Friday, April 30, 2010

Pirates have gone from bad to worse; time to break them up

By Paul Daugherty
April 29, 2010

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been historically bad for 17 seasons and are primed to add to their legacy this year. They're at the bottom of the National League Central once again and last week, the Milwaukee Brewers outscored them 36-1 in three games in Pittsburgh, then came back four days later and blasted them 17-3 in one game in Milwaukee.

In the seven days between April 20 and 26, the Pirates were outscored 72-12. Not by the Yankees, or even the Jets, but by the Brewers and the Houston Astros. This isn't Major League Baseball in any way, except embarrassment.

Break up the Pirates.

No, really. Dismantle them player by player. Melt them down. Paperweights and doorstops for everyone.

For Pirates fans, this season -- like most -- has been one frustration after another.(AP)

Actually, the Pirates have some salvageable parts. A Zach Duke here, a Paul Maholm there. Ryan Doumit and Andrew McCutcheon would be welcome on almost any Major League roster. The rest? No disrespect, but you really have to work at losing 72-12 in one week. Name five Pirates, win fabulous prizes.

Why isn't more made of this?

I ask this as a Pirates fan, old enough to have watched the Great One, Roberto Clemente, at Forbes Field and to have shed actual tears after World Series Game 7s in 1971 and 1979. The worst moment of my sports-scribing career came in Atlanta Fulton County Stadium in 1992, when -- for reasons that elude me to this day -- Sid Bream scored from second base on a hard single to left field, allowing the Braves to beat the Buccos in Game 7 of the NLCS.

Bream ran like Captain Ahab. Barry Bonds fielded the ball cleanly and made a good throw to the plate: A couple bounces, just up the baseline. Mike LaValliere handled the throw and applied the tag, just like you draw it up. Bream scored anyway, and that was that. In that instant, the Pirates ceased being the Pirates, and became the AAAA team we endure now.

Bud Selig frequently expresses a desire that every team have hope on Opening Day. Hope isn't a word I'd use to describe the Buccos in the last 18 years. Why doesn't some other team's owner -- say, some small-money owner who argues for greater sharing of revenues -- call the Pirates out?

Pittsburgh's Opening Day major league payroll was $39 million. The Pirates raked in far more than that without ever selling a ticket or a hot dog or leasing a luxury suite at the very attractive and taxpayer-funded PNC Park. I asked club president Frank Coonelly how much more. He declined to say.

As a model, let's use the Cincinnati Reds. Between revenue sharing money, money from Baseball's Central Fund, their share of MLB Properties revenues and local TV and radio dollars, the Reds took in about $70 million last year. Coonelly said the Pirates' local media dollars were less than Cincinnati's. But their take from revenue sharing was more.

It's not unrealistic to suggest Pittsburgh's haul was slightly more than the Reds' $70 million. Where'd it go?

Every time the Pirates throw out that Quad-A lineup, more wind leaves the sails of the Have Nots' boat. If you are a small-market/money operation, Pittsburgh torpedoes your desire for baseball to become a more extensive corporate welfare club, like the NFL.

Coonelly says the Pirates spend "far, far more on players'' than what they get in shared revenue. He doesn't count the generous allotment from the Central Fund. Or anything else listed above.

Coonelly says his Pirates are paying big money for high draft picks. They've tripled the money they spend in Latin America. He also says, "It's a very exciting time to be a fan in Pittsburgh. I think we have a chance to compete for the NL Central championship.''

I grab my Clemente 21 jersey and lie down in a cool place.

"The history the last 17 years is regrettable and an embarrassment to the city,'' Coonelly offers, after some prodding. Well, yeah. "But I can only justify what's happened since September 2007,'' when Coonelly left the Commissioner's office to became president of the club.

I ask him what a ball club's responsibility is to its fans and how the Pirates are meeting that responsibility. Seems like a fair question for a team that's been playing its fans for years, while buying them off with fireworks and bobbleheads If you're a Pirates fan and not a clinically diagnosed masochist, why? Loyalty? Optimism, self-loathing, postgame fireworks? What is your reasoning and why isn't someone busting you upside your head?

"Our obligation to the fans is to do everything in our power to put a winning team on the field,'' says Coonelly. "Some have questioned our plan, but they can't question our motivations."

