Sunday, August 31, 2008

Punchless Pirates' losing streak at nine games

Post-trade offense, Maholm's six runs lead to 11-3 loss to Brewers

By Dejan Kovacevic
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/
Sunday, August 31, 2008


Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

First baseman Adam LaRoche falls into the stands attempting to catch a sixth inning foul ball last night at PNC Park.


Never have Jason Bay and Xavier Nady looked more valuable.

The suddenly punchless Pirates saw their losing streak reach nine games with the 11-3 mauling by Milwaukee last night at PNC Park, mustering just six hits, including three over seven innings off the Brewers' Jeff Suppan and his 4.58 ERA. The other half came in the ninth, well after the rout was on.

"We haven't scored much," manager John Russell said. "That's about it."

As a result, the Pirates have not won much, either, in the aftermath of the Bay and Nady trades: The record for August now is 7-20, and another loss today -- CC Sabathia will make Milwaukee a prohibitive favorite -- would wrap up a 21-loss month, the franchise's worst since August 2000. The .250 winning percentage would be the worst since a .185 mark in September 1998, as well as the third-worst in the past 57 years.

"No question, the trades have had an effect," Russell said. "Sometimes, it takes just one bat coming out of the lineup. Well, we took out two big ones. We understood that at the time, but we hoped things would carry over better than they have."

The difference has been stark: Through July 31, the day of the Bay trade, the Pirates ranked third in the National League in runs, seventh in all of Major League Baseball. This month, their 82 runs rank 29th among all 30 teams, the 18 home runs rank 27th, the .245 average 26th.

Of the two offensive acquisitions in those trades: Brandon Moss is batting .235 since joining the Pirates, with a boost from a home run and double last night that drew the only rise out of the 21,931 on hand. And Andy LaRoche, after a pinch-hit groundout, dropped to .126, just 9 for 71.

"They're young, and you don't expect those guys to fill those holes right away," Russell said.


Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Raul Chavez in the Pirates dugout during a five-run sixth-inning by the Milwaukee Brewers in last night's baseball game at PNC Park.


The trades were plenty unpopular in the clubhouse, as management had anticipated, but the grumbling long since has shifted focus from that to what has gone awry with those who remained.

"Those trades, as far as I'm concerned, that's over," center fielder Nate McLouth said after going 0 for 3 with a walk. "Right now, I don't know what to say, except that this is extremely frustrating."

All of it, he meant.

"The losing hurts."

On this night, even Paul Maholm was hit hard for the first time in three months in allowing six runs in 51/3 innings, including a solo home run by Corey Hart in the second and a three-run shot by Mike Cameron in the sixth. That ended a streak of 20 consecutive starts of six-plus innings that began May 8.

Maholm sounded none too pleased, apparently taking up Russell's declaration Thursday that pitchers need to find ways to win regardless of the offense.

Asked if the changeup to Cameron was the decent pitch it appeared to be, he replied, "No, not when you're throwing pitches right over the middle all night. I know they're a good-hitting team, but I don't care who you're facing when you're making pathetic pitches. They're going to hit them. ... Bottom line: We needed a win, and I didn't get it for us."

Milwaukee manager Ned Yost praised his offense.

"He's a great pitcher," Yost said of Maholm. "But we really hit some balls."


Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Paul Maholm (28) is pulled by manager John Russell, rear, in the middle of a five-run sixth-inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park last night.


No kidding: Both home runs landed in the bullpens beyond center field, and several others in the North Side Notch, deepest part of the park.

Put it all together, including the late swoon, and it surely looks to Pittsburghers to be little different than years past.

"That's part of the frustration right now," Russell said. "You work so hard, and you go through a stretch like this and hear a lot of 'Told you so' or 'There they go again' or 'They're about to break the major league record.' "

The latter was a reference to the Pirates being four losses away from clinching a 16th consecutive losing season, matching the professional sports record.

"The burden of losing for the past 15 years is not on these guys," Russell continued. "I know it will be presented that way by a lot of people, but we've been saying this all along. We know where we want to go, and we think we're close. I know a lot of people don't think that, but we do. We'll keep working."

The work yesterday began early, when hitting coach Don Long rounded up all position players for a 3:30 p.m. meeting to stress getting back to the patient, productive approaches the Pirates displayed so often ... well, when Bay and Nady were in the lineup. Even general manager Neal Huntington was involved, spending time with Long and watching batting practice.

"There were some better approaches," Russell said. "Hopefully, we can build off it."

Milwaukee is 10-1 against the Pirates, outscoring them, 71-35.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com.
First published on August 31, 2008 at 12:14 am


Box score
Statistics
Standings

Today

Game: Pirates vs. Brewers, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: RHP Jeff Karstens (2-3, 3.48) vs. LHP CC Sabathia (8-0, 1.59).

Key matchup: Who would want to face Sabathia? In his past 15 starts, he is 12-0 with a 1.66 ERA. That includes 8-0 since Milwaukee acquired him.

Of note: Nate McLouth needs five more home runs to tie Brian Giles' franchise-record 28 for a center fielder, set in 1999. Frank Thomas had 25 in 1953, Andy Van Slyke the same number in 1988.

Friday, August 29, 2008

It's a Reed-thin margin again

A lot of no-shows as Steelers nip Carolina, winning on Jeff Reed's last-second field goal for the second consecutive week

Steelers 19, Panthers 16

By Ed Bouchette
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/
Friday, August 29, 2008



Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
For the second game in a row, Jeff Reed kicked the winning field goal as time ran out.


The Carolina Panthers and Steelers fans made a combined case for the NFL to shorten the preseason when each failed to show up in large numbers at Heinz Field last night for a game the Steelers won, 19-16, on Jeff Reed's 43-yard field goal with no time left.

It was the second consecutive game Reed has won with a kick in the final seconds and his fourth of the game, which left the Steelers with a 3-1 preseason record.

None of Carolina's starters played, and only 50,485 fans came through the gates on a pleasant midweek night at Heinz Field, which holds 65,050 and has sold out for every game, real or practice, since it opened. The stadium never looked more than half full as some fans arrived late and others left early.

The season-ticket packages include preseason games, but fans have long gotten the message about this fourth one in which, even when the starters play, it's a cameo for a series or two.

The main goal for every team is to escape the final preseason game without injuries.

The Panthers showed graphically what they think of these fourth exhibition games. Coach John Fox not only did not play his starters on offense or defense, he even rested his top three running backs --DeAngelo Williams, rookie Jonathan Stewart and Pitt's Nick Goings.

But then Fox pulled one of the strangest preseason decisions ever -- he chose to kick an extra point after quarterback Brett Basanez's 29-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hannon brought the Panthers within one with 1:54 to go. Most coaches go for two -- Bill Cowher did it several times -- under such conditions to win it or lose it and get out of Dodge without risking any more injuries.

"To each his own," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "I've learned to focus on ... our issues."

Even Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked across the sideline and raised his arms as if to ask "Why?"

John Kasay's kick tied it, but, mercifully, rookie quarterback Dennis Dixon marched the offense to Reed's winning kick.

Roethlisberger and the offense bowed out after two series, and their first-team defense also played the first two series. Roethlisberger never threw an official pass because the one he threw ended in a 37-yard interference penalty.

The play on the field reflected the disinterest by the fans and coaches.

Roethlisberger went to the no-huddle offense on a few occasions in his two series, and it was far from smooth.

"It wasn't good; that's why I wanted to practice it in the preseason," Roethlisberger said. "We had a couple of mistakes, but I'm glad we got it done now."


Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

LaMarr Woodley, left, Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Clark gang up on Carolina's LaBrandon Toefield in the first quarter last night at Heinz Field.


Reed kicked three other field goals and fullback Carey Davis ran 6 yards for a touchdown for the Steelers. Reed also missed one from 43 yards. John Kasay kicked three field goals for the Panthers.

Despite the ho-hum nature of the game, some Steelers said they're in good shape for the start of the real season Sept. 7 against Houston at Heinz.

"We're going in with a lot of confidence," linebacker James Farrior said. "We feel like we're ready to play. The team is ready to go."

"We're ready," proclaimed halfback Willie Parker, who had a 26-yard run in the first half. "I know that I feel good, and I can speak for the team. We've been practicing, gone through the preseason, and it's time to put what we've been practicing to work."

His backup, rookie Rashard Mendenhall, however, did not look ready in one aspect, even though he gained 79 yards on 21 carries. He lost another fumble, his third in the past two games. As Mendenhall came off the field, Tomlin smacked him lightly on the back of his helmet with his left hand.

