Over the past week, the Pittsburgh Pirates had many examples of executing the little things correctly and were rewarded by staying competitive in every game until the final out.
For the week, the Pittsburgh Pirates lost two games to the Boston Red Sox, but finished the week strong with a three game sweep of the Atlanta Braves. There were a variety of instances of solid, fundamental baseball. Some of the more notable examples are summarized below. As always, these are little things that add up to big wins.
Polanco on the move
In the Pittsburgh Pirates’ opening game on April 3rd, Gregory Polanco led off the top of the second inning with a single. At this point, the game was early and still 0-0. Clint Hurdle put the steal on and sent Polanco on the first pitch to the next batter David Freese. Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon made a perfect throw and gunned Polanco down. Although Polanco was thrown out, the call to steal was right on.
This is true even though had Polanco not attempted to steal second, he may have eventually scored later in the inning. The prospect of having a runner at second with nobody out was worth the risk at that point in the game.
Cervelli Fields a Short Hop
In the second game of the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates found themselves in a small jam in the bottom of the 3rd inning. Sandy Leon had just doubled and the top of the Boston order was due up. Dustin Pedroia laced a single into right field and Andrew McCutchen threw out Leon as he came home. This blockbuster play preserved a 0-0 tie in a pitcher’s duel between Jameson Taillon and Chris Sale.
What was remarkable about the play was not McCutchen’s throw, but Cervelli’s fielding of the throw. The throw was on line, but was a one-hopper right in front of the plate. Any catcher will tell you this is the hardest kind of throw to field. Instead of waiting for the ball to bounce slightly higher and into his raised glove, Cervelli went out to meet the ball.
This meant he had to field it low on one hop, but also meant that he could get the ball in his glove before Leon got to home plate. This allowed him to throw his whole body at Leon instead of trying to make a swipe or drop tag with the catcher’s mitt. Cervelli acted on instinct, but this instinct was surely the product of conscious training and preparation.
Mercer does his job
In the April 9th game against the Braves, the Pittsburgh Pirates found themselves already down 2-0 heading into the bottom of the second inning. The opposing pitcher was knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and the Pirates had been able to get runners on the corners with two outs when Jordy Mercer stepped to the plate. Francisco Cervelli was on first and, although he is not a huge threat to steal, the Braves wanted to make sure he stayed where he was. Freddie Freeman, the Braves’ first baseman, was holding him tightly on first.
Mercer’s hit will go into the scorebook as an RBI single but it was much more than that.
What was interesting about this situation is the Braves’ second baseman, Brandon Phillips wasn’t cheating towards first like a second baseman usually would in this situation. Mercer needed to wait for a pitch that was on the outer part of the plate and slap it to the right side of the infield. He did exactly that on the second pitch of the at-bat. Freeman stumbled while trying to make the play. Mercer was safe, a run scored and the Pirates would later go on to win the game by a score of 6-4. This was a great example of situational hitting. Mercer’s hit will go into the scorebook as an RBI single but it was much more than that.
Marte stays at first
Unfortunately, the Pirates had examples where they did not do the little things well. In one instance, it was almost their undoing.
In the April 9th game against the Braves, the Pirates had rallied in the bottom of the 8th inning. Trailing 4-2, they had managed to put Josh Harrison on second and Adam Frazier on first with one out. Starling Marte had fallen behind in the count 0-2 when he got a fastball on the inside part of the plate. It must have been just what he was looking for because he blistered a line drive into left field. Unfortunately, this is when the mistakes started to happen.
First, Jace Peterson bobbled the ball in left field. Josh Harrison alertly raced home and scored on the error and Frazier moved up to third. But Marte did not even take a long look at second base. He appeared to jog out of the batter’s box. It is possible that he may not have been able to get to second, but this is something we will never know.
McCutchen stays grounded
Then, with one out and one of baseball’s premier base stealers on first base, Andrew McCutchen stepped to the plate and promptly swung at the first pitch he saw. This did not give Marte a chance to even attempt to steal second. More importantly, it allowed the Braves to turn the double play on Cutch’s sharply hit ground ball. To compound matters, Cutch has to know that in that situation, with the tying run on third and one out, he MUST hit the ball in the air. He seemed to be swinging out of his shoes at the first pitch instead of lofting a ball into right field and driving in the tying run. Luckily, the Pirates ended up winning the game in dramatic fashion in extra innings.
Two of the positive examples are from games that the Pittsburgh Pirates ended up losing and the negative examples are from a game they won in the end. However, a draining win today might cost the team a loss in the future. If McCutchen hits a fly ball into the outfield instead of a ground ball into a double play, the Pirates win the game in 8 ½ innings. This would have preserved their relief pitching for another battle and kept Cervelli from having to pinch hit and catch on his off day.
Jordy Mercer is our “Little Things” player of the week
We would like to recognize Mercer for doing the little things well during the opening week.
We already highlighted a hitting example, but he was also part of turning eight double plays during the week including a highlight-reel, inning-ending one against the Braves. Mercer took extended at-bats for the team and hit the ball where he was supposed to. His stat line reads 5 for 20 with one walk and three strikeouts, but he contributed much than his stats show.
The Pittsburgh Pirates would certainly recognize Mercer for doing the little things. And we’ll do the same. He is our “Little Things Player Of the Week” for the 2017 season’s opening week.
Photo credit – Daniel Decker Photography