OK, but 17 seasons of bad, plus one week of 72-12 from hell, could equal cynicism, Frank. "We're not going to panic because of one bad week,'' says Coonelly.

One bad week?

"It was painful and in fact embarrassing to the organization,'' says Coonelly. "But it was a week. Seven games.''

In the meantime, the Pirates will build for a future that never arrives, or at least never has. They will sell their product with fireworks -- eight big shows this year! -- and giveaways. Endure the game, stay for the George Thorogood concert. And until baseball makes its teams plow all their welfare bucks back into players, not much will change.

Seven games?

If only, Frank. If only.

Paul Daugherty is a columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Penguins' Orpik embraces added playoff burdens

Friday, April 30, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik: ""I'm going to have a lot of stuff to take care of with my body after the season. Right now, you just try to maintain what you have left."

The television cameras caught the blood gushing last week after Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik's nose lost a battle with Ottawa Senators forward Mike Fisher's helmet. Pretty nasty stuff. Maybe it wasn't as graphic as Washington Capitals center Eric Belanger pulling out his shattered teeth on the bench the next night, gruesome video that made all of the national sports shows, is all over the Internet and defines exactly what playoff hockey is all about. But it was nasty nonetheless.

"My nose is the least of my worries," Orpik said the other day.

No wonder.

As expected, Orpik led the Penguins with 32 punishing hits against the Senators. Only Buffalo winger Mike Grier (33) had more in the first round of the playoffs. During the regular season, Orpik ranked sixth in the NHL with 255 hits.

"I'm going to have a lot of stuff to take care of with my body after the season," Orpik said. "Right now, you just try to maintain what you have left."

There is some good news.

Imagine how the other guys feel. You know, the Senators. They were eliminated in six physically jarring games.

Orpik had a starring role in that series as the Penguins advanced to Round 2 and a Game 1 date with the Montreal Canadiens tonight at Mellon Arena. It wasn't just because he knocked the Senators into the offseason. His game has turned into so much more than just big hits. He and partner Sergei Gonchar played lights-out defense against the Senators' top line of Peter Regin, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson.

That was the big worry about the Penguins at the start of this playoff run, wasn't it? That their defense wouldn't be as good as last season after losing the shutdown pair of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill to free agency?

Well, so far so good.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma certainly won't have any fears about sending out Orpik and Gonchar against the Canadiens' top line of Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Travis Moen or Benoit Pouliot.

"I don't want to say it put more pressure on me," Orpik said of his added responsibilities after Scuderi and Gill left. "But it did put more of an emphasis on me to play better defense."

It's been great fun watching Orpik's game mature. Early in his career, there were many times he would look to make a hit even if it meant getting caught out of position. Those judgment lapses frequently led to pucks in back of the Penguins' net.

But Orpik learned.

"The guys in this league are so talented," he said. "They always have their head up and they're so aware of what's happening. If you're out of position, they'll pick you apart every time.

"You just have to let the game come to you. It's hard sometimes in the playoffs because you're so amped up. But you have to make sure you control your emotions and pick your spots."

Quite often, the hits still are there. Remember the four Orpik delivered so famously in a 15-second span in Game 3 against Detroit in the 2008 Stanley Cup final? Other times, though ...

"I've had fans tell me, 'I went to the game last night and you didn't hit anybody. What's up with that?' " Orpik said. "I just tell them, 'Hey, it's frustrating for me, too.' "

You should have heard the man laugh.

You would laugh, too, if you were on the hockey run he's on.

That Cup final in '08. Signing a six-year, $22.5 million contract that summer. Winning the Cup last season. Making the U.S. Olympic team and winning a silver medal at the Vancouver Games in February. Surviving the first round of the playoffs this spring when Eastern Conference higher seeds Washington, New Jersey and Buffalo all were beaten.

Who knows what is ahead?

"I like our chances," Orpik said. "We had a lot of questions coming in [to the playoffs] because we were so inconsistent all year. But I like how we responded after we were down 3-0 [in Game 6 against Ottawa]. The guys were talking about how eerie it was that we came back to win that game just like we came back from 3-0 in Game 6 at Philadelphia last season. I like how we reacted to that situation. I like how we reacted after losing the triple-overtime game [to the Senators in Game 5]. I like a lot of things about how we're playing right now."

