Friday, June 27, 2008

Pirates starved for pitching

By Joe Starkey
Friday, June 27, 2008

New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain in a baseball game at Pittsburgh Wednesday, June 25, 2008.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Why don't the Pirates ever get a guy like that?

If that question crossed your mind while Joba Chamberlain was tearing through the home team's lineup Wednesday in a relentless blaze of mid-to-high 90's fastballs and wicked sliders, you weren't alone.

Rest assured, it's not because the Pirates have lacked opportunity to take such a pitcher.

Chamberlain was the 41st player drafted in 2006. The Pirates have drafted eight pitchers significantly higher than that in the past 11 years. Chamberlain has better stuff than any of them.

How does that happen?

It's true the Yankees' 10-0 victory Wednesday marked Chamberlain's first win as a starter, but one win is pretty heady stuff when you compare it to what the top five bonus babies in Pirates' history - all starting pitchers - have done.

Here's a look, if you can bear it:

1. Bryan Bullington: $4 million (2002)

2. Brad Lincoln: $2.75 million (2006)

3. Daniel Moskos: $2.475 million (2007)

4. John Van Benschoten: $2.4 million (2001)

5. Bobby Bradley: $2.225 million (1999)

Total payout: $13.85 million.

Total wins: One.

Van Benschoten won a game in 2004. He takes a 1-12 lifetime record into Saturday's start against Tampa Bay.

Bet you can't wait.

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm throws against the New York Yankees in the first inning of a baseball game at Pittsburgh, Thursday, June 26, 2008.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

There is no greater indictment of the disastrous Dave Littlefield era than the alarming lack of high-quality arms in the system. It's a crisis, and it's why, when Ian Snell and Phil Dumatrait went down with injuries, the Pirates had to turn to Van Benschoten and somebody named Jimmy Barthmaier, scheduled to pitch tonight against Tampa Bay ace Scott Kazmir (another guy the Pirates passed up).

Bet you can't wait.

Actually, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Barthmaier is an interesting case, because he was regarded as one of the Houston Astros' top prospects going into last season. He's the kind of no-cost risk that new GM Neal Huntington should take.

Littlefield wasn't often right, but he was dead-on eight months into his tenure when he said, "It's easy to say you want to build with pitching, but the fact of the matter is there are 22 or 24 other GMs saying the same thing (editor's note: there are 29 other GMs saying the same thing). Pitching, particularly starting pitching, is hardest to get because there's not enough out there."

Don't the Pirates know it. Their starters had the worst collective ERA (5.40) in Major League Baseball going into Thursday's game. Their farm system has fewer arms than a sunfish.

You have to go all the way down to Class A to find the most realistic candidate for a future top-of-the-rotation starter. That would be Lincoln, who is working his way back from a season-killing injury.

Other than Lincoln and Moskos, also at Class A, the suspects far outnumber the prospects.

It's going to take smart drafting, good trades and some luck for the Pirates to build a presentable staff with depth below. They better hope still-young starters Snell, 26, and Tom Gorzelanny, 25, rediscover their form of 2007.

On a positive note, Huntington seems intent on collecting power arms. I liked the drafting of fireballer Tanner Scheppers in the second round, despite a stress fracture in his shoulder and possible signability issues. It seemed a worthwhile risk to swing for the fences with that pick.

Hey, the Pirates might as well take some good cuts. Their opponents are getting plenty.

Joe Starkey is a sports writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at

Pirates should build around Doumit

Friday, June 27, 2008
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
Ryan Doumit tries to settle down pitcher Zach Duke in Wednesday's game.

With July speeding toward us by the minute, trade speculation involving the Pirates is increasing. Would you give up Jason Bay? Xavier Nady? Damaso Marte? John Grabow?

I'd trade any or all of 'em for the right return, but I wouldn't part with Ryan Doumit.

He's my one untouchable, more so than Nate McLouth and Matt Capps.

The more I watch Doumit, the more I love him as a player.

Do you have any idea how valuable a switch-hitting catcher with power is?

I know the downside to Doumit. He has been injury-prone, almost to the point of being beyond belief. There are few worse things you can say about a proud athlete. Cal Ripken Jr., when asked about his famous iron-man streak, always said he was most proud of the fact his teammates could count on him every game. Doumit's teammates have not been able to count on him. In his parts of four seasons with the Pirates, he has been on the disabled list five times with injuries ranging from a bad left hamstring to a sprained left wrist to a right high ankle sprain to -- this season's problem -- a fractured left thumb. In his first eight full professional seasons, he played more than 100 games just twice.

Meet the anti-Ripken.

But some of Doumit's injuries can be attributed to immaturity. It's nice to think he's taking better care of himself now that he realizes the potential money that's out there for him. Neal Huntington, the Pirates' first-year general manager, challenged him in the offseason to come to spring training in better shape. He did just that and won the starting job from -- everyone applaud -- the bemoaned Ronny Paulino.

It's also easy to believe that Doumit's luck has to change. Late last season, he missed almost a month with his wrist injury, was activated for a game against the Chicago Cubs Sept. 8 and his ankle was sprained in that first game back and was done for the year. Really, how much does one guy have to suffer?

I don't know about Huntington, but I'm willing to bet on Doumit's maturity and luck.

I also want Doumit playing catcher, not first base or right field, where some have suggested he belongs. His value is greatest behind the plate as long as he keeps improving because big-time hitting catchers are so rare. Early in his career, merely receiving the ball was an adventure for him. That's no longer the case. He has worked hard to become a respectable catcher. No, he's not Johnny Bench, not even close. But he doesn't have to be.

Not with that bat.

After the New York Yankees jumped on Pirates starter Paul Maholm for three first-inning runs in the rained-out game last night, Doumit answered in the Pirates' half of the first with a run-scoring single off starter Mike Mussina. The hit won't count because the game was postponed at 10:25 with the Yankees holding that 3-1 lead in the third. Still, Doumit went 5 for 9 in the series and is 15 for 32 in his past nine games, the latter a streak which -- it must be pointed out -- was interrupted by the five games he missed with concussion-like symptoms after taking a series of foul balls off his face mask.

For his abbreviated season, Doumit is hitting .354, which would rank him third in the National League if he had the required at-bats. He has been remarkably consistent -- .355 against right-handers, .351 against left-handers and .417 with runners in scoring position.

But Doumit's power capability is what makes him especially intriguing. His 10 home runs in 147 at-bats would equate to 34 over a full 500 at-bats season.

Beyond that, respect has grown for Doumit in the Pirates' clubhouse -- because of his new, improved conditioning and because of his production. He has talked a good game at times; remember his well-publicized "We weren't going to be pushed around in our house" spiel after a minor dust-up earlier this month between teammate Doug Mientkiewicz and Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson? But he also has walked the walk.

I don't trade a guy like that.

I build around him.

Ron Cook can be reached at More articles by this author
First published on June 27, 2008 at 12:00 am

Pirates buoyed by support in rain-shortened series

Lightning-laced storm halts rubber match in top of third

Friday, June 27, 2008
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
Xavier Nady pokes his head out of the dugout to check the weather durig a rain delay last night at PNC Park. The game against the Yankees was postponed in the third inning and will be replayed July 10.

The New York Yankees will make one more visit, as it turns out, in just two weeks.

The Pirates and Yankees were postponed by rain and lightning last night at PNC Park, with the Yankees leading by 3-1 with two outs in the top of the third inning. After a delay of 2 1/2 hours, despite a pause in the poor weather, the threat of more rain prompted the game to be called.

"We knew it was going to be a long haul," Pirates manager John Russell said. "It let up, then kept coming."

Thus, the rubber match of this three-game series will be played July 10, 7:05 p.m., and, if the Pirates' new rotation plan is followed, Phil Dumatrait would start. Tickets purchased for the game last night will be honored July 10, or they can be exchanged for any other game the rest of the season except the Aug. 14-16 SkyBlast events.

The teams' only other common open date was Sept. 22, the day after the final game in Yankee Stadium history.

The Yankees had extra scheduling pressure, too, as they will play an unusual doubleheader today in New York, with a 2 p.m. home game against the crosstown Mets and an 8:10 p.m. nightcap against the Mets at Shea Stadium. The afternoon game is the makeup of another rainout.

"It was going to rain again," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We can't stay here until 2 or 3 in the morning, then play a day-night doubleheader. It made sense to bang it."

The fans were not the only ones inconvenienced.

New York pitcher Dan Giese, scheduled to start the Yankees' first game today, was at Pittsburgh International Airport yesterday afternoon to fly home ahead of the team for some rest. He was told his 4 p.m. flight would be delayed an hour, so he went to get something to eat and was back at the gate at 4:30.

"The plane was gone,'' he said. "They said they paged me. I didn't hear it.''

He was rebooked on a 6 p.m. flight. That never left because of the bad weather.

