches Monday against the Rays in St. Petersburg -- he has allowed a staggering 29 hits in 13 innings.
Jack Wilson and Jason Bay both hit the ball hard this inning off Yankees right-hander Jeff Karstens, but both were right at outfielders. So it's 0-0 after one and if you're still interested in coming out, you haven't missed much (good luck finding a seat, though!).

Yankees-Pirates, top of first

Wonder if Pirates starter Paul Maholm is as nervous facing Melky Cabrera as he was going up against Billy Crystal in Tampa 10 days ago.
Maybe he should have been. Cabrera crushed the first pitch to deep left, but Jason Bay made the catch on the warning track.
Caught part of a documentary on Showtime this morning about Hall of Fame slugger Hank Greenberg, who led the Tigers to four pennants and two world titles in a 12-year span from 1934-45.
Third baseman Jose Bautista made a superb play on a slow roller by Robinson Cano. Bautista fielded it bare-handed and gunned a throw to Adam LaRoche to nip Cano by an eyelash.
News flash: A hard-hit ball by Hideki Matsui got past LaRoche at first. The normally sure-handed first sacker was charged with an error, his first of the spring.
The Greenberg show dealt in part with the discrimination he faced as the game's most prominent Jewish player. After serving in World War II, according to the documentary, Greenberg expressed his belief organized religion served more to divide people than bring them together.
Food for thought during turbulent times.

Yankees-Pirates lineups

The fact I'm toast in my NCAA pool makes it much easier to enjoy today's Easter Sunday special from McKechnie Field between the Pirates (8-15, auditioning for the regular season?) and the Yankees (12-7-2, on pace for a quick start).
Howdy, I'm Mike Henry and I hope to give you a taste of the sounds, sights and smells while you're gorging on eggs and bunny ears.
It's a match-up between first-year managers Joe Girardi of the Bombers and John Russell of the Buccos. These teams last played Wednesday, with the Yankess winning a rollicking affair 12-9 in the first night game in the history of McKechnie.
Girardi left a lot of big names behind today -- Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada -- opening the door for Pittsburgh to take a 2-1 edge in the spring series (the Pirates won 5-3 in Tampa on March 13, when actor Billy Crystal played for the Yankees).
Here are today's starting lineups (the Yankees are being allowed to use a designated hitter):
Melky Cabrera, CF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Hideki Matsui, LF
Morgan Ensberg, 1B
Wilson Betemit, SS
Jason Lane, RF
Cody Ransom, 3B
Chris Woodward, DH
Chad Moeller, C
Jeff Karstens, P
And for the Pirates, who open the regular season March 31 in Atlanta:
Nyjer Morgan, CF
Jack Wilson, SS
Jason Bay, LF
Adam LaRoche, 1B
Xavier Nady, RF
Jose Bautista, 3B
Ronny Paulino, C
Luis Rivas, 2B
Paul Maholm, P
Can most of the Pirates' front-line guys (except for Freddy Sanchez, who is seeing a specialist Monday about his ailing shoulder) defeat the Yankees' back-ups? Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

No Moose

Mike Mussina, orginally scheduled to start for the New York Yankees on Sunday at McKechnie Field, will go in a minor league game instead.

Jeff Karstens will go for the Yankees, who will face the Pirates at 1:05.


A downpour has cancelled today's game at Al Lang Field, with the Pirates leading the Tampa Bay Rays 2-0 after two innings.

The Buccos return to Bradenton on Sunday, when they host the New York Yankees.

Lefty Paul Maholm, who struck out Billy Crystal in his last outing against the Bombers, will go up against Yankee starter Mike Mussina, who tossed five perfect innings against Pittsburgh last Thursday.

Game time is 1:05 p.m.

Top of the 3rd

To paraphrase Bobby Brown - speaking of Brown, his old band, New Edition, would have been a good choice for 80s Night - the weather here has gotten to hot to handle. So the tarp is being put on the infield.

It's 2-0 Pirates after two complete innings. And judging by the crummy sky looming overheard, that may be all we get in today.

Top of the 2nd

Sorry I have been MIA. Computer problems.

OK, the Pirates have a 2-0 lead thanks to Jose Bautista and Doug Mientkiewicz, each of whom knocked in runs in the first inning.