Next, the eighth-seeded Canadiens.

Who could have guessed they would take out the President's Trophy-winning Capitals in seven games by winning the final three 2-1, 4-1 and 2-1?

Who could have imagined their defense -- led by the pairing of old friend Gill and Josh Gorges -- would turn out the lights on the Capitals' electric power play by giving up just one goal in 33 chances?

Who could have known that goaltender Jaroslav Halak would stop 131 of 134 shots in those final three wins?

"Halak was unbelievable," Orpik said. "It's kind of like what we were talking about the other day. Somebody asked, 'Who would you rather play -- Boston or Buffalo?' You probably would rather not play Buffalo because of [goaltender] Ryan Miller. You want to stay away from a goalie like him. A guy like that can steal a couple of games and win the series for his team. That's what Halak did ...

"Not that any of those guys are easy at this point. Look at how [Tuukka] Rask is playing for Boston. I don't think there's any goalie left that you want to face in the playoffs."

That includes the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury.

Know this: Orpik will do everything he can to make sure Fleury is at his best against the Canadiens. Even if it means leading with his nose.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author

Penguins' Crosby finalist for Hart Trophy

Friday, April 30, 2010
By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin were each named finalists for the Hart Trophy.

Asked why he thought teammate Sidney Crosby should win the Hart Trophy as the MVP of the 2009-10 NHL season, Max Talbot resorted to counting on his fingers.

"It's because of all the things he brought every night -- not only his goal-scoring this year but his faceoffs, his timely goals, his power-play goals, his time on the [penalty-killing], his leadership," Talbot said.

"All of the above is a good reason why he deserves it."

Crosby was named Thursday by the NHL as one of three finalists for the Hart, which he won in 2007. The others are Henrik Sedin of Vancouver and Washington's Alex Ovechkin. The winner will be announced June 23 in Las Vegas.

"You look at Sedin, Ovechkin, yes, they did good," Talbot said. "But the way Sid rounded himself out to being a complete player this year is, to me, that's the reason."

Crosby, in his fifth season, eclipsed 50 goals for the first time. His 51 tied him with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos for the league lead. Thirteen of his goals came on the power play, and six were winners. He finished tied with Ovechkin for second in NHL scoring with 109 points, three behind Sedin.

Crosby also improved in faceoffs -- taking a league-high 1,791 of them and winning 55.9 percent, which ranked eighth among those with 1,000 or more draws -- and in shootouts, where he led the NHL by scoring on 80 percent (8 of 10) of his attempts, with four of his eight recorded as winners.

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said accolades do not come easily when it comes to the team captain -- but only because Crosby has been ballyhooed so much for so long.

"What else to say?" Fleury said, smiling. "He's a guy that works hard every day, shows up, shows leadership on and off the ice every day in practice and games. I think he's had a very consistent season and with that many goals, I think that's a big accomplishment for him.

"I think he's a dangerous guy when you play against him every night."

Ovechkin, looking for his third consecutive Hart Trophy in his fifth NHL season, reached 50 goals for the third season in a row despite missing 10 games because of injuries and suspensions. He led the NHL with 368 shots and had the best plus-minus rating among the league's forwards, plus-45. He was named captain of the Capitals Jan. 5.

Sedin, with 112 points, topped his previous high by 30, with a career-best 29 goals and an NHL-high 83 assists. He is the first Vancouver player to win the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion and would be the first Canuck to claim the Hart.

He is Crosby's choice.

"I don't know the exact definition of he Hart -- I don't know if it's the best player or the most valuable to their team -- but I think clearly he was consistent throughout the whole year," Crosby said of Sedin. "He plays in a lot of key situations. He's responsible defensively.

"I just think he's a complete player that's really had a great year."

Of course, Crosby likely would not point to himself. Others with the Penguins did that for him.

"The intangibles that he brings to the rink every day and that he brings to our team in a leadership capacity are becoming more and more evident," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He gets better in certain areas."

For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at Shelly Anderson: or 412-263-1721.