"It was pretty chaotic,'' he said.

He then returned to PNC Park by 10 p.m. to learn the game had been called.

The capper?

Had play resumed last night, Giese would have been used in relief of starter Mike Mussina, who had pitched the first two innings.

"You look at the first game, and we showed we could compete with them," Russell said. "In the second, we learned that they're a pretty good club. It was a tale of two games, really. And this one, who knows what would have happened?"

There was another indelible impression, too: The capacity crowd last night -- no attendance will be announced until the game is in the books -- would have broken by about 2,000 the ballpark record for a three-game series, that being the 113,144 of Aug. 10-12, 2001, against the San Diego Padres.

And, even though that occurred almost entirely as a result of the opponent, even though some came to cheer the opponent, the electric atmosphere for baseball was something that had not been seen in these parts in recent memory.

It certainly seemed to catch the attention of new management.

"It's fun to see the ballpark full and mostly filled with passionate Pirates fans," team president Frank Coonelly said. "This shows us what we knew, and that's that baseball is not dead in Pittsburgh. The fans are dying for us to be good, and they want to support us. When they're convinced that we've got a plan and that plan can be successful, they're going to be behind us 100 percent."

And how might experiencing that hunger for a winner -- not in the future but now -- affect new management when it decides whether to keep this team intact or trade for prospects?

"The question is a good one," Coonelly replied. "We've said all along that we can't lose sight of the fact that we're building for the long term. Having said that, we've also said that we're excited about this 2008 team, and we think they can do great things, including competing for championships. And we've seen enough to suggest that we might not be crazy."

He laughed.

"We've seen how these guys compete. Every time they fall into a lull and people want to bury us, we come right back. We keep competing against the best teams in baseball."

Russell said the Pirates' players fed off the support.

"It was great, how the fans were into it, involved with every pitch," he said. "It was a neat atmosphere. I know that's a corny term, but that's what it was. It meant a lot to our guys."

The Pirates' average crowd before this series was 17,055.

Paul Maholm got off to an awful start last night, giving up three doubles and a triple to New York's first four batters - Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu with the triple, and Alex Rodriguez - in a span of just 13 pitches to spot the Yankees a 3-0 head start.

The Pirates answered off Mussina in the bottom half, but not as much as they would have liked: Freddy Sanchez's double and Jason Bay's walk were followed by Ryan Doumit's RBI shot through the left side. One out later, Adam LaRoche walked to load the bases, but Jose Bautista flied out.

Each pitcher settled from the there, but the rain soon came.

No statistics count.

Right fielder Xavier Nady rejoined the Pirates' lineup after missing 10 games to a bruised left shoulder and struck out in his lone at-bat.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at
First published on June 27, 2008 at 12:00 am

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Chamberlain Moves From Future Tense to Present

Yankees 10, Pirates 0

The New York Times
Published: June 26, 2008

New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain delivers in a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Pittsburgh, Wednesday, June 25, 2008.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH — It could be that Joba Chamberlain is more than the future ace of the Yankees. With each start he makes, Chamberlain seems closer and closer to being the ace of the moment.

Chamberlain has made five starts for the Yankees, and his earned run average in those games is 1.80, with 26 strikeouts in 25 innings. He overwhelmed the Pittsburgh Pirates for six and two-thirds innings Wednesday night in a 10-0 victory at PNC Park.

It was Chamberlain’s first decision as a starter, and he threw 114 pitches, so many that he could not remember the last time he did so.

“A hundred and fourteen? Shoot, probably sophomore or junior year of college,” said Chamberlain, who went to Nebraska. “Not since I signed. I think 100 was the most I threw in the minor leagues.”

Chamberlain struck out seven and allowed six hits and a walk. His fastball and slider silenced a Pittsburgh lineup that had pounded the Yankees for 12 runs on Tuesday, earning the team a scolding from Manager Joe Girardi.

This time, the Yankees’ offense took over, led by Bobby Abreu, who went 3 for 5 with a homer, a double and four runs batted in. Derek Jeter and Robinson Canó also had three hits apiece.

New York Yankees Robinson Cano high-fives with teammates in the dugout after scoring the Yankees' fifth run with a solo home run in the sixth inning against Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher T.J. Beam at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, June 25, 2008.
(AP Photo/John Heller) (AP Photo/John Heller)

“We started the game with a lot of intensity,” said Abreu, who beat out an infield single in a two-run first inning. “Last night, we were down. We didn’t play the game right. But today, we started to concentrate on everything we did. We scored some runs early, and Joba did a good job.”

Chamberlain said he felt stronger in the later innings than he did early on, because his mechanics were smoother. Abreu threw out a runner at the plate to end the second inning, and the Pirates advanced only one more runner to third.

The Pirates’ Adam LaRoche, who struck out twice against Chamberlain, once on a fastball and once on a slider, said: “He’s pretty deceptive in how he hides the ball. He can make 93 or 94 miles an hour look like 98 or 99. Then the slider is such a huge difference in speed, and he can throw it for a strike. It’s a pitch you have to keep in the back of your head, because he’s not just bouncing it in the dirt.”

LaRoche said he also saw a changeup from Chamberlain, who guessed that he threw three or four, and four or five curveballs. He never threw the changeup and rarely threw the curve as a reliever, and although he does not throw 100 m.p.h. in his new role, he did hit 97 when he struck out Jason Michaels to end the sixth.

That was Chamberlain’s 98th pitch, and with an 8-0 lead, Girardi could have removed him and let the bullpen finish up. But Girardi had said before the game that “the kid gloves are off,” and he let Chamberlain face four more hitters.

He retired the first two before Jack Wilson and Doug Mientkiewicz singled. Mientkiewicz saw seven pitches, but Girardi said that did not make him nervous. More than anything, perhaps, that signaled that the transition from bullpen to rotation was complete.

“I just liked the way the last few innings were going, and I thought he was throwing the ball really well,” Girardi said. “He got ahead of Jack Wilson, 0-2, and I thought maybe we’d keep it around 110. It got a little bit higher, but we were comfortable doing that.”

New York Yankees' Derek Jeter, left, pats teammate Bobby Abreu on the helmet after Abreu hits a three-run home run in the sixth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, June 25, 2008.
(AP Photo/John Heller)

Chamberlain pitched with a lead the whole time. Jeter doubled with one out in the first, and after Abreu’s infield single, Alex Rodriguez walked. Jason Giambi followed with a potential double-play grounder, but Rodriguez broke it up at second and Wilson made an error on his throw to first.

Two runs scored, and the Yankees were leading, 5-0, when Abreu turned on a high, inside fastball from the former Yankee T. J. Beam in the sixth. He smashed an arching three-run shot into the bleachers in right, putting the game well out of reach and shaking a minislump.

Abreu, who was 4 for 40 before he homered on Tuesday, said he was at his best when he tried to hit every pitch through the middle and reacted to inside fastballs. He said he stood taller at the plate and felt more balanced.

“I haven’t been doing my job well the last two weeks,” Abreu said. “But it felt good today to help the team.”

In Pittsburgh, Posada Takes in All Things Clemente

The New York Times
Published: June 26, 2008

PITTSBURGH — Jorge Posada is a five-time All-Star, but this week he is an awestruck fan. The Yankees are playing in Pittsburgh, where Roberto Clemente starred for the Pirates, and Clemente is a hero to Posada.

Associated Press
Catcher Jorge Posada visited a museum honoring Roberto Clemente, above. Posada is from Puerto Rico, as was Clemente.

Posada grew up in Puerto Rico, as did Clemente, and he was a year old when Clemente died in a plane crash in 1972. Clemente is revered in his country, and Posada was eager to take a tour of the Clemente museum in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

He went with another catcher from Puerto Rico, José Molina, and took cellphone pictures of classic Clemente photographs. One is a posed shot of a young Clemente leaping to make a catch, with clouds in the background seeming to form wings on his shoulders. Posada ordered an enlargement of the picture for his home.

Posada said he knows Clemente’s widow, Vera, and he owns a copy of David Maraniss’s acclaimed 2006 biography. But he learned a lot at his tour of the museum.

“Little things, not only baseball stuff,” Posada said. “They wanted him to be in ‘The Odd Couple,’ but he was going to have to hit into a triple play. He wouldn’t do it. He said, ‘I’m never going to hit into a triple play.’ ”

Posada has a sticker in his home locker supporting the movement to retire Clemente’s No. 21 throughout the majors. He would surely approve of the Clemente quotation that every Pirates player sees on his way from the clubhouse to the dugout at PNC Park: “Whenever I put on my uniform,” it says, “I am the proudest man on Earth.”

Jeter makes winning look easy

Thursday, June 26, 2008
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

New York Yankees' Derek Jeter hits his first double in the first inning against Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Zach Duke at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, June 25, 2008.
(AP Photo/John Heller)

There was something demonstrably metaphorical about the way the second game of this Pirates-Yankees affair presented itself to Jack Wilson.