Veteran center Justin Hartwig also erred to contribute to Carolina's first field goal when he snapped the ball early and high over Roethlisberger in the shotgun formation on the first series.

Roethlisberger caught up to the ball at his 4 and covered it for a 21-yard loss. Mitch Berger got off a 48-yard punt and Anthony Madison made another perfect tackle for no gain, but the Panthers set up at their 48 and turned the error into Kasay's 32-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

"I'm pretty upset, actually," Hartwig said, "because I snapped it too early on the third play of the game. I shut down a drive. We had a few errors with the no-huddle offense that we'd like to have back, but that's why we have practice."

The Panthers weren't perfect either, and two mistakes by their defense helped the Steelers keep their 77-yard touchdown drive going on the next series. First came an illegal contact on second-and-12 for a first down. The next was an interference penalty against cornerback Richard Marshall on Nate Washington that carried 37 yards to the 7.

Two plays later, Davis ran over right guard for a 6-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead.

It became 10-3 when Reed kicked a 41-yard field goal (Berger holding). That came after cornerback Bryant McFadden intercepted a Matt Moore pass and returned it 31 yards to Carolina's 28.

"That's what we want to do," fellow corner Deshea Townsend said. "We want to make sure we can make plays and get our offense the ball back."

Reed kicked his second field goal, from 49 yards, midway through the second quarter. It was set up by two big passes from Byron Leftwich, a 26-yarder to Mewelde Moore and a 33-yarder to Dallas Baker.

Kasay kicked another, from 32 yards in the second quarter, and Reed came back with his third in the third quarter, from 41 yards.


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.
First published on August 29, 2008 at 12:00 am

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Everyone looks bad in Alvarez case

By Gene Collier
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Thursday, August 28, 2008

At Vanderbilt University, prized Pirates draft pick Pedro Alvarez went by two nicknames: "El Toro," the bull, and "El Matatan," which translates loosely as, the man.

Funny, because inside the Pirates' offices today, Alvarez's dual nicknames have suddenly coalesced into one sentiment: "That's bull, man."

Pedro Alvarez

By now you're likely painfully aware that Alvarez, who apparently had agreed to a contract with a $6 million signing bonus at or near the last possible minute Aug. 15, has gotten word to the Pirates through uber agent Scott Boras that such an agreement was not completed on time and that perhaps only some additional funding can rectify the situation.

On one level, it's astounding that Boras, a lawyer, and Pirates president Frank Coonelly, another lawyer, could bring a $6 million negotiation to a head without one or both of them knowing what time it is.

"We are good at deadlines," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said in the first few minutes of Aug. 16.

Hold your tickets on that.

On another, more troubling plateau, the one that overlooks the game's cartoonish moneyscape, this whole mess is classic Boras, a burst of dramatics on the other side of midnight. For theatre, it has got nothing on his egomaniacal announcement during Game 4 of the World Series that super client Alex Rodriguez was opting out of his $252 million contract with the New York Yankees or the swindle of the San Francisco Giants, whom he convinced that Barry Zito was not merely the emerging Steve Carlton or Sandy Koufax, but, in the agent's own words, "Zicasso."

In Ben McGrath's typically riveting 2007 New Yorker profile, Boras explained his relationship with the overrated lefty for whom he got the biggest pitching contract in history: "The thing is, he wants to pitch powerfully, and I'm saying, 'No! You're Zicasso! You got to be the artist-poet-intellectual.'"

Last noted, the artist-poet-intellectual was 19-28 in most of two desultory summers in San Francisco, home of another famous Boras client, the disgraced Barry Bonds.

As in most of the Boras fiascos, no one in this one is looking particularly good as the as yet inestimable damage from yesterday continues to unfold. The Pirates put Alvarez on the restricted list to keep him from negotiating with anyone else. The players union filed a motion with the commissioner's office over what it called a unilateral extension of the midnight deadline on the night in question. Atop the list of unflattering profiles in such fallout would be that of the player himself.

It apparently just wasn't enough for "El Toro" that the Pirates agreed to pay him not only $6 million on speculation, but the balance of the young man's college tuition.

Yeah, a lot of people with $6 million in their pockets are wondering where those last 34 credit hours are supposed to come from. Tuition and fees plus room and board at Vandy is running about $46,724, so when he gets around to it I'd encourage the fledgling economics student to register for Econ 220, which discusses labor law and history, and in which he might have discovered that median household income for 2007 in this country was $56,545. You'd presume that a 21-year-old whose dad's been driving a cab to help support the family in New York could put somebody's interests ahead of his agent's.

"Regrettably, we are not surprised that Mr. Boras would attempt to raise a meritless legal claim in an effort to compel us to renegotiate Pedro's contract to one more to his liking," Coonelly said in statement even more tersely worded than the typical tersely worded statement.

Scott Boras

"We are, however, disappointed that Pedro would allow his agent to pursue this claim on his behalf. Pedro showed tremendous fortitude and independent thinking when he agreed to his contract August 15."

Coonelly went on to say that the Pirates still believe in Alvarez the player and the person, but he made it clear that "El Matatan" is a person who's willing to be played for the greater glory of Boras.

What yesterday did was make a very tenuous period for the Pirates all the more hair-raising. New management has, within the month, ridded itself of its best players in return for nothing terribly evident. Yesterday was the day Craig Hansen, acquired in the convulsion that was the Jason Bay deal, got sent to the minors. Yesterday was another day when it was increasingly evident that Andy LaRoche, acquired in that same deal, might, in a couple of years, given patience and careful instruction, become the next Jose Bautista, whom the Pirates traded last week.

The Alvarez matter was Coonelly's turn in the harsh spotlight. He'd trained for this moment during his time as Major League Baseball's labor counsel. He knew what should be paid, and what he would pay as a club CEO, and presumably when he would agree to pay it.

If the Alvarez deal falls apart, the emotional fallout will be vast and poisonous. Boras and the Pirates, everyone knew, was a potentially noxious combination. Of all the potential sentiments involved, surprise won't be in the lineup.

Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283. More articles by this author
First published on August 28, 2008 at 12:00 am

Arbiter to decide Alvarez's fate with Pirates

Union files grievance, contending contract agreement came too late

By Dejan Kovacevic
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/
Thursday, August 28, 2008

Vanderbilt University

It was cause for celebration when Pedro Alvarez reached a last minute agreement with the Pirates. Was the party premature?


Was it a minute before midnight?

A minute after?

The Pirates and first-round draft pick Pedro Alvarez are publicly disputing precisely when the Vanderbilt University third baseman verbally agreed to a $6 million signing bonus -- before or after Major League Baseball's midnight Aug. 15 deadline -- and that could cost the franchise its highest-profile prospect in a decade.

That is, if an arbitrator decides that the passing of the deadline even mattered.

The MLB Players Association yesterday filed a grievance against commissioner Bud Selig's office - not on behalf of Alvarez, who is not a major league player -- alleging that Alvarez's agreement and others from the same date were executed past midnight and, thus, were in violation of MLB's labor pact. Each side will make its case before arbitrator Shyam Das Sept. 10 in New York, and his ruling will be binding.

The grievance, a copy of which was obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, charges that Selig's office "unilaterally determined" that negotiations could proceed past midnight. It did not did not name any players, though Alvarez's case largely prompted it. It also did not specify what action the union is seeking, though general counsel Mike Weiner said that will be established after more research.

"It is the union's obligation, on behalf of all players, to defend the integrity of its collectively bargained agreements," Weiner said.

If the arbitrator should rule for the union, according to two baseball executives who declined to be named, he likely will have three courses for action:

• Scrap the previous agreement and send the Pirates and Alvarez into new negotiations. This is known to be the preference of Alvarez's renowned agent, Scott Boras, who would welcome the chance at a higher bonus. But there is no precedent for such a decision.

• Allow Alvarez to go back into the draft class for next year. The Pirates picked him No. 2 overall June 5, and they would be compensated with No. 3 overall next year.

• Decide that his ruling should apply only to future instances.

The executives said the third option is the most likely, based on arbitration precedent for MLB's labor laws as they apply to the commissioner using his discretion.

"He would say this is how it's going to be going forward," one executive said.

MLB, which approved the Alvarez agreement and the others, will build its case on the stance that minor league contracts do not apply within the labor pact as it pertains to this matter. Alvarez's agreement called for a minor league contract.

Rob Manfred, MLB's vice president of labor relations, acknowledged that the commissioner's office granted permission to more than one team -- without specifying the Pirates -- to proceed beyond the midnight Aug. 15 deadline. But he called the union's grievance "entirely without merit," adding that the deadline "was extended to accept minor league contracts" and that "it is settled law that the arbitration panel has no authority to disturb such minor league contracts."