Penguins Plus, a blog by Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson, is featured exclusively on PG+, a members-only web site from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Our introduction to PG+ gives you all the details.

No surprise: Pens' Crosby is an MVP finalist

April 30, 2010

It takes a team effort to win a Stanley Cup, but it could be argued that one man carried the Penguins into the NHL playoffs this season.
Sidney Crosby, who led the league in goals, is one of three nominees for the Hart Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL's most valuable player and is based soley on regular-season performances.

Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who has won two straight MVPs, and Vancouver's Henrik Sedin, who outlasted Crosby and Ovechkin for the NHL scoring title, are the other two nominees.

Sidney Crosby, who led the league in goals, is one of three nominees for the Hart Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL's most valuable player.

Chaz Palla Tribune-Review

The Penguins' locker room is squarely behind its captain.

"He'd definitely get my vote," Penguins forward Craig Adams said. "We know where we'd probably be without him."

Adams didn't elaborate on just where the Penguins would be without Crosby, but it can safely be assumed the defending Stanley Cup champions wouldn't be one of eight teams remaining in the postseason without the 22-year-old superstar.

Penguins backup goalie Brent Johnson, who is one of two players on the roster to play with Crosby and Ovechkin, also supports his teammate.
"He'd be No. 1 on my ballot," Johnson said. "Both of those guys are great, and they're both hard workers. Sid is inspirational. The way he works really can't be duplicated, but it inspires you to work as hard as you can. He's special like that."

Crosby wanted to improve on two perceived weaknesses, goal scoring and faceoffs, this season. And so, after willing himself to become better in both categories, Crosby didn't just improve in those areas but led the league in goals and faceoffs won.

"I don't think people realize just how hard he works," defenseman Alex Goligoski said. "He's still here practicing every day, even when people tell him to take a day off. That really does rub off on us. I don't know if he realizes it or not, but we follow him because of that."

The Hart Trophy winner won't be announced until a few days after a more important piece of hardware — the Stanley Cup — is awarded. And Crosby makes it clear that only playoff glory is on his mind.

"It feels good," he said. "I don't really think about the season or reflect on the season too often. I try to be consistent as much as you can. I wanted to score a little more this year. That was something I wanted to improve in, and I think I did."

Crosby's modesty is almost as legendary as his worth ethic, but his teammates are tooting his horn. Especially now, with Ovechkin stunningly eliminated from the playoffs, the hockey world's spotlight belongs to Crosby.

Who will snatch this year's MVP is anyone's guess — Crosby, Ovechkin and Sedin are all worthy candidates — but the Penguins believe their leader deserves the award again - he also won it in 2007.

"He is such a great player," Johnson said. "He is very deserving of that award."


SIDNEY CROSBY — Penguins center

Notable: Finished tied for the NHL lead in goals (51) and second in points (109) for the Penguins, who finished with the East's third-best point total.

ALEX OVECHKIN — Capitals left wing

Notable: Scored 50 goals and recorded 109 points despite missing 10 games for the NHL-leading Capitals.

HENRIK SEDIN — Canucks center

Notable: On the strength of a league-best 83 assists, he recorded 112 points, 30 more than his previous best, to win his first NHL scoring title.

More Penguins headlines
Pens' task to solve Habs' goalie
Canadiens plan to block Pens
Former Pen Scuderi breaks down semis
Penguins' Leopold expects to sit Game 1
Gorman: Ovechkin goes missing in Game 7
Flyers prepared for physical series
Questions galore for Caps after quick exit

Steelers' Worilds man of his word

Friday, April 30, 2010
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jason Worilds had planned on spending the second night of the National Football League draft watching television and doing pushups, a reminder of the way he first started working out to build himself into a 6-foot-2, 262-pound defensive terror -- just doing pushups.

But when his name was called in the second round with the 52nd overall pick by the Steelers, it was a reminder and a salute to his mom, Sandra, who did everything for the youngest of her two sons, including being his prom date.

"We've always been close," Sandra Worilds said. "I always tried to instill in him to be positive and be respectful. I told him as long as you remain the person you are and respect people, they will respect you. Jason is a really good example of that."