Like a hot bucket of 10 penny nails.

With no handle.

But the metaphor isn't complete unless you compare it to the way Game 2 of this June baseball holiday came to Derek Jeter.

Like a rose ridden by dew drops.

With some chocolate.

And, uh, other nice stuff.

Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be when you've got a Hall of Fame induction ceremony in some datebook not yet published, when you turn 34 years old today with 2,438 career hits and the next person you'll pass on the all-time New York Yankees list in that category will be one George Herman Ruth.

More likely it's just that Jeter made baseball look so deceptively easy last night, the very night when every play that involved his Pittsburgh shortstop counterpart came with a maddening if faultless degree of difficulty.

Before Zach Duke tunneled his way out of the first inning, Wilson had been involved in four defensive plays, each harder than the last.

Melky Cabrera hit Duke's second pitch back through the box, drawing Wilson toward the bag at second, then spun wackily to Jack's right. Wilson gloved it and threw true for the game's first out.

Jeter lifted the next pitch over Nate McLouth's head in center field for a double.

Bobby Abreu sent one into the hole to the right of Wilson, who made a gorgeous sliding stab and whipped it to first late. After Alex Rodriguez walked, Jason Giambi hit a would-be double-play ball to Adam LaRoche at first. LaRoche fed Wilson, who, despite a lapful of ARod, flung it to Duke covering the bag, but just a hair wide for a tough error. Jeter and Abreu scored, then Jorge Posada laced a 2-1 pitch up the middle that Wilson snared with a full web-gem belly flop and gloved it to Freddy Sanchez for the inning-ending force.

For Wilson, a dirty night's work in 15 minutes and nothing to show for it but a 2-0 deficit that would swell to five times its original size.

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
Shortstop Jack Wilson makes a diving stop then shuffles the ball to second baseman Freddy Sanchez for the out at second to end the inning against the Yankees last night at PNC Park.

You think the Pirates would even consider putting Jeter through similar indignities?

McLouth hit him an easy two-hopper in the first,; Sanchez rolled one he barely moved for in the third. In between, Jeter hit one to Wilson behind the bag that Jack bounced 10 feet in front of LaRoche. Jeter got a single, second on the throwing error, and moved to third on Abreu's dribbler to the right side.

His 13-game hit streak established and a 39-game on-base streak in interleague play continuing to be the longest in baseball, Jeter had little to do to amuse himself other than to torture Duke by taking a 45-foot primary lead off third. This was possible because the Pirates had overshifted to defense Giambi, and none of their infielders were any closer to third base than to second.

Duke became unnerved only once, spinning around to make Jeter stroll back toward third. Giambi, not unnerved a bit, stroked his 3-1 pitch to right to bring Jeter in.

Just an inning later, Jeter doubled over McLouth's head again, driving in Justin Christian with the fourth New York run.

"I love the way he swung the bat tonight," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of his shortstop, who'd been battling a hand injury. "He did what Derek does, hit the ball through the middle, drive it the other way. He drove it with authority."

Additionally, he did the other thing Derek does. He won. No active player, according to the Elias Sports Bureah, has a higher personal winning percentage (.600).

Though it was a little less glamorous -- all right a lot less glamorous --Wilson was on base all four times he came up as well. He lined a two-out single to right in the second that got Ryan Doumit thrown out at home by 15 feet. He took a Joba Chamberlain fastball off the right forearm in the fifth. He singled twice more, but, by the time he came up in the seventh, Jeter had retired to the clubhouse for a mineral bath, lofa cleansing and Swedish massage.

Or something.

"To be honest, we weren't thinking too much about last night (the 12-5 spanking by the Pirates); you play every day, and, some days, you're not going to look too good," Jeter said implacably after the Yankees 10-0 win. "Tonight, we got a lead early and just swung that bats well."

That they did, but no one made it look easier than No. 2 in gray.

For No. 2 in white, it seemed a very long night.

Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283. More articles by this author
First published on June 26, 2008 at 12:00 am

Ailing Freedom youngster urges Pirates: 'Have fun'

Thursday, June 26, 2008

By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peter Diana
John Challis shakes hands last night with one of his baseball heroes, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

John Challis, the Freedom youngster who has gained national attention for his battle with cancer, wrote a message on the eraser board of the Pirates' clubhouse yesterday afternoon.

"Have fun," it said. "The reason why we play ball is fun."

He signed his name underneath.

Challis, 18, also delivered a brief speech in the closed clubhouse to all players and staff, after which everyone in the room stood and applauded. From there, he spent extra time with first baseman Adam LaRoche to "talk about hunting and stuff," then sat in manager John Russell's office -- his chair, actually -- during Russell's afternoon news conference.

Asked to compare his battle to those faced daily by Major League Baseball players, Challis laughed and replied: "Baseball's not that complicated. You swing the bat, and you hit the ball. You don't worry about your stats. You just play the game."

Of his fate, he said: "God thinks I'm strong enough to handle it. He's just using me to spread His message."

Before Challis took his seats for the game, he also met with "the player I really want to meet" when he spoke with New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter during batting practice.

"If we can all show the courage and faith that John has, or even half of it, we'd all be better off," Russell said. "The unselfishness that's a part of his life should be a lesson to all of us."

Challis announced the creation of his Courage For Life Foundation to benefit high school students with terminal illnesses. The Web site is

First published on June 26, 2008 at 12:00 am

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Roethlisberger: Steelers can contend for Super Bowl

By Scott Brown
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger instructs campers during a 7-on-7 game Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at his football camp at the Mars High School stadium in Adams Twp.
Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review

Ben Roethlisberger is taking a break from football and going fishing. The Steelers quarterback made it clear, however, that no matter what he catches next week, his focus is ultimately on reeling in something much bigger.

"Hopefully, we win the Super Bowl," Roethlisberger said Tuesday while working at the youth camp that bears his name at Mars High School's football field. "That's my goal this year and I think we've got the personnel for it."

Roethlisberger may be the biggest reason for optimism in regard to the Steelers attaining that goal. He is coming off a breakout season, one in which he made the Pro Bowl and shattered a Steelers single-season record with 32 touchdown passes, and he should have better command of the offense Bruce Arians installed last year.

Roethlisberger didn't just crack the ranks of elite quarterbacks last season. He also established himself the unquestioned leader of the offense in his fourth year as the Steelers' starting quarterback.

"I think it's been a gradual process, but you could kind of see it coming along last year," Steelers tight end Heath Miller said. "He knew that this was his offense, and he knew that everyone in the huddle was looking into his eyes because they knew he was our leader."

Roethlisberger, 26, admittedly has had to grow into that role -- he took over a veteran-laden offense when an injury thrust him into the starting lineup as a rookie in 2004 -- and he said he plans to be even more vocal this season since he is more comfortable with Arians' offense.

"Because it was a new offense (last season) it's kind of hard to be too vocal as a leader when you're not sure what's going on all the time on offense," Roethlisberger said. "This year I think I'll be able to develop even more and hopefully just be able to continue to grow into my leadership role."

Even though the Steelers are finished with offseason practices and don't report to training camp until July 27, Roethlisberger said he has been preparing in earnest for the upcoming season.

The 6-foot-5, 241-pounder said he will return to Pittsburgh after his fishing trip and resume working out on a daily basis as well as chatting with Arians, the Steelers' offensive coordinator, regularly.

As for what he can do following a season in which he finished second only to Tom Brady in passer rating (104.1) and also befuddled opponents with his Houdini-like ability to escape the pass rush, Roethlisberger said there is plenty.

"I'm never going to be satisfied with where I'm at," Roethlisberger said. "I'm always going to try and get better, whether it's reading defenses better, knowing what's going on, on offense. There's a lot of little things I'd like to do to get better."

And if Roethlisberger manages to get better, the Steelers only figure to do the same.

The team won an AFC North title but faded in the latter part of the 2007 season and lost to Jacksonville, 29-27, in an AFC wild-card game.

Despite the disappointing end to a season that started with such promise, Roethlisberger said he is confident the Steelers can contend for the Super Bowl this year.

"I think we've got a lot of pieces," he said, "and we're a year better."

Scott Brown can be reached at or 412-481-5432.

Pirates 12, Yankees 5

Maz back; Bucs crush Yankees

By Rob Biertempfel
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski throws out the first pitch Tuesday, June 24, before the Pirates game against the New York Yankees at PNC Park.

Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review

Three months ago, during a spring training game, the New York Yankees showed up the Pirates by putting comedian Billy Crystal into their starting lineup against them.

Tuesday night, it was a laugher of a different sort.

The Pirates mashed two home runs, banged out 19 hits and mauled the not-so-mighty Yankees, 12-5, before a delirious, standing-room crowd.