Pirates president Frank Coonelly, whose job until last year was MLB's general labor counsel, sounded confident that the commissioner's office will prevail.

"The office has assured us that we have a valid contract with Pedro and that it will vigorously defend any claim to the contrary," Coonelly said.

Alvarez had been conspicuously missing since his agreement, and the Pirates attempted to explain that away by citing "travel issues" or other "complications" involving Boras. They also publicly stressed the importance of Alvarez reporting as soon as possible to take his physical, have his introductory news conference and, most important, prepare for a fall playing assignment in Arizona or Hawaii.

Yesterday, though, everything came out in a rush.

It began early in the afternoon with Coonelly issuing a lengthy statement led by the news that the Pirates had placed Alvarez on MLB's restricted list. That is mostly a formality, one that prevents Alvarez from signing with another team.

Deeper into that statement, Coonelly, a long-time rival of Boras because of Coonelly's previous job, charged Boras with telling the Pirates Alvarez will not report unless the team increases the $6 million bonus. He also accused Boras of usurping his client's best interests.

"Regrettably, we are not surprised that Mr. Boras would attempt to raise a meritless legal claim in an effort to compel us to renegotiate Pedro's contract to one more to his liking," Coonelly said.

Boras responded to the statement in a phone interview with the Post-Gazette: "The Pirates violated Major League Baseball rules and have issued a nearly 600-word statement to make their actions out to be my fault. I think it's time for the Pirates and Mr. Coonelly to come clean with the fans of Pittsburgh and let everyone know about their dealings with Pedro Alvarez."

Flashing back to Aug. 15, here is each camp's view of how that night played out ...

The parties agree that there were several discussions between Boras and general manager Neal Huntington, the Pirates' lead negotiator, in the three days leading up Aug. 15. But, on that date, there was no communication until minutes before midnight.

A source on the Alvarez side maintained yesterday that the Pirates' offer was $5 million. Coonelly wrote in his statement that the Pirates were were "willing and ready to pay Pedro a $6 million signing bonus" right after he was drafted, but no one with the team disputes the $5 million figure for deadline day. Boras' figure was $9.5 million, including a major league contract.

Each side agreed that Huntington phoned Boras at 11:56 p.m. with the Pirates' offer now up to $6 million. The parties were disconnected two minutes later, then quickly reconnected. This time, it was Alvarez - seated next to Boras in the agent's California office -- on the phone with Huntington.

The stories mostly split from here.

A Pirates source maintained that Alvarez almost immediately spoke the words, "I accept," into the phone, thus validating the agreement. Huntington then turned to a nearby assistant and shouted, "Send it!" to relay an emailed copy of the agreement - with all details - to MLB headquarters in New York. The team originally offered two different times for that happening, 11:58 or 11:59. Alvarez then stayed on the phone with Huntington for a short spell, Boras never rejoining the conversation.

Coonelly went so far as to praise Alvarez in his statement for his "tremendous fortitude and independent thinking" in that moment.

The Alvarez side concurred that Alvarez accepted, but the contention is that it occurred after midnight.

Through all this, according to the Pirates source, the team was in touch by phone with MLB headquarters, acknowledging that some of that contact continued beyond midnight. Three other teams also were believed to be in contact with MLB - the Kansas City Royals, San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals - for similar purposes.

In 2007, MLB granted a midnight exception to the Texas Rangers for outfielder Julio Borbon, a Boras client, the only one before this year under the most recent labor pact.

It is not known which of the three this year might have continued beyond midnight, but Coonelly singled out the Royals in his statement, saying they reached agreement with first baseman Eric Hosmer, another Boras client, after the Pirates did with Alvarez.

"Mr. Boras is apparently satisfied with the $6 million bonus he secured for Mr. Hosmer and has not challenged the validity of that contract," Coonelly said.

The source on the Alvarez side said Boras contacted the union about an hour after the deadline. The Pirates did not learn of that until two days later.

The sides agree that no money has been discussed, should a new negotiations be imposed by the arbitrator.

Alvarez's agreement called for $3 million this year, the same amount the next. Because no actual contract was tendered or signed after the agreement - both sides agree on that, too -- no money has exchanged hands. Even if one had been signed, no money would have been paid until 90 days elapsed.

Coonelly's statement included several clear attempts to steer Alvarez away from Boras, including writing that he was "disappointed" Alvarez would go along with this new course.

"Despite our disappointment, we continue to believe in Pedro Alvarez the person and the baseball player and remain excited to add Pedro to our system," Coonelly said. "We will sit down with Pedro and his family as soon as Mr. Boras' claim is rejected to chart a new and much more productive start to Pedro's career with the Pittsburgh Pirates."

There has been no indication on the Alvarez side of disunity between him and Boras. Nor has there been any indication that Alvarez does not want to play for the Pirates.


Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com.
First published on August 27, 2008 at 11:10 pm

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

For many fans, Pirates a no-name team

By Adam Brandolph
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/
Monday, August 25, 2008


The Pirates mural at the intersection of Second Avenue and Ross Street, Downtown. Jasmine Gehris/Tribune-Review



You could say Harry Knott longs for the good ol' days.

Knott, 69, of Shadyside knows the names of every former Pittsburgh baseball player on a mural under the Boulevard of the Allies bridge at Second Avenue and Ross Street, Downtown. But when shown photos of the current Pirates' starting lineup and the team's starting pitchers, Knott couldn't name any of them.

"I grew up watching or hearing stories about those guys (on the mural)," he said. "There isn't a face of today's team. They just aren't very memorable."

The mural, a copy of a painting by Art Institute of Pittsburgh professor Michael Malle, 50, of Westwood was hung as a billboard under the Boulevard of the Allies bridge in 2000. Lamar Advertising paid to have a new version printed and hung in June, Malle said.


With a month remaining in what will be the Pirates' 16th consecutive losing season -- tying a major-league sports record -- the 14 players of yesteryear are proving to be more recognizable than those who'll take the field at PNC Park tonight against the Chicago Cubs.

Geena McNeal, 45, of Beechview walks by the mural five days a week on her way to work. She named two players on the mural -- Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell -- but could only name one current player, Jack Wilson.

"I can name nearly all the Steelers, and I know some of the Penguins," McNeal said. "But not the Pirates. Probably because they not good."

Standing about 12 feet tall, the players on the mural are larger than life for Dennis Gray, who recognized seven players on the mural but just two current Pirates -- shortstop Jack Wilson and All-Star center fielder Nate McLouth.

"I watch the games, but I guess I don't pay attention to their faces," said Gray, 58, of Carnegie.

Free agency and mid-season trades make it hard to keep track of players, said Darryl Hawkins, 63, of the Hill District, who recognized some of the more obscure players on the mural, like Kiki Cuyler, Max Carey and former second baseman and manager Danny Murtaugh. But Hawkins didn't recognize tonight's scheduled starting pitcher, Ian Snell.

"Those guys were on the team for years. When I look at them, I know they did something," Hawkins said. "These guys today ... they're not the same. They haven't been around long enough to do anything."


Adam Brandolph can be reached at abrandolph@tribweb.com or 412-320-7936.

Here are the names of the 14 former Pirates depicted in Michael Malle's mural under the Boulevard of the Allies bridge, Downtown.

Kiki Cuyler (1921-27)
Ralph Kiner (1946-53)
Fred Clarke (1900-11)
Max Carey (1910-26)
Lloyd Waner (1927-41)
Paul Waner (1926-40)
Danny Murtaugh (player, 1948-51; manager, 1957-64, '67, '70-71, '73-76)
Josh Gibson (Pittsburgh Crawfords, 1930-37; Homestead Grays, 1937-46)
Arky Vaughan (1932-41)
Willie Stargell (1962-82)
Pie Traynor (1920-35, '37)
Bill Mazeroski (1956-72)
Roberto Clemente (1955-72)
Honus Wagner (1900-17)

Source: Michael Malle

Summer's swoon shaping up for Pirates?

Karstens chased in 12-3 loss to Cubs, fifth consecutive defeat

By Dejan Kovacevic
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/
Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Third baseman Andy LaRoche bobbles a ball hit by Derrek Lee last night at PNC Park. LaRoche recovered in time to get the out, but the Central-leading Chicago Cubs clubbed the Pirates, 12-3.



Is it October yet?

The Pirates' 12-3 clobbering by the Chicago Cubs last night at PNC Park carried an unmistakable get-this-season-over-with feel, from the poor pitching to the lifeless at-bats to the visitors stealing bases at will to the wild pitch that conceded a run ... and even to the blah backdrop of a thin crowd of 14,454, save the vocal few clad in enemy blue.