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 6: Defensive end Jason Worilds #6 of the Virginia Tech Hokies forces a fumble by quarterback Dominique Davis #15 of the Boston College Eagles in the 2008 ACC Football Championship game at Raymond James Stadium on December 6, 2008 in Tampa, Florida. (Getty Images)

Three years ago, the outside linebacker from Virginia Tech was known as Jason Adjepong, which was the legal name of his father. But, to honor his mom, he went to a Virginia courthouse and legally reclaimed the name -- Worilds (pronounced "worlds") -- he was given at birth before his father switched it.

That way, whenever his name was called on television or at the stadium -- and even during the NFL draft -- it would be a tribute to Sandra Worilds, who spent a lot of her time working in a hospital and at several private nursing jobs in Rahway, N.J., to help raise her sons.

"Whenever my name was called, I wanted it to say 'Worilds,' " he said Thursday, making his way through the Newark Airport to come to Pittsburgh for the three-day rookie minicamp that begins today. "That way it would honor my mom.

"I love my mom, I love the values she gave me. She did a lot for me. Everything I do in my life is for her."

That Worilds name was called by the Steelers was something of a surprise.

Penn State linebacker Sean Lee, who went to Upper St. Clair High School, appeared to be the player the Steelers were targeting in the second round after selecting Florida center Maurkice Pouncey with the 18th overall pick. They had a first-round grade on Lee and thought he fit the way they played better than any linebacker in the draft.

But, the Steelers did not think Lee would be available when it came their turn.

When he was, it seemed like an obvious choice. But coach Mike Tomlin really liked Worilds, an undersized defensive end in college who fit nicely as a disruptive outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense -- something the Steelers were lacking behind James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.

What's more, the return of Larry Foote in free agency gave the Steelers four inside linebackers, along with James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons and Keyaron Fox. Even though Farrior is 35, the need for depth was more dire on the outside, not inside.

So they passed on Lee and selected Worilds.

"Jason Worilds is a very athletic guy who can get after the quarterback," said director of football operations Kevin Colbert. "Teams started paying more attention to him this year and his sack production went down. But he was just as effective and just as disruptive, and probably had his best game of the year in his last game against Tennessee."

Worilds was not a stand-up pass rusher at Virginia Tech, where he recorded 34 tackles for losses and 15 sacks in 25 career starts. He played exclusively in a three-point stance, something the Steelers worry about when they try to project a defensive end as an outside linebacker in their defense.

But, when the Steelers went to Virginia Tech for a workout, linebackers coach Keith Butler was impressed with the way Worilds handled all the drills, including opening his hips and dropping into coverage.

"He probably had one of the best workouts this year of anyone we've seen," Butler said. "He was able to do things that we wanted him to do that we think he can do in this system."

That all sounds good to Worilds, who thinks he fits nicely into the mold of outside linebackers in the Steelers' defense.

"You look at those outside guys, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, and the way they get after the ball and how much passion they play with ... they're physical, explosive players," Worilds said. "I like to model my game after them. I'm excited to come in and learn as much as I can from those guys."

About that prom date.

Since he was in ninth grade, Worilds always told his mom he was going to take her to the prom when he was a senior at Cateret (N.J.) High School. But Sandra Worilds always dismissed the talk, telling her son he would change his mind once the time came.

"I told her I was going to do it and she would always say, 'Oh, you'll change your mind,' " Worilds said. "But I didn't."

It wasn't because Worilds couldn't get a date. He just wanted to take his mom.

"I thought he would change his mind," Sandra Worilds said Thursday, excited that her son's new team is less than a six-hour drive from her home. "But, sure enough, when he was a senior, he said, "What are you going to wear to the prom?' We did wind up going. It was nice."

If nothing else, Jason Worilds is a man of his word.

Gerry Dulac:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Kings' Scuderi jumps on Penguins' bandwagon

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Little more than 12 hours after his Los Angeles Kings were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Vancouver Canucks in six games Sunday night, old friend Rob Scuderi was on the telephone from his Manhattan Beach, Calif., home to offer best wishes to one and all.

"Now that we're out, sure, I'd love to see the Penguins win it all again," he said.

You expected Scuderi to be pulling for the Washington Capitals?


Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi on his former team, the Penguins: "Maybe it will be a little bittersweet for me if they win again."