With fans packed shoulder-to-shoulder on the left-field rotunda, the gathering of 38,867 was the third-largest in PNC Park history.

"I haven't seen that many people since we opened the stadium," shortstop Jack Wilson said. "When we scored in the first inning, you really heard it."

Said catcher Ryan Doumit, "It was a playoff-ish atmosphere."

Jose Bautista hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning off right-hander Darrell Rasner (4-5). Doumit, back in the lineup for the first time in a week after sustaining a concussion, hit a long solo shot in the fifth.

Adam LaRoche nearly went deep on the pitch after Doumit's homer, but the ball hit inches from the top of the center field wall. LaRoche wound up with his first triple in two years.

The Pirates amassed a season-high nine extra-base hits, including six doubles.

"Maybe it's contagious," Doumit said. "We got one big hit after another."

The Pirates' Ryan Doumit celebrates his fifth-inning, solo home run against the New York Yankees Tuesday, June 24, at PNC Park.
Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review

Nate McLouth and Jason Bay each doubled twice. Freddy Sanchez had three hits. LaRoche also had a pair of RBI singles to notch his third three-hit game of the season.

It was the Pirates' first regular-season victory against the Yankees in 10 tries. It snapped a 48-year wait for a win in Pittsburgh, which began after Maz's homer soared out of Forbes Field in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

"Nobody was intimidated," LaRoche said. "Nobody's looking over into that dugout thinking, 'Oh, man, I can't believe we're playing New York.' No. It's another team, another chance to win a game, and we took advantage of it."

The scoring spree allowed the Pirates to overcome another uneven outing by left-hander Tom Gorzelanny.

Gorzelanny (6-6) went six innings, and each of them involved heavy lifting. He gave up three runs on six hits and five walks and hit one batter.

Of Gorzelanny's 99 pitches, only 47 were strikes. The Yankees might have put up a few more runs if Derek Jeter had shown more patience at the plate.

"I got in some ugly situations," Gorzelanny said. "But when it came down to it, I made some pretty big pitches."

Pittsburgh Pirates' Jose Bautista, left, heads home after hitting a two-run home run off New York Yankees starting pitcher Darrell Rasner, right, in the fourth inning of the baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, June 24, 2008.
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Melky Cabrera walked to lead off the game. But on a 2-0 pitch, Jeter grounded into an easy double play.

The Pirates were leading, 2-0, in the third inning when Gorzelanny threw two strikes to Rasner. Gorzelanny's next 10 pitches were balls.

With two runners on base, Jeter jumped at a 3-1 pitch and hit a comebacker. Gorzelanny snagged the ball, looked briefly toward third, then turned and threw to second base.

Again, Gorzelanny's throw was slightly off-target. But Wilson lunged to make the catch and get a force out.

Three pitches later, Bobby Abreu grounded into an inning-ending double play.

"Gorzo did a great job battling through his stuff today," Wilson said. "He didn't really make a lot of good pitches early on, but he made the good pitches when it counted and got us the double-play balls."

Gorzelanny got two quick outs in the fourth, then gave up Jorge Posada's double, Robinson Cano's RBI single and Justin Christian's first major-league hit.

When Rasner walked again, loading the bases and drawing boos. But Cabrera grounded into a fielder's choice, snuffing the threat

"The whole game bothered me," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We stunk, is the bottom line. We stunk."

The Yankees' big guns -- Jeter, Abreu, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi -- went a combined 2 for 15.

Rob Biertempfel can be reached at or 412-320-7811.

Gorzo's start good enough

By Joe Starkey
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tom Gorzelanny pitches against the New York Yankees in the third inning of their Interleague MLB baseball game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania June 24, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Cohn (UNITED STATES)

Tom Gorzelanny made something of a name for himself by winning 14 games last season -- just not enough of one to reach parts of New York City, apparently.

That became clear 2 1/2 hours before the first pitch Tuesday night at PNC Park, during a verbal volley between one of an unusually large number of reporters milling around the visiting clubhouse and Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

Reporter: "Do you know much about Gorzelanny?"

Jeter: "No. Is that who's pitching?"

Reporter: "You faced him last year (a 5-4 Yankees victory)."

Jeter: "How did we do?"

Reporter: "I don't know."

Jeter: "I really don't know, either. I have no idea."

Not one of the more riveting exchanges in journalism history, but it served to underscore the fact that Jeter -- like a lot of us -- needs to see more before Gorzelanny makes any kind of lasting impression.

That remains true after the Pirates' 12-5 victory, one in which Gorzelanny offset bouts of wildness with some clutch pitches.

By definition, it was a quality start.

In reality, it was a mediocre one -- six innings, six hits, five walks, three earned runs.

But that leads to a critical point: Mediocre starts usually are good enough with the way the Pirates have been pounding the ball this season. Last night's win, in which they smacked 19 hits, gave them a 27-17 record when the starter merely lasts six innings.

Problem is, Gorzelanny and Ian Snell -- the Pirates' alleged aces -- haven't been close to mediocre for most of the season. They've been awful. Gorzelanny had failed to make it through six innings in half of his 14 starts before last night. Snell, who might miss his next start with a sore elbow, has not made it that far in seven of 16.

For much of last night's game, Gorzelanny (6-6, 6.43 earned-run average) flirted with disaster, throwing just 47 of his 99 pitches for strikes.

"He was I guess what you'd call effectively wild," said Jeter, who hit into a double play and later left runners on first and second. "He had problems finding the strike zone, but we didn't knock him out, maybe, when we had a chance to.

"He made some pitches when he needed them, and they literally were hitting from the first pitch of the game (Nate McLouth's leadoff double)."

Yankees pitcher Darrell Rasner had never reached first base in a major league game (in six at-bats) before Gorzelanny treated him to a pair of free trips. The first mound visit from catcher Ryan Doumit came after the sixth pitch of a two-walk first inning. The first visit from pitching coach Jeff Andrews came in the midst of 10 straight balls in the third. The crowd cheered sarcastically when Gorzelanny broke the streak.

A couple of double plays helped keep the Yankees scoreless through three. After giving up a run in the fourth, Gorzelanny worked out of a bases-loaded jam when he got leadoff man Melky Cabrera on a fielder's choice. He finished his night by retiring Cabrera on a fly out to center with a runner on second.

"I wish I could go out there and cruise through a game," Gorzelanny said. "I haven't done it all year, but you take what you can get."

Somebody asked Jeter, during that pre-game media scrum, to explain the Yankees' improved play of late.

"First and foremost, it's been our pitching," he said. "Any time you're winning a lot of games, it usually has to do with your pitching."

Don't the Pirates know it. They allowed a total of 15 runs during their season-high, six-game winning streak last month.

On many other nights, the starting pitching has been terrible. If it can somehow be upgraded to mediocre -- especially at the top of the rotation -- a winning season is possible.

Joe Starkey is a sports writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at

Buoyed by crowd, Pirates bury Yankees

Bautista, Doumit blasts bring 12-5 rout in historic meeting

Wednesday, June 25, 2008
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
Jose Bautista is greeted at home plate by Doug Mientkiewicz after hitting a two-run homer against the Yankees last night at PNC Park.

Not long before the Pirates took the field at PNC Park last night, there had been some clubhouse chatter about what they might expect.

Not from the New York Yankees.

Not even from the historical implications of the Yankees' first visit to Pittsburgh in 48 years.

No, they were talking about, of all things, the crowd.

"It's one of those things where we didn't really know what kind of mob to expect," left fielder Jason Bay would recall later. "Would they be for us? Would they be for the Yankees?"


"Well, we found out."

They surely did, as the hanging-over-the-railings gathering of 38,867 was dominantly in favor of the home team and, most important, was given ample cause to cheer and chant all through the 12-5 rout last night: Jose Bautista and Ryan Doumit each homered as part of a relentless 19-hit attack.

By the ninth inning, in a scene that can be compared to precious few this decade, the third-largest crowd since PNC opened stood spontaneously and roared in unison, "Let's go Bucs!" in search of the final out.

"Outstanding!" center fielder Nate McLouth said. "And did you see that nobody left? It was 12-3, and they were still there for us."

"And loud!" reliever Damaso Marte chimed in.

Thing is, as some players pointed out, many fans probably needed to be won over. Fifteen years of losing can have that effect.

"I don't know how people might have felt about us, what kind of chance they thought we had to be competitive with those guys," shortstop Jack Wilson said. "And I think that's why it was good for us to come out and swing the bats well."

Swing they did: The Pirates tied a 2008 high for hits, including six doubles and a triple, and got three-hit games from Doumit, Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche. That ran their season run total to 382, fifth-highest in Major League Baseball.

Even the Yankees, who had flicked away the Pirates like fleas in taking the teams' first six interleague meetings, had gotten wind of that.