In a larger scope, it was just as bad: It brought a fifth consecutive defeat, the third time in that span the opponent scored into double digits. And the 16th loss in 23 games since the Xavier Nady and Jason Bay trades. And a last-place tie with the Cincinnati Reds.

But what might be the most ominous figure of all is this: Thirty-one games remain.

Yes, that many.

"It's very important to turn this around," right fielder and clubhouse leader Jason Michaels said afterward. "There are going to be questions going into the offseason. Personally, for me, I'm going to go out there and play hard. Every day. As if we were in first place. It's important that the guys bear down and focus. If we don't win, we don't win. But we need to bear down."

He raised a finger, as if to clarify the point.

"I'm not saying we haven't done that. I just think we need to finish strong. We need to have a good taste going into next season."

Surely, no one left with a worse taste last night than two of the newcomers in those trades: Jeff Karstens was chased off the mound after three innings, and third baseman Andy LaRoche saw his hitless futility reached 23 at-bats.

Karstens was tagged for five runs, six hits and a walk before a 35-pitch third inning -- one that included Aramis Ramirez's three-run liner into the left-field bleachers -- prompted manager John Russell to pull him with a 5-0 deficit.

"He was already at 68 pitches. No sense sending him back out," Russell said. "He was missing his spots. Against a team like that, you can't do that."

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Right fielder Jason Michaels tries to make a leaping catch at the wall on a ball hit by the Cubs' Derrek Lee last night.



Karstens had put up six zeroes against Chicago in his Pirates debut Aug. 1, a 3-0 victory at Wrigley Field, and a few of the Cubs said at the time that they felt they were at a disadvantage because they had little video to study of Karstens from his time in the New York Yankees' system.

That was no issue this time, evidently, as Karstens fell behind 13 of his 16 batters, and the Cubs waited for their pitches and teed off.

"I just tried to go out there and make my pitches, and I didn't do that tonight," Karstens said. "I didn't throw many strikes and, when I did, they hit them."

Jason Davis fared no better in relief, shelled for five more runs over the next two innings, as Chicago would wind up with 17 hits.

"We swung the bats tonight," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.

LaRoche, meanwhile, went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, his average since joining the Pirates now down to a mind-numbing .129, just 8 for 62. Moreover, he looked to continue carrying that into the field with a rough first inning in which he failed to make one difficult play on his backhand, then bobbled to cost the team a 5-4-3 double play.

Pressing at all?

"Not really," he said, mustering a smile afterward. "I actually felt a lot better. I did some things I wanted to do at the plate, as far as mechanical things I worked on, and I just saw that on video. I think some things are starting to come together."

Not much came together offensively yet again for the Pirates: Brandon Moss and Adam LaRoche got all of it with two swings off Ted Lilly, Moss with a solo home run in the fourth and LaRoche with a two-run shot -- his 18th and sixth in the past 14 games -- in the sixth. But there would be eight hits in all, just one walk, and no significant threat.

It was the Pirates' third consecutive three-run output, the 15th of three or less in the 24 games since the Nady/Bay trades.

Eight more losses, and they will match the professional sports record with a 16th consecutive losing season.


Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com.
First published on August 26, 2008 at 12:00 am


Box score
Statistics
Standings

Today

Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching:RHP Ian Snell (5-10, 5.60) vs. RHP Carlos Zambrano (13-5, 3.29).

Key matchup: Pick your poison from Chicago's top regulars vs. Snell: Alfonso Soriano bats .467, Ryan Theriot .438, Mark DeRosa .500, Aramis Ramirez .320, Geovany Soto .750 and Derrek Lee .261.

Of note: The Cubs' pitchers lead Major League Baseball in strikeouts with 1,018. They also led in the seven previous seasons, the longest such stretch since the Dodgers did it in 1957-63.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

One man Steelers can't do without

By Ron Cook
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/
Monday, August 25, 2008

Peter Diana / Post-Gazette

Steelers DE Aaron Smith wraps up the Vikings' Adrian Peterson.


View all related imagesIt might have been after Jacksonville Jaguars running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew shredded the Steelers' defense for 216 yards in a December loss.

Or maybe it was after that same troubled defense couldn't hold a late lead in the playoff loss to the Jaguars in January.

The exact date isn't important.

The conversation is.

"It's funny," Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith remembered telling his wife. "Ever since I got hurt, I've become a lot better player."

It really is true what they say, that we often don't appreciate the finer things in life until they are taken away.

So it was for the Steelers and their fans after Smith went out with a torn right biceps Dec. 9 on a totally miserable New England day.

It was then everybody learned just how critical Smith is to the team.

Actually, the Steelers had a pretty good idea about it all along. That's why coach Mike Tomlin was sick when he announced Smith was done for the season two days after the 34-13 loss in New England. He said Smith wasn't just one of his best defensive players, but one of his best players, period. He also said no one man could replace Smith.

Taylor and Jones-Drew proved the point rather painfully. So did Baltimore's third-teamer Musa Smith and fourth-stringer Cory Ross, who ran for a combined 155 yards in the Ravens' 27-21 win Dec. 30. And Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard, whose 32-yard run on fourth-and-2 set up the deciding field goal in the Jaguars' 31-29 playoff win.

"Who knows what would have happened if I had been in there? Maybe I would have been the guy who missed the tackle [on Garrard's run]," Smith said.

"I thought Travis [Kirschke] did a great job filling in for me. Look at the film. He did a great job. I can't say that I would have done better or made more plays than he did."

Humility is a wonderful quality, isn't it?

But you know better now in Smith's case.

Maybe you didn't fully realize Smith's value before his injury. It's not as if he plays a glamorous position. A defensive end in the Steelers' 3-4 defense isn't going to get a lot of sacks or quarterback pressures.

But you know the truth after watching the defense collapse without Smith in the Steelers' 1-3 limp to season's end. He is every bit as important as team MVP James Harrison and Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu.

That was evident again Saturday night in the exhibition game at Minnesota. Smith sacked quarterback Gus Frerotte on the Vikings' first play. Later in the first quarter, he stopped running back Chester Taylor for no gain on consecutive plays. The Vikings managed just one touchdown -- a relatively cheap one at that, set up by Rashard Mendenhall's fumble at the Steelers' 45 -- in two quarters against the Steelers' first-team defense.

Smith's performance helped ease the concerns about the defense, which did not play well in the first two exhibition games. It also eased the fears that the defensive line is getting too old to be productive.

"The 30s now are the new 20s. Don't you know that?" Smith asked, fairly giggling.

What?

You expected the man to say he's washed up at 32?

Smith clearly has plenty of great football left -- as long as he stays healthy. That's the one legitimate worry about a player his age. Smith never missed a game because of injury -- playing in 134 in a row -- before a sprained left knee forced him to sit out two games midway through last season. That was bad enough, but then the biceps tear happened.

Asking Smith if he's concerned about his body maybe starting to break down seemed like a fair question.

"I don't think I'm at that point yet," he said, "but we'll see."

Smith figures he's already in bonus time, anyway.

"I've been truly blessed. When I first came into the league, I was hoping to play maybe two years and get a head start in life. I never thought I'd get this far."

A starter since 2000. A Pro Bowl after the 2004 season. A Super Bowl in 2005. A five-year, $24.5 million contract -- including an $8 million signing bonus -- in 2007.

And, now, a 10th NFL season.

"A lot of people have told me the team really missed me last season," Smith said. "Heaven forbid I come back and stink."

Or get hurt again.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com. More articles by this author
First published on August 25, 2008 at 12:00 am

Steelers' defense looks ready to go

Steelers 12, Vikings 10

By John Harris
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/
Sunday, August 24, 2008

Steelers defensive tackle Aaron Smith stops the Minnesota Vikings' Chester Taylor for a short first-quarter gain at the Metrodome, Aug. 23, 2008.
Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review


MINNEAPOLIS- What a difference a game plan makes.

As advertised, the Steelers promised to pretend that Saturday night's preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings was actually a regular-season contest.

No more plain-vanilla defense. More like tutti-frutti.

Starting with a steady diet of Aaron Smith terrorizing Minnesota's backfield.

Smith, the starting left end, looked as quick and strong as he did at any point last season before suffering a biceps injury that caused him to miss the final four games. He had three tackles and one sack in the first quarter.

Led by Smith, the Steelers limited Minnesota to 13 yards on its first eight plays.

On Minnesota's opening drive, the Steelers' different looks confused the Vikings, who were called for three false starts and were forced to punt after failing to convert on third and 23.