You can take Scuderi out of Pittsburgh, but you can't take Pittsburgh out of Scuderi. He spent all or parts of five NHL seasons in a Penguins sweater, experiencing the lowest of lows in 2005-06 when the team had 58 points and the highest of highs last season when it lifted the Stanley Cup in no small part because of his fine work on the blue line. He still watches the Penguins' games when he can and keeps in touch with many of his former teammates, notably defenseman Brooks Orpik.

"Maybe it will be a little bittersweet for me if they win again," Scuderi said. "But it's not like I left there with a feeling of unfinished business. It was sad to leave, but I'll always know that I accomplished something special with that group of guys."

If the Penguins don't win this season, I'm blaming Scuderi.

For, you know, leaving.

The Penguins aren't as strong defensively without Scuderi. Teammates didn't call him "The Piece" last season for nothing, did they? OK, they did, but more on that in a second. The team misses him and shutdown defensive partner Hal Gill, who left as a free agent for the Montreal Canadiens. In case you haven't noticed, Gill is having a terrific playoff series against the President Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, who will try to survive against the Canadiens tonight in Game 7 in Washington.

"They might miss me a little," Scuderi said of the Penguins, "but they're certainly not showing it. Every time I've seen them play, they've looked really good. I think the defensemen have played great."

That's Scuderi.

Mr. Humble.

That's why the Penguins playfully jumped all over him during the Cup final last season when he misspoke in a Post-Gazette story. Instead of saying he was a piece of the team's puzzle, he said, "I'm the piece to the puzzle that you need to get a championship."

Hence, "The Piece."

Scuderi's teammates loved the way he took their abuse with a smile. It went a long way toward easing the tension during the pressure-packed final against the Detroit Red Wings. They also loved something else he said in that same article.

"I'm not ashamed of what I do for my team or how I help my team win. I'm always going to be a role player and I'm fine with that."

That's why no one in the Penguins' dressing room or front office begrudged Scuderi's decision to leave. He sifted through offers from Dallas, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders before accepting a four-year, $13.6 million contract from the Kings.

Not bad for a role player.

"The Piece," indeed.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who wanted to keep Scuderi but couldn't fit him under the team's salary cap, said the big deal couldn't happen to a better guy.

"There's no player in the history of hockey who wanted to leave a championship team," Scuderi said. "I'm just glad I had the choices that I had."

Scuderi gave the Kings just what they expected -- solid defense, a strong presence in the room and a top-shelf partner for ridiculously young Drew Doughty, 20, who is a finalist for the Norris Trophy.

"To be as poised and as patient with the puck as he is at his age, he's definitely a special player," Scuderi said.

The man knows one when he sees one after playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh.

Scuderi said this year's Kings remind him of the Penguins' team in 2006-07 that was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Ottawa Senators, a painful but necessary step in the development of the Stanley Cup champions. Doughty is just one of several young, talented players who should be better next season for the experience they gained against the Canucks. The Kings won two of the first three games in the series only to lose three in a row, blowing third-period leads in two.

"We're all disappointed how the series ended," Scuderi said. "But there's no doubt this was a step in the right direction for this organization. They hadn't made the playoffs in eight years, and we got there. We were a couple minutes away from winning a couple more games. Hopefully, everyone learned their lessons."

The roughest part for Scuderi?

It's not even May yet.

"I'm not used to having this much time in the offseason," he said. "My wife just asked me, 'What are we going to do now?' "

Hernia surgery is in Scuderi's immediate future. The Scuderis also will move into the new home they just bought outside of Boston. Then, there's a little playoff hockey to watch.

"Oh, yeah, I'll be watching the Penguins," Scuderi said.

Rooting for 'em, too.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

Karstens, Doumit stamp out Pirates' worst week

Five-run rally in ninth, Doumit's slam off Hoffman, beats Brewers, 7-3

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Darren Hauck/Associated Press

The Pirates' Ryan Doumit sends Milwaukee closer Trevor Hoffman's 2-0 fastball into the second deck in right field for the winning grand slam in the ninth inning.

MILWAUKEE -- The Pirates' clubhouse was a tight, tense place Tuesday afternoon, gripped by one of the worst week-long stretches for any team in Major League Baseball history.