It's raining here at Al Lang. Not much for an atmosphere.

Njyer Morgan just flied out.

2-0 Bucs.

Lineup revision

Doug Mientkiewicz will play first base and bat clean-up today, replacing Adam LaRoche.

First pitch in 20 minutes.

Lamenting Al Lang

This is only my third trip to Al Lang Field. But I'm going to miss this place.

I am sitting in the overflow press area, located just outside the press box and right above the bleachers. Despite the gray weather, you can't beat this view. I can see the whole field, plus I get a great view of the water, as well as some of downtown St. Petersburg.

You really feel like you're in Florida when you are at Al Lang, especially when you glance to the left and see palm trees peppered all along the docks. And there isn't a bad seat here. Really. Most of them are under cover - which will come in handy today - and no matter where you are, you feel as if you are on top of the game.

Yeah, I'm gonna miss Al Lang Field. It deserves a better fate.

Lamenting Al Lang

This is only my third trip to Al Lang Field. But I'm going to miss this place.

I am sitting in the overflow press area, located just outside the press box and right above the bleachers. Despite the gray weather, you can't beat this view. I can see the whole field, plus I get a great view of the water, as well as some of downtown St. Petersburg.

You really feel like you're in Florida when you are at Al Lang, especially when you glance to the left and see palm trees peppered all along the docks. And there isn't a bad seat here. Really. Most of them are under cover - which will come in handy today - and no matter where you are, you feel as if you are on top of the game.

Yeah, I'm gonna miss Al Lang Field. It deserves a better fate.


Here are the starting lineupps for today's game...

The Pirates:
1. Nyjer Morgan, cf
2. Jack Wilson, ss
3. Jason Bay, dh
4. Adam LaRoche, 1b
5. Xavier Nady, rf
6. Jose Bautista, 3b
7. Ronny Paulino, c
8. Kevin Thompson, lf
9. Luis Rivas, 2b
Zach Duke, p

The Pirates brough the A-team from B-town - barring that Morgan beats out Nate McLouth for the starting job in center. Then again, there is no Freddy Sanchez, so this may not be THE A-team. Not bad, nonetheless.

The Rays:
1. Elliot Johnson, cf
2. Reid Brignac, ss
3. Joel Guzman, 1b
4. Jonny Gomes, rf
5. John Rogriguez, lf
6. Willy Aybar, 3b
7. Mike DiFelice, dh
8. Shawn Riggans, c
9. Andy Cannizaro, 2b

J.P. Howell, p

Not exactly a star-laden lineup for the Rays, though Elliot Johnson and Jonny Gomes have become quasi-folk heroes since their roles in the Yankee melee. Of course, Gomes was always a hero around here - fitting for a guy who strikes out a lot and is less-than-average with the glove.

Opening Statement

I've been delayed by some computer problems and there's tarp covering Al Lang Field.

Not a great start to my Saturday.

But things appear to be coming together - though infield is still under cover and the skies are gray - for today's game between the host Tampa Bay Rays and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

This is John Lembo, staff writer for The Bradenton Herald, and I will be blogging for both the Rays and the Pirates.

Stay tuned...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Bottom 9 - Reds at Pirates

Francisco Cordero (Co-Co) is in for the ninth for the Reds. Cincy felt they needed a shut-down closer, and they think he is the guy. He signed for huge bucks this offseason.
He makes sure to send the fans home in 2 hours and 33 minutes. Doug Kaid signing off for now.
Thanks for dropping by.

Final score: Reds 5, Pirates 1

Top 9 - Reds at Pirates

While I was walking around in the concourse, who should happen to walk but Corey Patterson, and I think Brandon Phillips and Jeff Keppinger. They were headed to their cars I would assume. Since Sarasota is so close some of the vets probably don't want any part of waiting for that bus. I heard Griffey took off a while back. The good people of Bradenton forgive their anxiousness to leave our humble city.
Heck, for the Reds, Bradenton must seem like a second home. They are here almost every day.
Hector Carrasco sends us to the bottom of the ninth with a quick top-half.