During that series, second-year linebacker Lawrence Timmons, becoming more and more of a fixture in the rotation, flanked out wide to his left and shadowed receiver Aundrae Allison.

The Steelers were most dangerous when they had only two defensive linemen on the field, Smith and right end Brett Keisel. The formation worked best in obvious passing situations, which was a tribute to the Steelers and their ability to stifle dangerous running back Adrian Peterson.

The Steelers' Ike Taylor steps in front of a pass intended for the Minnesota Vikings' Bobby Wade in the second quarter at the Metrodome, Aug. 23, 2008.
Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review


Peterson never got untracked. He leaped over the top of the defense for a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter following a Rashard Mendenhall fumble at the Steelers' 47.

Faced with a short field, the Steelers couldn't shut down Minnesota's short passing game and failed to keep the Vikings out of the end zone.

Still, the Steelers provided evidence that they learned a lesson from last week's loss to Buffalo. Their defense aggressively attacked the ball but did so within the confines of the system.

When Peterson attempted to run wide left on first and goal, the Steelers remained in their lanes and strung out the play. Safety Tyrone Carter and Timmons pushed Peterson out of bounds for a 3-yard loss.

In the second quarter, cornerback Ike Taylor jumped a sideline route and intercepted Gus Frerotte's pass intended for Sidney Rice, giving the Steelers a first down deep in Minnesota territory.

The turnover gift-wrapped a Jeff Reed field goal that sliced Minnesota's lead to 7-3 while providing more than enough evidence that the regular season can't start soon enough for the Steelers' defense.


John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Farrior signs deal for 5 years

$18 million pact sets up retirement

By Ed Bouchette
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/
Friday, August 22, 2008

Linebacker James Farrior arose from his locker stool at lunchtime, looking as if he could use some pocket money.

His tattered, faded "Longest Yard" T-shirt sported holes big enough for a running back to squeeze through.

"You better put on a good shirt," a teammate suggested.

"This is my good shirt," Farrior responded.

Old guys can dress any way they want, and the 33-year-old Farrior struck one for the graybeards yesterday when he signed a five-year contract worth $18.25 million with the Steelers. The deal -- his third with the team since signing as a free agent from the New York Jets in 2002 -- includes a $5 million signing bonus and will pay him slightly less than $10 million in the first two years and $12.6 over the first three.

"It makes it a lot easier not having to worry about longevity here and where you might be next year," said Farrior, the team's defensive captain and its leader in tackles four of the past five seasons. "It gives you a level of comfort and a level of ease that you know where you're going to be and you can make this your home."

It's a contract, negotiated by the Steelers' Omar Khan and agent Ralph Cindrich, designed for Farrior to retire within three years, not five.

"That's the game plan: Try to finish out my career here," Farrior said, repeating a wish he expressed two weeks ago. "The Steelers have been good to me, and I put all my heart and soul into this and I'm going to try to close it out."

Farrior signed the first new contract for a Steelers player since Ben Roethlisberger received his extension early in March. The question now is, with nine days left on their self-imposed deadline of ending negotiations with the start of the regular season, will his be the last? Two key starters on the offensive line said yesterday there are no moves to extend their contracts beyond 2008. Left tackle Marvel Smith and left guard Chris Kemoeatu would become unrestricted free agents in March.

"I don't worry about it. I moved forward already," Smith said. "It's not something I'm dwelling on. It's on them. If they want to make that decision or not, we'll take it when that time comes."

He said he was happy to see Farrior get his deal, and believes it has no effect on if or when he gets an extension.

"It's all in the organization, what they want to do," Smith said. "James is a great player. They're smart to do something like that."

Said coach Mike Tomlin: "James has played at an extremely high level for the entire time that I've been here. It's a pleasure to get that deal done. We're glad to get it done, glad that he's going to be here in the future. Not only is he an outstanding player, but he's an outstanding professional and outstanding leader."

Cindrich believes Farrior has a good three years left in him.

"When you look at the number of [older linebackers] out there, you can go to Ray Lewis, Junior Seau, Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, London Fletcher -- it seems like James is getting stronger."

Another of Farrior's older teammates felt that way, too.

"When you have a leader like that, to keep the guy around and the type of player he is, you can't do nothing but help the team," said defensive end Aaron Smith, 32. "It's a matter of how you perform and that's what this business is based on, how you perform. He's been doing it for a long time and I think he'll continue doing it for a long time."



NOTES -- Tomlin said his first teams will play at least one half tomorrow night against the Minnesota Vikings and would include some substitution, such as rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall and linebacker Lawrence Timmons. ... Safety Troy Polamalu continued to practice with the second team yesterday and is unlikely to play against the Vikings. "We are very pleased" with Polamalu's progress, Tomlin said.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.
First published on August 22, 2008 at 12:00 am

Wilson braces for end of Pirates tenure

Says, 'I don't know the direction of shortstop for this team'

By Dejan Kovacevic
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/
Friday, August 22, 2008

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

With the current rebuilding situation, shortstop Jack Wilson is not sure about his future with the Pirates.

ST. LOUIS -- Jack Wilson, the Pirates' most tenured player and one of the finest shortstops in franchise history, is worried that he will not be playing in Pittsburgh next spring.

Know how to tell?

Ask him a series of questions aimed at uncovering the truth behind his recent surge at the plate ...

Start with this: How to explain batting .294 so far in August, including the current 11-for-29 run that has him up to .279 overall, when others are wearing down?

"Well, it's like this," he began the other day in Busch Stadium's visiting clubhouse. "When it's the beginning of the season or even the middle, you always feel like there's always another day. But, when you get to August, you realize there isn't going to be that day. You might be tired. You might not feel great. But you find a way to do everything you can before it ends."

Um ... OK.

Next, ask if it really has more to do with Major League Baseball's trading deadline having passed July 31.

Remember last year, when the Detroit Tigers came hard at Wilson, only to get turned down on the final day by the Pirates' previous management?

Remember how Wilson was a wreck on and off the field, including a .219 average in July, then batted.401 the rest of the season -- best in the majors over those two months -- once his mind was clear?

Is that the case again?

"No. I think last year it was definitely a big relief. That was the first time I had faced a situation like that, possibly picking up and moving and wearing a different uniform. Second time around, maybe it was a little easier to take."

This time, word had leaked in early July out of Los Angeles that the Dodgers were pursuing Wilson. The Pirates and Dodgers talked for about a week, but the sides never agreed on a package of prospects as the return. Other teams called, but no substantive talks materialized.

Seems like that would not have been so stressful.

But something else related to the deadline apparently was.

"The part that was hard, actually, was losing those other two guys," Wilson said, referring to the trading of Jason Bay and Xavier Nady. "That was tough to take for the whole team."

Wilson, like others in the Pirates' clubhouse, wondered what it meant for his future, too. Suddenly, a rebuilding was afoot.

And it is here that the pulse beneath his recent surge, in all likelihood, is best explained.

"Honestly, I don't know what's going to happen with me this offseason. I really don't. So, yeah, you go out on the field with that feeling that, hey, this might be my last month and a half in a Pittsburgh uniform. And I want to end it as well as I can."

Believe that.

As last season came to a close, Wilson spoke anxiously behind the scenes about how important it was to have one final chance to have a say goodbye to the Pirates' fans, "just in case I don't come back."

Sound too syrupy to be true?

Just wait ...

On the Saturday eve of the season finale at PNC Park, Wilson and second baseman Matt Kata had a gruesome head-to-head collision while pursuing a grounder up the middle, and Wilson was taken off the field by stretcher. He spent the night at Allegheny General Hospital and, because of headaches and dizziness, slept little.

Some goodbye.

He checked out the next morning, and the Pirates arranged for a ride to catch his late-afternoon flight to his California home. But he asked instead to go to the stadium while the team was playing the finale, dressed in full uniform during the seventh inning and participated exuberatnly in the traditional end-of-season thanking of the fans. Even as the majority of the coaching staff and some other players hastily exited.

"Those people have been through a lot, and I feel like I've been through it with them," Wilson would say that day of the 25,664 in attendance. "I just felt like I needed to be there."

Wilson has been through more of the losing than just about anyone: Only Jason Kendall (1,252) and Kevin Young (1,140) have played more games for the Pirates than Wilson's 1,069 during these 16 years of team failure.

He became the Pirates' shortstop April 1 in Cincinnati and, but for one brief backward step to the minors, has held that title ever since. His games played at the position rank fifth on the franchise list, and his .978 fielding percentage ranks No. 1. The current .983 figure is the best of his career.