Asked if he was surprised by the output, New York manager Joe Girardi replied, "Oh, no. This club has scored a lot of runs. We knew that coming in."

Pirates Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski waits in the dugout before throwing out the first ball at the start of last night's game with the New York Yankees at PNC Park last night.

The atmosphere was set 10 minutes before game time, when Bill Mazeroski threw the ceremonial first pitch, but only after the video board replayed his legendary home run that beat the Yankees in the 1960 World Series and, then, only after Mazeroski paused during a long, loud ovation.

"I'll tell you, Pittsburgh has gotten into this Yankees thing in a big way," Mazeroski said.

It took all of one pitch from New York starter Darrell Rasner to set the more tangible tone, with McLouth drilling a double to the fence in right-center. A wild pitch and Sanchez's single brought him home, Sanchez taking an extra base on an error. One out later, LaRoche's liner into center made it 2-0.

Bay's double into the North Side Notch added a run in the third.

The Yankees got one off Tom Gorzelanny in the fourth, but the Pirates then poured it on ...

Doug Mientkiewicz started the fourth with a single, and Bautista sent a 1-2 Rasner changeup into the bleachers to make it 5-1. It was Bautista's ninth home run, fifth in nine games.

With two outs in the fifth, Doumit, back after missing five games to a concussion, lined a 1-0 fastball into the seats beyond right-center. It was his 10th home run, fifth in eight games. Next, LaRoche tripled and scored on a wild pitch. It was 7-1.

"They hit the ball hard every time I got it up," Rasner said after seven runs in his five innings. "Those guys looked very comfortable against me."

New York scored twice off Gorzelanny in the sixth to instill a little suspense, but Tyler Yates and Marte delivered scoreless relief while LaRoche's RBI single and Mientkiewicz's sacrifice fly in the seventh added two, and back-to-back RBI doubles by Nyjer Morgan and Doumit in the eighth piled on.

Gorzelanny had a bizarre start but, officially, a quality one: He held the Yankees to three runs over six innings despite six hits and five walks. Only 47 of 99 pitches were strikes, a stunningly low ratio.

Still, he improved to 6-6, leading the staff in victories.

"I made some good pitches at the right time," Gorzelanny said.

The only downer: Bay left the game after the seventh inning with slight tightness in the groin. But he is not expected to miss any time.

Peter Diana / Post-Gazette
Freddy Sanchez slides safely in to second as ball gets away from Robinson Cano.

Otherwise ...

"This was fun," Doumit said. "We'd like to see more of this kind of crowd. But, obviously, we've got to earn that. We've got to keep winning, keep earning that respect."

That might take time, some would suggest. An article in the New York Post yesterday described the Pirates as "pitiful."

"There could be some crow eaten over that one," Doumit said.

"We have a lot of respect for the Yankees, and we want to be where they are," McLouth said. "But we're big-leaguers, too."

Still, the Pirates seemed to be far from crowing after this one. Even as there was an air of confidence afterward, they also displayed a clear realization that being three games under .500, no matter how exuberantly one outcome was received, was no cause for bravado.

As Wilson put it, "Enjoy it tonight. We've got to get back to work tomorrow."

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at
First published on June 25, 2008 at 12:00 am

Everybody does their part except Yankees

Wednesday, June 25, 2008
By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh Pirates Ryan Doumit (41) congratulates teammate Freddy Sanchez (R) as he scores against the New York Yankees on a double by teammate Jason Bay in the third inning of their Interleague MLB baseball game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania June 24, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Cohn (UNITED STATES)

If it's the Yankees in Pittsburgh, it must be a World Series. Right?

And that's the way Pittsburgh treated it last night at PNC Park. The town is so starved for meaningful baseball that it lunged at the opportunity to make the Yankees first non-exhibition game appearance in Pittsburgh since the 1960 World Series something extra special.

Every seat for the three-game series was sold in March, the first day the public had a chance at them. They all showed last night, too, 38,867 to be exact, which was the third-largest crowd in PNC Park history. The Pirates loved it.

Ryan Doumit, who homered and had three hits, called the atmosphere "playoffish," and said, "I could get use to this."

Jason Bay, who had two doubles and drove in a run, said: "It was like the All-Star game [in 2006]. There was an electricity in the crowd. We did something, and the place went crazy."

It was all there, except for one ingredient: The opposition.

Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson (R) turns the double play over New York Yankees Derek Jeter (2) in the third inning of their Interleague MLB baseball game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania June 24, 2008. Yankees Bobby Abreu was out on the play as well. REUTERS/Jason Cohn (UNITED STATES)

The Yankees, the most famous franchise in baseball if not all sports, are what drew this crowd. It was the prospect of watching Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, two certain Hall of Famers, and being in the vicinity of that great Yankees history and tradition that packed the place. A ticket was a badge of honor, and, just like at a World Series, many were there not so much because it was a baseball game but because it was an event.

But the Yankees never showed.

Where was the team with the $200 million payroll? Where was the team that had won eight of its past 10 games and appeared to be making a move in the American League East after a slow start? That team never surfaced and became a 12-5 loser against a Pirates onslaught that never rested. The Pirates scored in six of their eight at-bats.

It's not like the Yankees weren't presented with a splendid opportunity to flex those well-known, if somewhat missing in action, offensive muscles against Tom Gorzelanny, who, as has been the case most of the season, wasn't very good.

Gorzelanny wobbled through six innings, throwing 99 pitches, 52 of which were balls. He allowed six hits, five walks -- four in the first three innings -- and one hit batsman. But, for all those baserunners, the Yankees could get only one run through five innings and three in six against Gorzelanny.

This was no Murderers' Row, as the great 1927 Yankees team of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were known, but a Multimillionaire's Row. Batters two through six for the Yankees all earn eight-figure salaries, and three take home more than $20 million annually. It was this group, and, perhaps, only this group, that Gorzelanny handled.

Pittsburgh Pirates' Ryan Doumit (41) rounds third past New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, left, after hitting a fifth-inning solo home run off Yankees pitcher Darrell Rasner in a baseball game at Pittsburgh Tuesday, June 24, 2008. The Pirates won 12-5.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

There was no greater example of Yankees ineptitude, and Gorzelanny's brass, than the third. He opened the inning by going 0-2 on his pitching opponent, Darrell Rasner. He then threw eight consecutive balls to Rasner and Melky Cabrera. The Yankees had Gorzelanny right where they wanted him. Due up were Derek Jeter, salary $21.6 million; Bobby Abreu, $16 million; Alex Rodriguez, $28 million; Jason Giambi, $23.4 million; and Jorge Posada, $13.1 million. The salary of those five batters was $102 million, more than twice the Pirates' current 25-man payroll.

Gorzelanny looked to be in deep trouble. But, as manager John Russell would put it, "he battled all night."

Jeter bounced the ball sharply to Gorzelanny, who could have had a double play by going to third or second. He looked at third and then threw badly to second, eliminating any chance for the double play. No matter. Rodriguez obliged with another double-play grounder, and this one was converted superbly by Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson.

In the seventh, the Yankees' big hitters had another crack at the Pirates when Jeter doubled to start the inning against Tyler Yates, who replaced Gorzelanny. But Abreu popped up, Rodriguez grounded out and, after Damaso Marte replaced Yates, Giambi struck out.

In a game with two ineffective starting pitchers, it shouldn't be that big of a surprise that the Pirates would have the edge. After all, they've hit more homers, 80-77, and scored more runs, 382-356, than the Yankees.

"We swung the bats well, and we kept the pressure on them the whole game, Russell said. "We kept adding on, which is very important against a team like that."

The atmosphere of the night was not lost on Russell, who keeps his emotions in check. "It was a great night. The fans were into it, and the players fed off that."

Bob Smizik can be reached at
First published on June 25, 2008 at 12:00 am

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wilson's life is great despite all the losing

Tuesday, June 24, 2008
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It's true, everything really is relative.

"What are we? Four games under .500? That's nothing," Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson was saying the other day.

"I've been on a lot of teams here that would have loved to be in this position at this point of the season. Last year's team. The year before that. The year before that ..."

OK, enough already.

We get the idea.

Wilson has played on a lot of dreadful Pirates teams.

Would you believe a collective 170 games under .500 in his eight seasons?

With New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter in town for a three-game series starting tonight at PNC Park, this seemed like a good time to ask Wilson -- the longest-tenured Pirates player -- if he feels cheated by the baseball gods. Jeter, also a shortstop, has won four World Series rings and been to the playoffs every year since joining the Yankees in 1995. Wilson hasn't played on even one winning team.

It just doesn't seem right.

Does the great Jeter really have to be so greedy?

"That's a dream career right there," Wilson said of Jeter's Yankees days.