At one stall, sitting silently, was Jeff Karstens, freshly recalled from Class AAA Indianapolis with a 7.31 ERA mostly as a reliever. He would be, by all appearances, the latest sacrificial lamb served up to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Strolling across the room to break that silence was Ryan Doumit, fresh off one of the most forgettable nights of his career. He tapped Karstens on the knee with his catcher's mitt and said, "Let's do this."

And so, hours later, they did ...

Pirates 7, Brewers 3.

No, that is not backward.

Karstens limited Milwaukee to two runs over 6 2/3 what's-so-hard-about-this innings for the Pirates' first quality start since April 18, and Doumit capped a five-run rally in the ninth with a tiebreaking grand slam off legendary closer Trevor Hoffman.

Gone, just like that, was the Pirates' 22-game losing streak at Miller Park with their first victory here since May 3, 2007.

Gone, too, was the overall seven-game losing streak, one in which the Pirates were outscored by an astounding 72-12. It was the worst such span in franchise history, and the worst in the majors since the New York Giants, as part of an eight-game losing streak Sept. 2-6, 1901, lost seven in a row by a combined 90-27, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

As Doumit put it, "This one feels good. We haven't won here in three years, and everybody knows that. And, obviously, the last seven days were pretty trying for us as a team. But Jeff came in and gave us what we needed."

There was more to it: Ronny Cedeno led off the ninth with a home run that tied the score at 3-3. Jeff Clement had his finest performance with the Pirates, hitting his third home run, a double and a single to inch above the Mendoza Line at .208. And Andy LaRoche went 4 for 5 to extend a 12-for-18 tear since returning from back spasms.

But it all started, just as all of the Pirates' epic problems had in the past week, with the starting pitcher: Karstens was characteristically simple in his approach, moving fastballs in and out and mixing in his new sinker, and he scattered six hits and four walks.

He had made only one start in Indianapolis, that of five innings coming two days after a relief outing, and he never threw more than 78 pitches until reaching 101 in this one.

"My arm felt fine," Karstens said. "I just wanted to be as efficient as possible, throw everything for strikes. And I did. My fastball was maybe a little erratic, but that might have helped in that it kept them from squaring up on it."

Manager John Russell was visibly moved afterward when asked about Karstens, this within the context of the Pirates' starters previously amassing an 8.72 ERA, the bullpen depleted and the blowouts coming almost daily.

"Jeff was outstanding," Russell said. "He kept us in the game. He's capable of doing that, but we really, really needed it, and he stepped up huge for us. You can't say enough ... for him to come out and give us a start like that when we desperately needed one, it says a lot about Jeff. And I'm proud of him."

Might Karstens get another nod with the next rotation vacancy Sunday in Los Angeles?

"I don't see why not. Kid deserves it."

Darren Hauck/Associated Press

Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens pitches in the first inning.

Karstens was functioning on less than a handful of hours of sleep, likely from eagerness to rejoin the Pirates after an offseason in which he was removed from the 40-man roster and had an inconsistent spring.

But that inward focus might have served him well, as his late arrival onto the scene surely shielded him to the Pirates' woes of late.

"I know it was rough here, but we've got a lot of talented pitchers, and they'll come around," Karstens said. "I just took this as an opportunity to pitch."

Karstens took a 2-1 lead into the seventh, but Milwaukee's George Kottaras homered off his first pitch that inning to tie.

And, when Prince Fielder opened the eighth the same way with a home run off Javier Lopez, the Brewers were back up, 3-2, and the scene looked plenty familiar.

"When Fielder hits that ball, it would have been easy for us to go, 'Oh, here we go again,' " Doumit said. "But it's a testament to what all those guys did in front of me, with Trevor Hoffman, 'Hell's Bells' and all that. We didn't give up."

Cedeno took a ball, then reached for an outer-corner fastball and homered to left-center to tie. It was his second home run, and it quieted the crowd of 28,991 before the signature AC/DC sound-blast had settled.

"I was just trying to get on base," Cedeno said. "We were fighting the whole game."