Away from the dirt, Wilson has become deeply attached to the city, from relishing its appreciation for his flashy style to the extensive community work he and wife Julie have performed in the area. And there can be no question the affection is mutual based not only on the cheers at games but also from the absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder reaction when he missed the first two months of this season to a calf injury and the defense disintegrated without him.

As teammate and best friend Freddy Sanchez said at the time, "Jack Wilson is such a huge part of the Pirates."

Maybe not for long.

Wilson will turn 31 in December and is scheduled to make $7.25 million next season in the final guaranteed year of his contract. The Pirates hold a club option for 2010 worth $8.4 million. Each figure is within market rate for a shortstop of Wilson's caliber, but management's rebuilding signal that began with the Bay and Nady trades surely mean that Wilson will be shopped in the coming offseason. Already this summer, the Pirates sought elite shortstop prospects in various trade discussions.

Whatever the case, this much is certain: Wilson does not want to wait to learn of the team's plans.

"Right now, I don't know what's going on," he said. "I don't know the direction of shortstop for this team. I can see they've made their direction as far as the team goes, building with young guys. So, I hope to find that out as soon as I can."

That could mean an audience with general manager Neal Huntington.

Huntington expressed an appreciation for all Wilson has meant to the Pirates, but he yesterday reiterated an oft-stated stance that no player is untouchable.

"Jack's been in a Pirates uniform a long time and, between him and Freddy, those probably are our most recognizable players," Huntington said. "The reality is that we can't make emotional decisions on any player. Jack certainly has proven his worth again defensively, and we can see that the whole club solidified with him out there. But we always need to leave ourselves the ability to make the team better. Jack, hopefully, will be a big part of this turnaround going forward. But, as it was with Jason and Xavier and Damaso Marte, if the right baseball trade is out there, we'll have to entertain it."

In the interim, Wilson will take the field tonight for game No. 1,070.

What about the opener next spring?

"Well, I laid down odds on that last year, and I was wrong," Wilson replied with a laugh. "But, no matter what, I'll keep going out there every day with the same attitude I've always had."


Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com.
First published on August 22, 2008 at 12:00 am



Statistics
Standings

Today

Game: Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 8:05 p.m., Miller Park.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (4-11, 5.26) vs. RHP Dave Bush (7-9, 4.26).

Key matchup:Few National League hitters handle Bush as well as Freddy Sanchez, 8 for 19 with two doubles and five RBIs.

Of note: Jason Kendall has started 115 games behind the plate for Milwaukee, most in Major League Baseball and six shy of the franchise-record 121 set by Darrell Porter in 1975.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Godspeed, John Challis

Freedom teenager leaves message of hope

By Luis Fabregas
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/
Wednesday, August 20, 2008


John Challis delivers the lineup card before a Pirates game June 25 at PNC Park. Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review

The courage never faded.

Until the end, John Challis managed to teach, provoke and inspire with words that prove wisdom doesn't come with age.

The 18-year-old's motto: Courage + Believe = Life.

"People die in their 90s and don't get to leave that gift," said his mother, Gina Challis. "That's very special."

John Challis, the Beaver County teenager who used his illness to spread an uplifting message of hope and optimism, died Tuesday afternoon at his home in Freedom.

"He's at rest now," said his father, Scott Challis. "It was a long, hard battle."
Challis was surrounded by his parents and his sister, Lexie.

"He was comfortable, no pain," his father said.

When he was diagnosed with liver cancer in June 2006, doctors at Children's Hospital gave Challis about six months to live. He defied the odds and vowed to fight, even trying a new chemotherapy drug in the last month of his life.

Throughout his illness, he became disarmingly candid about his views on life. He was often blunt but always levelheaded, once writing on a Pirates dry board in the team locker room: "Have fun. That's why we play baseball."

"He just says what's from his heart," his mother said July 15 in an interview with the Trib. "That's why people are drawn to him."

His father said prior to John's death, his son struck a chord with people because he never measured his words.

"I like to be politically correct, but John tells it like it is," Scott Challis said.
John's close friend, Steve Wetzel, said he was drawn to Challis by his contagious smile. It almost never left his face, even during the worst times of his illness.

"He just has such a happy-go-lucky personality," said Wetzel, 32, the baseball coach at Freedom High School. "He taught me what is now my message -- to live life to its fullest, whether you are healthy or sick. To be appreciative and be affectionate toward people."

Wetzel was instrumental in helping Challis found the Courage For Life Foundation, intended to motivate young cancer patients who are facing uncertainty.

Wetzel likes to tell the story of how Challis beat the odds April 11 by pinch-hitting at a baseball game between Freedom and Aliquippa high schools. Challis hit a line drive to right field, prompting cheers even from the opposing team.

"It was probably the best moment in my sports career," Wetzel said.
Wetzel, who is getting married in September, asked Challis to be a groomsman at his wedding.

"He will be there in spirit," he said.

Wetzel said Challis changed his life and he has learned to be a better person.

"He taught me to slow my life down," he said.


John Challis spent a lot of time at Children's Hospital during his battle with liver cancer. He was diagnosed there in June 2006 and given about six months to live. He defied the odds and continued to fight.
Guy Wathen/Tribune-Review


Challis' ability to find the upside of life reached everyone from Mario Lemieux to Alex Rodriguez, major sports legends who expressed unabashed admiration for Challis. Rodriguez, the All-Star Yankee third baseman, hosted Challis at his New York apartment in early July and drove him to a ball game in his SUV.

Rodriguez told New York reporters yesterday he last spoke to Challis four or five days ago and expressed sadness to hear of his death.

"John was a huge inspiration -- not just for me, but for everybody," Rodriguez said. "He's a very brave boy. I was just proud I got to spend a day with him."

In recent weeks, Challis received calls from other sports personalities, including Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche.

"Obviously, I knew it was getting bad. It's depressing. It makes you realize how short life is and how unfair it can be," LaRoche said.

"I think what's cool is, given what he had, he chose to make the best of it and touch a lot of lives that he probably wouldn't have if this didn't happen to him.

"He got the bad end of the deal, but I think he really touched a lot of people and made at least 25 I know of, for sure, with the talk he came in and had with us."

Pirates president Frank Coonelly issued a statement on behalf of the team.
"John had every reason to complain about his situation, but he chose not to," Coonelly said. "What he did do was show unfathomable courage and great wisdom for someone so young. John's body could not win the battle with cancer, but John's tremendous spirit will live on amongst all those he and his story impacted across the country."

His parents said the celebrity status never fazed Challis, who remained humble and unpretentious.

"I don't feel like I'm inspiring people," John said July 15. "It's just me. I don't know any other way."

Carol May, a Children's Hospital nurse who manages a program for children facing terminal illnesses, said Challis' message of hope will help his family as they grieve.

"He taught a lot of people how to live while you are dying," May said. "The way he touched people will help them remember the type of person he was.
"It's never easy for parents to lose their children. They have a special gift by what he has done and what he has said and what he has taught others."

Despite his optimism, Challis was aware there was nothing he could do to control the physical pain caused by his cancer.

"It's in God's hands," he said.

Yesterday, as he finished funeral plans, Scott Challis expressed pride toward his only son and thanked several friends who stuck by Challis: Adam Rose, Karen Roman, Joe Signori, Jackie Knopp and Wetzel.

Family and friends will be received from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.
Thursday and Friday at Noll Funeral Home, 333 Third St., Beaver. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Peter and Paul Church in Beaver.

Luis Fabregas can be reached at lfabregas@tribweb.com or 412-320-7998.

Additional Stories

John Challis, 18, dies of cancer

To the end: 'Courage + Believe = Life'

Bucs inspired by teen

Snell channels his inner CC in victory

His seven zeroes, eight Ks carry Pirates past Cardinals, 4-1

By Dejan Kovacevic
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/
Wednesday, August 20, 2008



Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Ian Snell turned in one of his best starts of the year last night in St. Louis, allowing just four hits in seven innings.


ST. LOUIS -- Ian Snell often can be seen carrying one of those new hi-tech, do-it-all phones, the kind sophisticated enough one can watch television on it.

Two nights ago, while riding in a taxi through the downtown here, he flicked on coverage of the Milwaukee Brewers' brilliant CC Sabathia throwing strikes, and he became fixed on that little screen. He headed into a shopping mall, but kept checking and seeing strike after strike after ...

"I couldn't take my eyes off CC," Snell recalled. "And you know what? The more I watched, the more I knew what I had to do."

And so, he took the mound last night and tore through St. Louis for seven scoreless innings and eight strikeouts to carry the Pirates to a 4-1 victory last night at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals' damage was limited to four hits and a walk.

Velocity?