"But my life is great, too. It's pointless to think what it would be like if I was somewhere else. I'm not there. I'm here. Does the losing suck? Sure, it does. But I love what I'm doing. I feel like I'm blessed beyond belief."

The money is a part of it. Wilson knows it's foolish to say otherwise. This is a guy who couldn't afford to get his teeth fixed when he joined the Pirates in 2001. Now, he's making $6.65 million this season as a part of the three-year, $20.2 million extension through '09 that he signed before the '06 season, although he says, "We still shop at Wal-Mart."

But there's more to it.

Pittsburgh Pirates' Jack Wilson (2) slides safely into third ahead of the relay throw to Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Scott Rolen, left, in the first inning of a baseball game at Pittsburgh, Sunday, June 22, 2008. Wilson advanced from first to third on a single by Pirates' Nate McLouth.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Wilson said he loves Pittsburgh. "When I first came up, they took me in here and they've been with me ever since." He said he's happy to be raising his young family -- son Jacob, 6, and daughters Jaidyn, 2, and Jersi, 9 months -- at his in-season home in the North Hills. He said he likes playing with his teammates, especially good pals Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay. And he said he still believes the Pirates are going to win one day, even if a lot of us don't see it happening in our lifetime.

"If you don't trust in your teammates and think you can win, why come to the field every day?" Wilson asked. "Why even get up in the morning?"

That unshakable belief is why Wilson said he wasn't heartbroken when he wasn't traded to the Detroit Tigers last year. You might be thinking what I'm thinking: All the players say they want to stay with the Pirates, yet all would just about kill to go to a team that has a better chance of winning. But Wilson said he proved his commitment by signing his new contract and giving up his right to become a free agent after last season.

"It looked like that trade was going to happen. The Louisville people even sent me bats with Detroit Tigers on them," Wilson said.

"I was OK with it if it happened. I'm a believer. Whatever is God's plan for me is God's plan. My goal at that point was, if it happened, I was going to show the Tigers why they were right to want me, and, if it didn't, I was going to show the Pirates why they were right for keeping me. I ended up having a pretty good second half."

This season hasn't been so kind to Wilson. The Pirates might be having a decent year by their horrendous standards -- they are 36-40, in fourth place in the National League Central Division and trail the first-place Chicago Cubs by 12 games -- but that's still brutal baseball. On top of that, Wilson missed most of April and May with a calf injury.

"I'm just so happy to be playing," he said.

Pittsburgh Pirates' left to right, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson and Nate McLouth celebrate their 5-4 win against the Baltimore Orioles in a baseball game Sunday, June 15, 2008 in Baltimore.
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Wilson doesn't plan on playing much longer. He said he sees himself "shutting it down after I get in 10 years." That would take him through the '10 season, when the Pirates have an $8.4 million option on him.

"Everything changes when you have kids," Wilson said. "You have a new reason for playing and a new reason for getting out.

"Having three little ones is a very tough road for my wife. I want to help her raise our kids. I want to see them grow up."

The Pirates had better hurry if they're going to win a championship in the Wilson era. He said he often has thought about how "phenomenal" that would be. He was here in January '06 for PirateFest and saw the energy generated by the Steelers before they beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. He saw the same enthusiasm this spring during the Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup final.

"It would mean everything if we could do it," Wilson said. "All the games, all the seasons that have gone wrong ... everything would be fixed. All the bad stuff would go away. I could say we seriously accomplished something huge."

A guy can dream, can't he?

In millions and millions of ways, one championship for Wilson would trump Jeter's four.

Hey, it's all relative, right?

Ron Cook can be reached at
First published on June 24, 2008 at 12:00 am

Monday, June 23, 2008

Longtime ushers recall 1960 World Series

By John Grupp
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Phil Coyne, a 90-years-young PNC Park usher, was working Game 7 during the 1960 World Series at Forbes Field between the Pirates and New York Yankees.

Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review

Phil Coyne celebrated his 90th birthday earlier this spring, but he flashed a youthful smile when asked about Bill Mazeroski's home run.

"We were all caught up in it," he said. "We couldn't believe it had happened. We were all jumping around. My section was practically cleared. They just jumped right out on the field."

Coyne is among a handful of men who still work as ushers for the Pirates, nearly a half-century after witnessing Game 7 of the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees at Forbes Field.

Whether they were seated in a fold-out chair along the third-base line or stationed in a section behind home plate, their memories of Mazeroski's game-winning home run -- and the mayhem it touched off -- remain vivid.

"It's something that you've read about and seen," said Buddy Diulus, 76, of Greenfield, an usher along the third-base line at the neighborhood park in Oakland when Maz hit the only Game 7 walk-off home run in MLB history, "but it was truly exciting."

Those visions will be rekindled tonight when the Yankees play the Pirates at PNC Park in their first visit to Pittsburgh since the 1960 World Series.

These days, Diulus works along the first-base line at Pirates' games. Coyne, of Oakland, greets ticket holders in Section 26-27 on the third-base line, in much the same way he has for the past 72 years.

Coyne was sitting in a small metal chair on the third-base line at Forbes Field. He said the atmosphere for Game 7 was different than the previous games. The Pirates had been blown out by the Yankees at Forbes Field twice in the previous week -- including a 12-0 blowout one day earlier in Game 6 -- in front of 38,580 fans.

"The whole series, we were so far behind people started to leave and were grouching," he said. "But that day it seemed like everybody stayed, like they had the premonition that something was going to happen."

While Coyne showed the optimistic fans their seats before Game 7, he couldn't keep them there after the ball cleared the ivy-lined wall in left field, and the Pirates had secured one of the more unlikely World Series championships. Fans streamed onto the field as Mazeroski, waving his helmet in the air, circled the bases.

"I stayed in my place," Coyne said. "There was nothing you could do as far as keeping them off the field."

Tony Delvecchio, 88, of Greenfield was working behind home plate and didn't have to worry about fans rushing the diamond because of the protective screen. He had attended the 1935 game at Forbes Field when Babe Ruth smacked the final three home runs of his career, but he said nothing compared to the 1960 World Series.

"It was crazy," Delvecchio, in his 70th year as an usher, said while standing along the first-base line before a Blue Jays-Pirates game last week. "They were hollering with joy. ... Oakland was a madhouse."

Said Coyne, "We've seen the Pirates in the 1970s with some great baseball teams, but nothing was as exciting as that. This was the first thing that ever happened to Pittsburgh, let's put it that way,"

Coyne lived down the street from Forbes Field and went home as the town celebrated its first World Series title -- or any championship of note -- since 1925.

"I didn't know what was going on downtown and even in Oakland," he said. "I went to work the next day and found out they tore up the town."

Said Diulus, "It was wild. We got out of there. I walked home, but I never came back to Oakland that night. It was too much."

There was a sense of disbelief. The Yankees had hit a record .338 as a team, yet somehow failed to win their ninth World Series in 14 years.

Coyne recalled how spirits were so low when the Yankees beat the Pirates, 16-3, at Forbes Field in Game 2. Coyne had invited his mom, using the free ticket in right field that each usher received for one World Series game. It was her first baseball game at nearby Forbes Field.

"The Pirates got killed and she left in the seventh inning," Coyne said. "She came over and saw me and said, 'How can you put up with this? Do they do this all the time?' ''

John Grupp can be reached at or 412-320-7930.

Pirates must do whatever it takes to keep Bay

By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sunday, June 22, 2008

John Heller/Associated Press
Jason Bay -- His revitalized All-Star form, among other factors, has management thinking about keeping him.

Very quietly, as is his style, Jason Bay once again has become Jason Bay. That is to say, after a disappointing 2007 season, he again has become one of the best offensive outfielders in the National League.

Although Bay doesn't overwhelm with a set of gaudy numbers, the cumulative effect of his statistics is impressive.

He hit his 15th home run last night in the Pirates' 6-3 win against the Toronto Blue Jays at PNC Park. It was one of three two-run homers the Pirates had in support of Paul Maholm, who pitched seven innings.

The homer left Bay tied for fifth among National League outfielders. His on-base percentage of .391 is third best among outfielders. In the most important offensive category, OPS (on base plus slugging percentage), Bay also was fifth at .917. He was third in walks with 48 and seventh in slugging with .526.

All those numbers are in line with the way Bay performed in 2005 and 2006, when he established himself as a top offensive player. In 2005, he led the National League outfielders in OPS and he was third in 2006.

The Pirates are an unheard-of third in the National League in runs, and a lot of that has to do with Bay and the two men who play beside him, center fielder Nate McLouth and right fielder Xavier Nady, who missed his sixth consecutive game with a bruised left shoulder. For the Pirates, though, this level of success presents a dilemma. Although McLouth, who will be eligible for arbitration next year, isn't going anywhere, Nady and Bay have options. Both are eligible for free agency after the 2009 season.

Their success this season is forcing the Pirates to make decisions in advance.

