The actual playoffs have begun, after yesterday’s tiebreaker teaser. Whether you consider the WPS recap for the Rays and Rangers a warm-up or not, I have to hit the ground running now.
The regular season may be compared to a marathon, but the postseason can be a pretty long distance, too, especially if you’re watching four games a day, as we will be at least once in the next week. That journey begins with this step.
(Let me note here, as I did several times during the WPS recaps last year, that I have a predecessor in the use of Win Percentage Added to calculate an index for the excitement of games. THT’s Dave Studeman beat me to it, writing up his version in the 2007 Hardball Times Annual. Yes, it’s still available on sale. Yes, go get it.)
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Reds 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 6 Pirates 0 2 1 2 0 0 1 0 X 2 (Pittsburgh advances to NLDS) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Reds 4 5 5 34 8 7 6 5 1 Pirates 7 30 13 16 2 2 1 0 X WPS Base: 146.4 Best Plays: 31.4 Last Play: 0.1 Grand Total: 177.9
Definitely an underwhelming night from the WPS point of view. The Pirates got the game in a headlock by the fourth inning, and by the time the Reds could even slightly loosen the grip, it was too late to build any suspense. I cannot convince myself, however, that any of the attendees at PNC Park felt disappointed.
The first sign of what we could expect from the fans was The Blackout, the predominance of black worn in the stands that I would estimate somewhere around 75 percent, on pretty short notice. The real demonstration, though, came pouring down on Reds starter Johnny Cueto‘s head after the second-inning home run he surrendered to Marlon Byrd (in his first ever playoff plate appearance.)
The TBS commentators had to go back to the 1986 World Series to recall anything like it, the Fenway Park chant of Darrrrr-rylllll! directed at Darryl Strawberry. (Ron Darling seemed to forget the retaliatory Rooooo-gerrrrr! hurled at Clemens in Game Six.) There have been a couple similar instances more recently, but none that I can think of that didn’t involve Boston and New York in some combination.
Pittsburgh fans had been waiting 21 years for this opportunity, and rarely have I ever witnessed a baseball stadium full of spectators so aggressively engaged in a game as I saw at PNC Park last night from the second through about the fifth inning. That was good for baseball. And if it sparks and sustains a real rivalry between these two clubs, all the better. (Then again, with all the hit batters in their 20 games against each other this season, it might not be entirely all for the better.)
Battered by spectators’ chants and some hits, Cueto left in the fourth inning. And then it was Marrrrr-shallll! for reliever Sean Marshall. And then Hooooo-verrrrr! for J.J. Hoover, Siiiii-monnnn! for Alfredo Simon, and Parrrrr-raaaaa for Manny Parra, though the force of it dwindled with each new arm and the progressive solidifying of their lead. Then came Logan Ondrusek, who defied the two-syllable pattern and brought an end to the barrage.
Have I mentioned yet how impressed I was with the crowd at PNC Park?
Buc starter Francisco Liriano was expected to be murder on the Reds’ three good lefty hitters: Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce. He delivered there, holding them to a combined 1-for-8 with four strikeouts, plus a hit batter (Choo, naturally). He wasn’t much easier on the rest of the lineup, almost exactly matching his season home ERA of 1.47 for his seven innings of work.
If there is any sign that the Pirates truly have turned the corner, it was Choo’s home run off Tony Watson in the eighth. A fan reached over the railing in right field to try to catch the ball, only to have it clank off and drop onto the field. An umpire review confirmed the original call of a homer, and a brief vision of Steve Bartman danced through my mind. The opportunity for an epic choke passed untouched, though, and I will never learn the name of that fan. A fact for which he is no doubt most grateful.
The Pirates move on to St. Louis, where their Division Series with the Cardinals begins on Thursday. We’ll see how well the Pirates hold up with a different color dominating the stands.