Snell was up to 96 mph, seldom below 95 with the fastball.

"Some of our guys were saying that's how hard he used to throw years ago in the minors," St. Louis third baseman Troy Glaus after whiffing twice.
Stuff?

"Outstanding," Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit said. "All of it."

Above all, though, there was the CC factor ...

Snell has been guilty of starting out hitters with breaking pitches, then coming in hard. If the breaking pitches missed, of course, those fastballs would get grooved and, as a result, pounded more often than not.

"Watching CC, he used his fastball command to set up the slider, rather than vice versa," Snell said. "Well, I put my fastball where I wanted, and everything else happened."

Best example came in the fourth, when Snell struck out the side against St. Louis' 3-4-5 hitters -- Albert Pujols, Glaus and Ryan Ludwick, all lunging for third-strike sliders. The ones to Glaus and Ludwick were so dynamic they wound up in the dirt and required a Doumit throw to first to complete the play.

"Best game Ian's thrown all year," manager John Russell said.

Better than that 10-strikeout gem April 6 in Miami?

"Absolutely. His velocity was better than that game, and he was making good hitters look uncomfortable, which is a great sign. It was by far his best start. He's been building toward this and, hopefully, he can maintain some of it."

Russell paused and added with a smile, "He even pitched inside a little bit."
Snell's win was just his third in 22 starts and his record inched up to just 5-10, but, as Russell indicated, this has been building for a while. The velocity, in particular, started to show up again after he took two weeks off in July to rest a flaring elbow.

"It's just slowly getting healthy, slowly getting back to myself," Snell said. "It feels good to have my velocity back and not getting scared away from hitters. I challenged all of them tonight, no matter who it was. I think I threw more fastballs than I had all year."

Despite Snell's showing, the victory hardly came easily.

Doumit's RBI double in the first inning accounted for all the Pirates would have to show for Braden Looper's seven innings, and they came up empty in the eighth off Kyle McClellan, too.

In the bottom of the latter, St. Louis had a man on first and two outs for Pujols, and Russell replaced Sean Burnett with Denny Bautista for what would become an electrifying at-bat.

Bautista got ahead, 1-2, and Pujols fouled off the next four, once swinging as if he wanted to send the ball over the nearby Gateway Arch. But Bautista kept pounding strikes.

"It was fun, going against a great hitter like that," Bautista said.

It was no fun, though, when Pujols eventually screamed a ball to the gap in right-center. Nyjer Morgan went fell-bore toward it, and it was clear he could get there. But it was just as clear Steve Pearce was coming hard from the other direction.

With the crowd of 39,502 roaring as it thought the Cardinals had just tied or taken the lead, it likely was not easy to call off Pearce.

"I really screamed," Morgan said.

And made the catch.

"A tense time in our dugout," Russell said.


Ryan Doumit scores from third after St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the throw home on a force attempt during the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2008, in St. Louis.

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)


Right after the sigh, the Pirates added three in the ninth, thanks largely to some abysmal defense by St. Louis' usually terrific catcher, Yadier Molina.

Doumit and Adam LaRoche opened with singles, Doumit's hit his third of the evening. Jason Michaels tried to bunt them over, but Molina went for the lead runner and failed.

Bases were loaded for Andy LaRoche, who bounced to second baseman Felipe Lopez with a drawn-in infield. Lopez threw home in plenty of time for the force, but Molina dropped let the ball skip off his glove, and it was 2-0.

Pearce walked, and it was 3-0.

Next, Luis Rivas flied out to center, but Michaels did not try to score from third until an errant throw by Joe Mather. Once Michaels broke, St. Louis still had a shot to get him with McClellan backing up nicely. But Molina wandered away from the plate, McClellan held the ball, and it was 4-0.

For the Cardinals, always prideful of fundamentals under Tony La Russa, it had to be quite the embarrassment.

The Pirates have won back-to-back games for the first time since Aug. 6-8.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com.
First published on August 20, 2008 at 12:00 am


Box score
Statistics
Standings

Today

Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium.

TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: RHP Jason Davis (1-2, 1.80) vs. RHP Todd Wellemeyer (10-4, 3.79).

Key matchup: Wellemeyer has held the Pirates to a .213 average in five career starts, including this against their standard top four: Nate McLouth 2 for 13, Freddy Sanchez 2 for 15, Ryan Doumit 2 for 8, Adam LaRoche 4 for 18.

Of note: Six pitchers have recorded saves for the Pirates -- Matt Capps, Damaso Marte, John Grabow, Craig Hansen, Romulo Sanchez, Tyler Yates -- the most since six did it in 2001. The most recent occasion with more was 1996, when there were eight.

Obituary: John Scott Challis

Teen delivered message of hope with cancer fight

By Mike White
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/
Wednesday, August 20, 2008



Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

John Challis with head baseball coach Steve Wetzel in an April 24 photo following a baseball game with his Freedom High School team. Mr. Challis died Tuesday after a battle with liver and lung cancer.


Over the past few months, John Challis watched a Penguins playoff game with Mario Lemieux, was featured on ESPN television, addressed the Pirates before a game and spent an afternoon with Alex Rodriguez at the New York Yankee's penthouse in Manhattan.

Although he rubbed elbows with the rich and famous, John likely will be remembered for the many people he touched -- and for his inspiring actions and words.

John's two-year battle with liver and lung cancer ended yesterday afternoon, when he died at his home in Freedom, Beaver County. He was 18.

On a warm June afternoon, John did one of his final interviews. Lying on a couch in his living room, he spoke about his young life. He struggled to keep his eyes open, but talked about how, all of a sudden in the past few months, he had become something of a national celebrity.

Not long ago, John was simply a teenager battling a terminal illness. Then a base hit in a Freedom High School baseball game led to a May story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which led to national attention, on television and radio and in other newspapers.

The attention is what John wanted. He had decided that through his fight with cancer, he could spread a message and help others.

"Everybody is scared. It's not normal to not be scared," John said of his plight. "But I'm not scared as much now. I have letters and other things from people, telling me how I've helped so many people in numerous ways. That makes me feel good."


Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

John Challis meets one of his baseball heroes, Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, at PNC Park in June.


In the corner of the family living room were two boxes of letters and cards from well-wishers and people who wrote to let him know they were inspired by his story. His family also has two binders filled with hundreds of e-mails from people who said John had impacted their lives.

Near the couch in the Challis home, a folded American flag sat on a chair. A Navy pilot flew the flag over Iraq with John's name on it and sent it to the family.

"I just want to say thanks to the people for keeping me going," John said. "All them little cards and stuff I got, keeps me going day by day. To know I'm going downhill a little bit, it doesn't bother me because I've helped so many people. Since I've helped so many people, this is easier to handle."

Courage + believe = life.

Life ain't about how many breaths you take. It's what you do with those breaths.


What teenager comes up with such sayings? John Challis did, and they became his personal trademarks. A baseball glove company sent John a black glove with "Courage + believe = life" embossed in the leather along with John's name.

"We would get things almost every day from people all over the country," said Scott Challis, John's father.

When John attended a Yankees game in late June, he had a news conference, surrounded by more than 20 reporters and photographers.

"People would sometimes call, too, just wanting to talk to him," his father said. "Some wanted to come meet him. It was amazing. I guess he touched so many people."


Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

John Challis poses for a photo with Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and ex-Penguins star Pierre Larouche during the Penguins game against the Flyers on May 11.


John was never more than an average athlete, at best. Because of the cancer, he couldn't play sports as a junior or senior at Freedom, except for a few plays in the final football game of Freedom's 2007 season. Then in April came "the hit." John hadn't played baseball in a few years but he wanted to be on Freedom's team. He wanted a chance to hit one time, and Freedom coach Steve Wetzel granted the wish, pinch-hitting John in a game against Aliquippa.

In a storybook moment, John lined a run-scoring single to right field on the first pitch. Although he had trouble running, John made it to first base, yelling "I did it. I did it."

In May, John and Mr. Wetzel were guests on Dan Patrick's national radio show. ESPN sportscaster Scott Van Pelt devoted a segment of his national radio show to John's story.

How did a teenager with a heavy Pittsburgh accent from a small Western Pennsylvania town become a national story? How did he tug at so many people's emotions from so far away?

"There is just so much these days with the Internet, and Web sites, and blogs, but this was a story about a kid who was just so real that it grabs you," Mr. Van Pelt said. "Then, you had sports involved in it.

"I know Pittsburgh is probably all concerned about what the Steelers are going to be like this fall and how maybe the Penguins could've done things differently in the Stanley Cup, but this kid's story was just so different. It's a tremendous story. Actually, it's a bad story because it has a horrible ending.