Nady, who is batting .314 with 10 homers and 49 RBIs, is a client of Scott Boras, which means he almost certainly will reject any overtures to sign a long-term contract and will test free agency. Because that is the case, the Pirates will dangle Nady in front of contenders next month, in the hopes of securing a couple of prospects.

Pittsburgh Pirates' Jason Bay (38) doubles to deep left field off Washington Nationals pitcher John Lannan in the first innng of a baseball game at Pittsburgh Wednesday, June 11, 2008. Pirates' Nate McLouth, rear center, scored from third on the double and the Pirates went on to win 3-1. Catching is Nationals Jesus Flores.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

They could do the same with Bay but probably won't and definitely shouldn't. If the Pirates trade Nady and Bay, they could find themselves woefully short in the outfield. The only two prospects on the horizon are Andrew McCutchen and Steve Pearce. McCutchen is as close to a sure-thing as there might be in the unpredictable sport of baseball. Pearce, though, is far from that and he's having a tough time with Class AAA pitching.

Bay might be amenable to staying with the Pirates -- at the right price. He already has signed one long-term contract and there's reason to believe he'd do another.

The question for the Pirates is this: Are they willing to pay Bay the kind of salary he would command on the open market?

The new management team of president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington has shown a willingness to spend some money. Freddy Sanchez and Ian Snell signed long-term deals this year. But their contracts would pale next to what Bay would receive.

Not since they signed Jason Kendall to a six-year, $60 million deal have the Pirates signed a player to a contract that averages eight figures. But that's what it will take to keep Bay.

There will be no six-year deal with Bay -- or anybody. The Pirates learned the foolishness of contracts of such length with Kendall. But Bay might be agreeable, after this season and before free agency is at hand, to sign a three-year extension at, say, $33 million. That's $11 million a season. It's high, but it's what Bay, if he continues to return to his 2004-06 form, will deserve.

Will the Pirates step up with that kind of money?

They don't have much choice. The fan base has been exceedingly patient. The franchise has to make a commitment to its best players.

Bay, who had knee problems last year, is enjoying his pain-free season.

"I want to be the guy I was before the down year last year," he said. "I just want to be consistent and drive in runs and score runs. I feel like I'm not fighting myself this year. I'm just letting it happen."

After being rookie of the year in 2004, making the All-Star team in '05 and being named an All-Star starter in '06, last year was a difficult time for Bay.

"It was very tough," he said. "My first three years personally had gone well and now, all of a sudden, the team is not doing well and I'm not helping and that's a whole different ball game to deal with.

"I tried to make the best of it and I think it made me a better person and a better player. I'm not glad it happened but I'm taking a positive from it and I'm learning from it."

Judging from his play this season, he has learned his lessons well. If he keeps playing as he has, the Pirates have a decision to make.

But, really, it shouldn't be hard at all. It's one they have to make.

Bob Smizik can be reached at
First published on June 22, 2008 at 8:14 pm

In 1960, a Series to Remember (or Forget)

The New York Times
Published: June 24, 2008

PITTSBURGH — Typically, Herb Soltman and his legion of Pittsburgh Pirates fans have only one day a year to pay homage to the most dramatic ending in the 104 years of World Series play, when Bill Mazeroski blasted a game-ending, Game 7 home run off Yankees reliever Ralph Terry at Forbes Field.

Jeff Swensen for The New York Times

DRAMATIC FINISH Yankees left fielder Yogi Berra watching the clinching homer by the Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski clear the ivy-covered wall at Forbes Field.

The victory is so revered here that for the last 22 years, on the game’s Oct. 13 anniversary, 100 or more Pirates faithful gather in the Oakland neighborhood where Forbes Field stood before it was torn down in 1973.

The ceremony has all the trappings of a religious occasion. There is the icon — the remaining 230-foot-long, 12-foot-tall, red-brick wall section covered in green ivy. There is scripture to be heard — a tape of the original game. And food to be consumed — hot dogs, of course, with the sainted 1960 Pirates players who return to enjoy the memory. The locals Bob Friend and Dick Groat often show up, and in a good year, Mazeroski.

“To me, it’s still the most important day of the year,” said Soltman, 72, a retired retail packaging distributor who attended the game in 1960 and helps organize the ceremony.

Thanks to interleague play, this year, Soltman and his fellow 1960 revelers have three more chances to reminisce about that Series and where they were that day. Beginning Tuesday, the Pirates host the Yankees in Pittsburgh for the first time since the 1960 Series.

So much time has elapsed that the Yankees never played in Three Rivers Stadium, which replaced Forbes and was replaced by the team’s current home, PNC Park, in 2001.

Remembering the game is not as fond for the visitors. “I still think we outplayed them,” said the Yankees’ Whitey Ford, who pitched two shutouts in the Series. “We just felt we were a better team. And then to get beat by a second baseman who didn’t hit many home runs? I still can’t believe it.”

The Pirates had not won a World Series since 1925 and were one of the worst teams in the majors for much of the 1950s, but their fans and former players recall the victory as not just a baseball win, but a boost for a city that had begun to lose its steel industry and its population and was looking for something to hold onto.

“I think the city of Pittsburgh more than any other city of the 20th century has used sports to tell its story to the world,” said Robert Ruck, a senior lecturer in the department of history at the University of Pittsburgh, who teaches a course on sports history. “And Pittsburgh used Mazeroski’s home run to transform itself from the Steel City to the City of Champions.”

Since interleague games began in 1997, there have been many of these series reminding fans of World Series games contested decades before.

Two weekends ago, the Pirates visited Baltimore for the first time since they won the 1979 — “We Are Family” — World Series against the Orioles. That same weekend, the Red Sox played the Reds in Cincinnati for the first time since the Reds won the 1975 — “Carlton Fisk Foul Pole Home Run” — World Series against the Sox.

But few, if any, approach the triumph and pathos that lingers in the wake of the 1960 World Series, called at times the most improbable, or schizophrenic, or simply the strangest Series ever.

The Yankees scored twice as many runs as the Pirates (55 to 27), got 31 more hits (91 to 60), had nearly double the number of extra-base hits (27 to 15) and established a team batting average record (.338). And they still lost.

The Yankees’ Bobby Richardson (12 runs batted in) is still the only Series most valuable player to come from the losing team.

Jeff Swensen for The New York Times

Mazeroski today

There was not a single strikeout in Game 7, the only time that has happened in 601 World Series games.

When it was over, the Yankees great Mickey Mantle cried, the only time his teammates said they saw his tears after a loss.

“It was one of the worst afternoons of my young life,” said Peter Golenbock, 62, a lifelong Yankees fan and the author of several books about the Yankees of that era. “I wasn’t used to that. None of us were. I was used to the three games they won that Series. I wasn’t used to losing close games to a second-rate team.”

Coming into the Series, the Pirates were widely seen as the sacrificial lamb on the altar of the Yankee Dynasty that was in the process of winning 10 out of 16 World Series from 1947 to 1962.

“The sportswriters, especially those guys from New York, never gave us a chance,” said Bill Virdon, the Pirates’ fleet-footed center fielder on the 1960 team. “They didn’t bother to look at how we got there.”

While the Yankees, led by Mantle, Moose Skowron and the newly acquired Roger Maris, lit up the American League, hitting a league-record 193 homers and winning 97 games, the Pirates were winning 95 games the hard way.

“This was a team that came from behind from the seventh inning on 40 times during the season,” said Groat, the Pirates’ shortstop and the 1960 league most valuable player. “We just didn’t think we could lose. And we just rode that into the World Series.”

Though they had that confidence, Mazeroski believes Game 1 was pivotal.

“I just think that first game, where we went out and played them and beat them, 6-4, I think that showed us we could play with them,” said Mazeroski, who, as if to rub the memory in a bit more, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday.

Yankees fans still blame the loss on a fluke play in the bottom of the eighth when a potential double-play ball hopped hard off the infield and hit shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat, forcing him to leave the game with two on and no outs.

Both Pirates and Yankees believe the most pivotal part about that Series may have been Yankees Manager Casey Stengel’s decision not to start Ford in Game 1, which kept Ford from starting three Series games, including Game 7.

“He was a money pitcher,” said Vernon Law, the Pirates ace who won the 1960 Cy Young award and who won two of the three games he started in the Series. If Ford had started three games, he said, “Things might have been different.”

The Yankees won Games 2, 3 and 6 by scores of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0, while the Pirates eked out their wins by 6-4, 3-2 and 5-2, setting up the Game 7 slugfest.

As Mazeroski tells it, when he led off the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied, 9-9, his goal was simply “to hit it hard, get on and get us started.”

George Silk/Time Life Pictures, via Getty Images

Cheering the Series from the University of Pittsburgh.

Terry, a starter for the Yankees, was working spot relief in Game 7, and had warmed up five times before he was finally called in for the last out of the eighth.

