Friday, February 27, 2009

The end is near...

First the New England Patriots.
Now the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Perfection is hard to attain, and the Buccos won't reach it this spring after falling 5-2 to the Braves today at McKechnie Field in front of 2,994 fans - about 1,000 less than Wednesday's home opener. Man, if the Phillies and Braves can't draw a crowd, I wonder how deserted this place will be when the Netherlands team shows up for next week's WBC tune-up.

Side note - Braves pitcher Anthony Lerew, who threw today, grew up not far from Hanover, Pa., where I worked as a sports writer for three years. I interviewed him one night during a banquet. Nice kid.

The Pirates are back on the road Friday when they head to Kissimmee to face the Astros, then it's back to Bradenton beginning Sunday, when the Reds come marching in.

See ya then.

Still here...

We enter the top of the seventh inning here at McKechnie, where the crowd is leaving in droves. Understandable - it's only 73 degress with a cool breeze, sunny, and no sight of rain whatsoever. Why anyone would want to be outside on a day like this is a mystery to me.

The Pirates are still down 4-0 to those Braves, and have turned to tall lefty Donnie Veal, who earned the win Wendesday here against against the Phillies.

Wish I had something witty to say about Donnie's last name, but I'm empty. Drawing a blank. Sure, the lefty's surname makes me hungry, but that's all I got. Feel free to send any funny quipps my way.

Veal cruises through the top of the seventh, and is rewarded with a warm smattering of applause.

4-0 Braves.

All Braves, all the time

I was making my way back from the Braves' clubhouse at McKechnie Field when the folks inside the sun-drenched stadium erupted.
A Pirate home run, right?
Instead, it was a blast off the bat of Chipper Jones, which landed near the green batter's eye in dead center and gave Atlanta a 4-0 lead in the top of the fifth.
Not as many people as I expected here at McKechnie, as rows and rows of bleachers sit empty, as do many green reserved seats.
But most fans here are rooting for the Braves.
Pirate starter Tom Gorzelanny pitched two scoreless innings and rebounded from a pair of second-inning walks by inducing Matt Diaz to ground into a double play.
But the Braves have gotten to relievers Jason Davis and Daniel McCutchen, putting the Pirates' season-opening winning streak in jeopardy.

Lineup change

Eric Hinske has been scratched from the Pirates' lineup today because of a left rib contusion. Hinske, slated to bat sixth and serve as the team's designated hitter, suffered the injury when he ran into an outfield wall Wednesday.
His replacement will be Pedro Alvarez, the team's first pick in last April's amateur draft.

First pitch in 30 minutes.

Pirates vs. Braves

Greetings from another gorgeous spring day at McKechnie Field, where the Pittsburgh Pirates - now 2-0 after knocking off the defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies and the Boston Red Sox - host the Atlanta Braves.

This is John Lembo, sports writer with The Bradenton Herald, and I will be blogging throughout today's rematch of the 1991 and 1992 National Leagye Championship Series - though don't expect to see Sid Bream sliding into home any time soon.

Here are the lineups:
Josh Anderson, cf
Omar Infante, ss
Chipper Jones, 3b
Brian McCann, c
Jeff Francoeur, rf
Matt Diaz, lf
Freddie Freeman, 1b
Greg Norton, dh
Diory Hernandez, 2b
Kenshin Kawakami, p

McCann, Chipper and The Natural - not a bad haul from Orlando. And the Braves Outlandish Number - the amount of uniform numbers over 60 in any team's spring training lineup - is only two, which is very, very good, especially this early.

The undefeated Pirates:
Nate McLouth, cf
Jack Wilson, ss
Freddy Sanchez, 2b
Ryan Doumit, c
Adam LaRoche, 1b
Eric Hinske, dh
Jose Tabata, rf
Ramon Vazquez, 3b
jeff Salazar, lf
Tom Gorzelanny, p

Another slate of regulars for the Pirates. I am curious to see Tabata play - once the crown jewel of the Yankees' organization, Pittsburgh picked him up when they dealt Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to New York last summer. Also, curious to see if a leaner Gorzelanny means a better Gorzelanny.

We're less than four hours from game time, and it's Friday, folks. So play a little hooky and watch a ballgame. Beats working for a living, right?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

One down...

The Pittsburgh Pirates are your new world champions!!!!

Well, not exactly. But the Buccos did open the 2009 Grapefruit League season by beating the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies 8-2 during a sun-splashed Wednesday at McKechnie Field.

And that's it...the Pirates head to Fort Myers Thursday to play Boston, but return Friday to host the Braves.

See ya then!

Seventh Inning

The Pirates have a comanding lead over the Philadelphia Phillies, up 8-1 heading into the seventh inning. The big blow came courtesy of Shelby Ford, whose three-home run highlighted Pittsburgh's four-run fourth inning.

Ford is a second baseman, and the No. 8 prospect in the Pirates' organization, according to Baseball America.

Man, are these Pillies paper champions are what? Seven runs down? This early into the preseason? Awful.

Yeah, I'm kidding.

It's spring training for everybody, including the Pirate staff - the guys in charge of the t-shirt toss have struggled with the slingshot all day, having a hard time getting the shirts past the first few rows of the stands. Of course, the crowd booed.

Fourth inning

Not a bad start here at McKechnie, where the Pirates and defending champion Phillies are tied 1-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth.

Word through the press box is this is a title match, and if the Pirates win, they are the new world champions. I wonder if manager John Russell knew that when he decided to start Chris Bootcheck? In his defense, Bootcheck cruised through the first inning.

I'm kidding of course. This is non-title match, much like when Rocky fought Drago in Rocky IV. That was different, however - Rocky had to forefit his title because the bout was non-sactioned. This is simply spring training, where the games don't count.

Quick recap - the Phillies took the lead when Raul Ibanez poked a single to left, plating Jimmy Rollins in the top of the third. The Pirates drew even in their half when Freddy Sanchez doubled down the right-field line, allowing Nyjer Morgan to score from first.

Ex-Pirate Ronny Paulino is catching for the Phillies. This guy lit up McKechnie Field two springs ago - and was dealt to Philly for back-up catcher Jason Jaramillo in the offseason.

We're baaaack....

Another spring, another day at McKechnie Field.
This is John Lembo, sports writer at The Bradenton Herald, and I am blogging from McKechnie Field, site of today's Grapefruit League opener between the Pittsburgh Pirates and world champion Philadelphia Phillies.
Here are the lineups:

Jimmy Rollins, ss
Shane Victorino, cf
Raul Ibanez, lf
Ryan Howard, 1b
Geoff Jenkins, rf
Matt Stairs, DH
Jason Donald, 2b
Eric Bruntlett, 3b
Chris Coste, c
Jamie Moyer, p

The champions brought some starpower to Bradenton, with October heroes Rollins, Victorino, Howard and Moyer filling the line-up card. That should make this pro-Philly crowd happy.

Nyjer Morgan, lf
Freddy Sanchez, 2b
Nate McLouth, cf
Ryan Doumit, c
Adam LaRoche, 1b
Craig Monroe, dh
Brandon Moss, rf
Ramon Vazquez, 3b
Jack Wilson, ss
Chris Bootcheck, p

The Buccos are unveiling a close facsimilie to their regular-season lineup, with the exception of Chris get-to-the-airport-early-because-of-the-extensive Bootcheck, one of nine Pirate relievers to throw today.

The mayor threw out the first pitch. The anthem's been sung. Spring baseball is back in Bradenton.