"The story that [the Post-Gazette] did started the fire for this kid. If maybe I threw another log on to help get it going more, then great, because it deserved to be a bonfire."


Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

John Challis in an April 24 photo following a baseball game with his Freedom High School team. Mr. Challis died Tuesday after a battle with liver and lung cancer.


John lived long enough to reach some personal goals. He graduated with his senior class. One of his last requests was to take a cruise with his father, his mother, Gina, and sister, Lexie, and they did that in June.

The Pirates brought him to a game later in June, gave him a uniform and let him address the team in the clubhouse. He told the players not to worry so much about their statistics and have fun. John told the Pirates to cherish the game -- and life.

Mr. Wetzel recalled John's words: "You never know what life might bring you. You might have a few sniffles and think it's not a big thing. Then you go to the doctor the next day and they tell you that you have a 10-pound tumor in your stomach."

"Some of the Pirates got emotional," Mr. Wetzel said.

First baseman Adam LaRoche stayed in touch with John after his visit.

"It makes you realize how short life is and how unfair it can be," Mr. LaRoche said yesterday from the clubhouse in St. Louis, before the Pirates played the Cardinals. "I think what's cool is that, even with what he had, he chose to make the best of it and touch a lot of lives that he wouldn't have if this hadn't happened to him. He got the bad end of the deal, but he touched a lot of people. For sure, he touched the 25 people in here."

John also spent some time with the Tampa Bay Rays when the team was in town to play the Pirates.

"Their manager, Joe Maddon, called and said he saw the story on John on ESPN and he was just in his hotel room in tears," Mr. Wetzel said. "He said he just wanted to meet John. Coach Maddon has really become touched by John and his message."

Mr. Wetzel and Mr. Maddon now talk a few times a week. Mr. Wetzel said Mr. Maddon now puts "C + B = L" on every lineup card that he hands to umpires before games.


Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

John Challis gets a hug from Beaver's Al Torrence after the two teams played on April 24.


John's favorite moment in the past few months was the trip to New York for a Yankees game.

"Just because it was with my dad," John said. "It was a good time because we both got to experience it, and it felt like something not just for me, but something he enjoyed as well."

The afternoon at Mr. Rodriguez's penthouse was memorable.

"No Madonna," John said with a laugh.

John was never shy about expressing his feelings on a subject and was always known to ask questions. His father laughs at a couple questions John asked as Mr. Rodriguez was showing them around his home.

"Now John had no idea about these Madonna and A-Rod rumors [about an affair], and John goes, 'So, where's your wife?' I couldn't believe it. But A-Rod just said she was in Florida at their other home with their kids.

"Then John asked him if his wife worked. John wasn't trying to be smart. He was just curious. He told John that she didn't work, but that she had a psychology degree."

John faced his death with courage, dignity, a never-quit attitude and an awareness that was hard to fathom.

John's mother told of a nurse who started coming to the family home in June. "The first time she was here, John said, 'I know why you're here. You're here to make me comfortable in my last weeks. But it could be more than a few weeks, right?' "

"The kid was just unbelievable," Mr. Wetzel said. "His attitude and messages I think changed how some people looked at their lives. He changed how I went about life.

"I feel like a piece of my heart is gone now. The thing I'll miss most is his smile. He had a smile that could light up a room."


Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

John Challis, with his dad, Scott, meets Penguins owner Mario Lemieux during the Penguins game against the Flyers on May 11.


John said his Catholic faith and belief in God got stronger through his illness.

One of the things that made John happy in recent months was the start of a foundation that will raise money to help other sick teenagers enjoy a sports experience. The foundation was the idea of John and Mr. Wetzel.

"If I can help someone else going through this, then that would make me feel good," John said.

The foundation has a Web site -- http://www.courageforlifefoundation.org/ -- where donations can be made.

When asked a few weeks ago how he would like to be remembered, John said, "I could see people having some beers and hopefully remembering how I always tried my best, no matter what I was doing. That's my message -- just for people to always do their best, no matter what they're doing or how stupid it might seem. And no matter what, there will always be a reward, no matter how small it is."

In addition to his parents, John is survived by his younger sister, Lexie.

Visitation will be tomorrow and Friday from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. at Noll Funeral Home, 333 Third St., Beaver. A Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday in SS. Peter & Paul Church, Beaver. Burial will follow at Beaver Cemetery.

The family asks memorial contributions be made to John Challis Courage For Life Foundation, P.O. Box 123, Monaca, PA 15061.

Also, there will be a golf outing to benefit John's foundation Monday at Chartiers Country Club. For more information, go to http://www.courageforlifefoundation.org/.

Mike White can be reached at mwhite@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1975.
First published on August 20, 2008 at 12:00 am

Related Stories

Pirates Notebook: LaRoche recalls Challis as 'special to me'

PG audio: The Pirates' Adam LaRoche talks about the passing of John Challis

PG archive: Teen is running out of innings, but the game still isn't over (5/4/08)

Legacy.com: Sign a guestbook for John Challis


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tomlin tries not to rush Timmons

Things likely to change for the regular season

By Gerry Dulac
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Peter Diana / Post-Gazette

Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons


There was one drawback to the basic defensive plan the Steelers used in their second preseason game in Toronto, and it wasn't the ease with which the Buffalo Bills went up and down the field. It was that Lawrence Timmons nearly didn't get on the field until the second quarter.

That is not likely to happen when the Steelers play in Minnesota Saturday night, a game in which the starters typically see their most playing time in the preseason and the coaches sometimes trot out an extra wrinkle or two.

And it most certainly won't happen when the regular season begins Sept. 7, even if Timmons, the Steelers' No. 1 draft pick last year, doesn't beat out veteran Larry Foote for one of the inside linebacker positions in the 3-4 defense.

Timmons appeared for only one play during the first three series against the Bills because the Steelers used their base 3-4 defense for all but five plays and rarely blitzed the quarterback. But, once he got on the field in the second quarter, playing the "Mack" inside position with the second-team defense, Timmons stood out like the CN Tower that rose above the playing field at the Rogers Centre.

He has been doing that since training camp began, and there is no reason to suggest that will change as the Steelers shift their preseason location from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe to their South Side training facility.

"His pedigree shows every time he's on the field," coach Mike Tomlin said.

Tomlin has tried to downplay Timmons' emergence as a player who could impact the defense more than LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers' No. 2 draft choice last year, who will start at left outside linebacker. He has done so because he likes the way Timmons quietly has approached his second season and doesn't want to say anything that would allow the 6-foot-3, 242-pound linebacker to think he should be immediately bronzed into the Hall of Fame. Or something like that.

But, as the preseason morphs toward the regular season, the only thing that will grow increasingly more difficult for Tomlin will be trying to keep Timmons off the playing field. He has been defending passes in the end zone, squashing plays in the flat and closing on running backs as though they've taken his meal money. And he has been exploding into quarterbacks like no Steelers linebacker since Kendrell Bell was a rookie.

One difference: Timmons appears to know what he is doing.

"It's different when you're running and don't know what you're doing," Timmons said. "You'll just be running like a chicken with his head off. But when you know what you have to do, you're comfortable and you can play faster because you know where you're supposed to be."

That is the biggest difference between Timmons and Bell, who was a No. 2 draft choice in 2001. Bell didn't understand the defense as a rookie, but defensive coordinator Tim Lewis was so enamored with his explosive physical ability that he used Bell merely to rush the quarterback and blow up plays in the backfield. But, after being named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year, Bell never was the same productive player. He became one-dimensional because he never learned the defense and was eventually let go in free agency.

Testament to Timmons' development is that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau uses him as an extra linebacker in the nickel defense, a role that requires a lot of pass-coverage responsibilities. In those situations, Timmons will replace Foote, a seven-year veteran. When safety Troy Polamalu missed the first three weeks of training camp, it was Timmons who played his role in the quarter defense -- an alignment that looked like the nickel defense because four linebackers were on the field. In actuality, Timmons was playing the spot usually manned by a four-time Pro Bowl safety.

"I just go do what the coaches say when they put me in," Timmons said. "I just try to do my job. When you have a year under your belt, you're feeling a lot better. I just went out and made plays that came to me."

Well, not all of them. Sometimes, Timmons went to them.

That happened in the second quarter when he sacked Bills quarterback J.P. Losman. And it especially happened in the third when he delivered a thundering hit on quarterback Matt Baker as he released the ball.

"You got to love that," Timmons said of getting a shot at the quarterback. "I'm just glad it came."

It probably will, so long as he gets the opportunities.

Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1466.
First published on August 19, 2008 at 12:00 am