Reds 5, Pirates 1

Bottom 8- Reds at Pirates

Just got back from the clubhouse where all eyes were on March Madness. I then was walking around the fan areas working on a story when I saw the Bright House had a tent set up with the NCAA games playing on a plasma screen TV. Several fans had gathered to watch the end of the Western Kentucky vs. Drake game. Of course, I moved on before I had a chance to watch what I hear was a last-second buzzer-beater. Drake losing hurts my bracket. I know they aren't a household name and that's why I thought I could fool some people by picking them in at least one of brackets to go far.
Veteran David Weathers has taken the mound for the Reds. After retiring first two quickly, he has loaded the bases for Doug Mientkiewicz. Doug finishes off the inning by grounding to second for a force out.

Reds 5, Pirates 1

Top 8 - Reds at Pirates

The Pirates are giving a few pitchers some work today. Righty Elmer Dessens he did a good. Scott Hatteberg reached base safely on single up the middle for the Reds, but Dessens retired the next three batters.

Reds 5, Pirates 1.

Bottom 7- Reds at Pirates

Yes sir, the Pirates have come alive at the plate. Adam LaRoche singled and Ryan Doumit smacked a double to the left field corner. Freddy Sanchez's grounder scored LaRoche from third base. But the rally ended as Xavier Nady's drive line was snagged by the Reds' third baseman to end the inning.

Reds 5-Pirates 1.

Top 7 Reds at Pirates

Pirates lefty Sean Burnett is on the mound for Pittsburgh. Burnett has had an impressive spring for the Pirates. He has a 1.13 ERA in six appearances,and allowed three hits, one run and has struck out six batters.

Burnett is still on the positive track. He walked Jerry Hairston, Jr., but K'd Jolbert Cabrera and Jerry Gil and Ryan Freel flied to center field. Pirates center fielder Nyger Morgan made a spectacular diving catch on Freel's fly out.

Pirates trail the Reds 5-0.

Bottom 6 - Reds at Pirates

The Pirates went 3 up and 3 down. Nyger Morgan and Nate McLouth grounded out and Freddy Sanchez flied out to center field. It's nice to see a lively crowd out today on such a perfect afternoon.

We'll see if the Pirates can generate a few runs in the next two innings to make the hometown fans happy.

Top 6 - Reds at Pirates

Pirates closer Matt Capps is in to pitch for Gorzelanny. Interesting to perhaps only me, but for the Pirates night game the other day, I was walking back to clubhouse in the sixth inning or so when I saw Capps and some friends hanging out near the picnic area at McKechnie. Capps didn't pitch that night and he was in plain clothes. No one was bothering him as he walked around among the fans.
I wonder if fans were respecting his privacy or if they didn't recognize him without his Pirates gear on.
Anyway, Capps allowed a lead-off hit but retired the next three in order.

Reds 5, Pirates 0

Bottom 5 - Reds at Pirates

I just checked the Web, and noticed that former Pirates second baseman Jose Castillo was placed on waivers by the Marlins today. I always thought Castillo was solid, but his value must have really slipped if he's getting cut by the lowly Marlins, who figure to have some use for a veteran like Castillo.
Castillo was having a decent spring, and he's still young and not all that expensive, but I guess the Marlins like former Ray Jorge Cantu better. Harang pitched another solid inning, and we head to the sixth inning here at McKechnie Field.

Reds 5, Pirates 0

Top 5 - Reds at Pirates

I remember one of the first games I came to down here in Bradenton, Ken Griffey Jr. was in his prime. Well, he was in the middle of his injury bug but he was still young. I remember him hitting two homers in the first two at bats I saw from him that year. I want to say he hit three homers, but I think that may just be my imagination getting carried away after all these years. Anyway, it was an impressive display and a rarity on a spring game to see multiple home runs. I was in the stands that day, and the place was abuzz. It still buzzes when he step to the plate after all these years. He just doubled down the line and came around to score with Corey Patterson on a double from by Brandon Phillips.
Just announced a sellout here at the yard today. That's 5,805 people if you are keeping track at home. McKechnie is still smaller than most parks down here, so even a sellout is a smaller number than you might expect.
Bay lost a fly ball from Encarnacion in the sun, and Phillips scored the Reds fifth run of the day. It was ruled a base hit because it was clear Bay never really had a good idea where the ball was. Votto grounded out to end the rally.

Reds 5, Pirates 0