He said he had grown used to the steep, little mound in the bullpen, but found he could not get his pitches down on the flatter, wider mound on the field.

“A lot of times, it’s the little details like that that makes a difference,” Terry said.

His first pitch, a fastball, was a ball, high in the zone. His next pitch was down a bit lower — right in Mazeroski’s power zone.

“He said it was a breaking ball, but it didn’t break too much,” Mazeroski said. “And this one came in chest high.”

It left the ballpark, soaring over Yankees left fielder Yogi Berra and the 406-foot sign, into the grass and woods behind the 12-foot wall, sending the Yankees into despair, the Pirates into euphoria, and turning Mazeroski into Pittsburgh’s hero. “Somehow, it just did something to the city,” Mazeroski said, “and they just can’t forget it.”

Recently, J. W. Eddy, 25, a Pirates fan from Uniontown, Pa., visited the remnants of that wall while taking a break from studying for the bar exam at the nearby University of Pittsburgh Law School. Why come to this old piece of brick wall to remember an event that occurred 23 years before he was even born?

“It’s kind of sacred here, really,” Eddy said. “To any true Pirate fan, it’s like folklore. You just come to touch some of that history.”

Maz was robbed

By Guy Junker
Monday, June 23, 2008

Roberto Clemente's widow, Vera, looks over a Gold Glove Award presented in honor of the Hall of Famer during a ceremony before Saturday night's game between the Pirates and Toronto at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review

It's always nice to see Roberto Clemente's widow Vera and her sons back in Pittsburgh as they were Saturday night, visiting PNC Park to accept an award by Rawlings.

Clemente was selected in a vote by fans to the all-time Gold Glove Team. He joined Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. as the three outfielders on the squad.

That's nice. And it's debatable as all of these "all-time" teams are. But what was not debatable is that Joe Morgan was a better fielding second baseman than Bill Mazeroski. And that's the way the final voting tallied it. In fact, Maz finished fourth. Fourth! Fourth?

I know how it happens. Maz has been retired a long time and Morgan has stayed in the spotlight with his broadcasting work. Even in the yearly Gold Glove voting the better offensive player often wins out. And there is no doubt that Morgan was a better offensive player than Maz. But the notion that he was a better fielder is downright laughable.

I'm not going to bore you with a lot of statistical evidence, just a little. Mazeroski had a lifetime fielding percentage of .983. Morgan's was close at .981. Maz played most of his career on the notoriously poor infield surface at Forbes Field while Morgan played almost exclusively on artificial turf in both the Astrodome and Riverfront Stadium.

But most impressive is that Maz played 433 fewer games than Morgan, yet he turned 201 more double plays. Talk to anyone who played with or against those two and they will tell you Maz was not only better, but the best they ever saw. It would have been nice to see him on the field with the Clementes getting the same award.

• Maz will be on the field to throw out the first pitch when the Yankees return to town tomorrow night. And by-the-way, it won't be the Yanks first game in Pittsburgh since the 1960 World Series. They played an exhibition game against the Pirates at Forbes Field in 1962.

• Glancing at the Major League Baseball stats a day last week, it was surprising to find the Pirates were fifth among all Major League teams in runs scored.

That was an eye-opener, shocking even. Especially when a further examination showed the Pirates between the middle to near the bottom of nearly every other major offensive category.

So what gives? How about the Pirates ranking fourth in the majors in batting with runners-in-scoring position. Clutch hitting has made up for a lack of total hits. In fact it's helped make up for disappointing pitching and fielding as well. Offensively, the Bucs have been a very efficient run producing ball club.

Guy Junker can be reached at

Series vs. Yankees a money mismatch

By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Monday, June 23, 2008

NEW YORK - JUNE 21: Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees accepts the 2007 Babe Ruth Home Run Award from Julia Ruth Stevens, daughter of Babe Ruth, as grandson Tom Stevens (C), and great-grandchildren Amanda and Brent Stevens look on prior to the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Yankee Stadium June 21, 2008 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Whether you consider the essential separation between the Pirates and New York Yankees to be 375 miles of hard road or 375 light years of jagged baseball politics, there is no ambivalence that what begins at PNC Park tomorrow night is the highlight of the sporting summer.

The Yankees, last seen in these parts skulking off an Oakland diamond in a World Series daze 48 years ago, will now reappear for three games on the other side of a century and from the other side of the financial galaxy.

In strictly athletic terms, this near maniacally anticipated series wouldn't seem in any way even noteworthy, a matchup of fairly unremarkable teams, both with arguably as many problems as assets, both grasping for answers as the season leans toward its midpoint.

Except for this:

Alex Rodriguez will bring to this stage 14 homers and 41 RBIs, and Nate McLouth will bring 15 and 51, but for every dollar McLouth makes, A-Rod makes 66.

Do you want to point out that A-Rod has played 19 fewer games due to injury? Ya think that explains it?

Bobby Abreu has eight homers. Jose Bautista has eight homers. Bautista makes $1.8 million, Abreu makes $16 million.

Derek Jeter has four homers and 32 RBIs. Freddy Sanchez has four homers and 30. Sanchez makes $4.1 million, Jeter makes $21.6 million.

NEW YORK - JUNE 21: Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees hits a single in the ninth inning against the Cincinnati Reds on June 21, 2008 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Reds won the game 6-0. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Pirates management knows it can't be smug about any of that. On the contrary, no one is perhaps more painfully aware that talent generally settles somewhere near its compensated level.

Bud Selig (still commissioner) can fancy himself one of the game's great change agents and a maverick who has uncorked a flood of revenue sharing and luxury tax cash away from baseball royalty and toward its working class, but so long as any game can pit one team with a payroll of $209 million against another paying $49 million or less, baseball has economic issues that are pitiably inexcusable in the salary cap era.

But enough.

It's time to fill the ballpark, grab some brew and assess in good leisure just how the Pirates measure up to some unreasonable facsimile of the Bronx Bombers. Win or lose, sweep or swept, it beats the heck out of three more with the Blue Jays or 40 more with the likes of the Reds, Brewers and Astros.

This particular New York edition isn't so much the Yankees of A-Rod, Jeter, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada. They're all present in certain vaguely compromised states, but this is as much the Yankees of Melky Cabrera, Morgan Ensberg and Chad Moeller.

Really, what's this, Murmurer's Row?

New York managed four runs yesterday to avoid getting swept at home by the fearsome Cincinnati Reds, but the Yankees' bats have essentially gone silent after a seven-game winning streak that last week appeared to save the summer.

Pittsburgh Pirates' Jason Bay (38) is greeted by Nate McLouth who was on base for Bay's first-inning two-run homer off Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jesse Litsch in a baseball game in Pittsburgh on Saturday, June 21, 2008.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

If you had told the people who waited in that Federal Street ticket line for hours March 8 that the Yankees would come to town in late June having hit fewer homers and scored fewer runs than the Pirates, would they have felt any saner?

"I think that's great," Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit was saying after yesterday's 8-5 loss to the Blue Jays. "Everybody stacks themselves up against the Yankees, so it's great. It gives us a lot of confidence."

Doumit knew immediately we weren't talking hypotheticals. The Pirates have scored 370 runs, the Yankees 351. The Pirates have 78 homers, the Yankees 76. If the Pirates were in the American League East, they would be trailing the Yankees by only five games. Of course, they would be trailing the Red Sox by 10, but somebody probably deserves some credit for the Pirates arriving at this summer highlight as nothing less than an accomplished offensive team.

"I'm not that familiar with the Yankees' situation," said Pirates outfielder Xavier Nady, "but it was nice to finally get two of three in one of these [interleague] series. Obviously, we've got a lot of areas where we've got to improve, but this makes us feel like we'll continue to do that."

Pittsburgh Pirates' Ryan Doumit singles off Washington Nationals reliever Joel Hanrahan in the seventh inning of a baseball game at Pittsburgh Wednesday, June 11, 2008. Doumit hit a home run in the fifth inning to lead the Pirates to a 3-1 win. Catching is Nationals' Jesus Flores.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

How the Pirates are going to improve their wretched, worst-in-the-majors pitching is wildly unclear. Tom Gorzelanny will start the opener of the Yankees series (against Darrell Rasner), followed by Zach Duke (vs. Joba Chamberlain), and Paul Maholm (vs. Mike Mussina), but the Pirates' five-man rotation has for weeks and months and years been flaccid. Were it a sitcom (as though it's not), it'd be Two and a Half Men.

As the Yankees arrive, the Pirates have one win by a starting pitcher in the past eight games. But fret not. Let's watch Pirates-Yankees inside the city limits. Really, what's the worst that could happen to the local club, they'll end up 36-43?

Hey, they might even win a game.

Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283.
First published on June 23, 2008 at 12:00 am