Cedeno was adamant he had hit Hoffman's changeup, the pitch that someday will put him in the Hall of Fame. But Hoffman's chance at adding to his record 594 saves was blown -- his third in six opportunities -- because that pitch has suddenly abandoned him as his ERA has ballooned to 13.50.

Because of that ...

"I'm pigeonholing myself to where a hitter doesn't have to offer early," Hoffman said.

After an out, LaRoche singled and Lastings Milledge doubled him to third.

Garrett Jones was intentionally walked -- teams have been bypassing Jones all month to get to Doumit, with his four RBIs -- to load the bases.

Doumit, following the others' lead, stayed off two Hoffman pitches, then destroyed an 86-mph fastball into the second deck beyond right field for his second career grand slam, his first home run since the opener, and an instant doubling of that RBI total.

"Honestly, I'm not sitting on anything there," Doumit said. "I'm looking for a sac fly."

This followed Doumit's dismal Monday, when he failed to apply an easy tag on a play at the plate and stranded five runners with the bat.

"Yeah, but you know, that's why baseball's such a beautiful sport," Doumit said. "You can get absolutely boat-raced one day, then come back the next and put the hurt on the same team."

Despite the ugly nature of the Pirates' seven-game losing streak, neither the job of Russell nor that of general manager Neal Huntington is in jeopardy, according to multiple sources Tuesday. Any such decision would be made by team president Frank Coonelly, who was unavailable for comment.

Dejan Kovacevic: Find more at PBC Blog.


Game: Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 1:10 p.m., Miller Park.

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

Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (1-2, 4.74) vs. LHP Chris Narveson (1-0, 7.20).
Key matchup: Maholm has owned the Brewers' Prince Fielder, retiring him 30 of 34 times up, with 10 strikeouts and a walk..

Of note: Octavio Dotel, the Pirates' closer, has been scored upon in five consecutive appearances, and opponents are batting .382 with three home runs in 7 1/3 innings.

The PBC Blog
Box score
Minor-league report

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Penguins' Bylsma wired for success

Tuesday, April 27, 2010
By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is 5-0 in playoff series.

Less than 15 months into his NHL coaching career, the Penguins' Dan Bylsma is 5-0 in playoff series, including a Stanley Cup title last year and a first-round win against Ottawa this year.

Some of the secrets to his success entering the second round later this week are a bit contradictory, depending on who you ask.

The players see a man who hasn't changed, one who is reliably upbeat and uses the same management style he brought with him when he got promoted from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Feb. 15, 2009.

"I think he's the same coach we all met last year in February," team captain Sidney Crosby said.

Maybe so, but Bylsma insisted Monday that he goes out of his way to keep his thoughts fresh and his strategy flexible.

"I try not to get in a rut about what I've done in the past or experiences I've had in the past," he said.

And that's from a man who has kept meticulous track of practices and situations, starting a new notebook every year dating to the waning seasons of his playing days in the NHL.

They are a good reference, but they are only that because coaches who have been his mentors convinced him not to be rigid.

"One of the things I learned in being an assistant coach and watching some of the good coaches I've coached with is try to treat each situation [as] new and not go to the notebook and say, 'This is what I did in this situation last time so I'm going to do the same thing over again,' " Bylsma said. "Not every situation is the same. Not every team is the same."

One constant, though, is Bylsma's energy level.

The guy could bounce off of a Velcro wall. On his more sedate days.

"I don't think it's gone down," center Jordan Staal said. "Every morning it seems like he's got about 10 cups of coffee in him. He's an exciting guy to meet in the morning.

"I'm usually not a morning guy, but with him, every day seems like a new day and there's something new to learn. He takes ownership to do that and get everyone else on the same page and be excited about learning and getting better. It's exciting to drive to the rink and know that's what you're coming to."

As with the players, Bylsma still washes through the emotion of game days, particularly when there is a lot at stake, as there was Saturday in Ottawa. The Penguins failed to close out their series two nights earlier in Game 5, losing, 4-3, in triple overtime at home, and so had to go on the road to try again.

"I think you get a little more comfortable going into series, but when you're in the middle of one ... it certainly didn't feel any more comfortable going into that Game 6 after that Game 5 loss here at home and going to Ottawa," Bylsma said. "It's new feelings, a new pit in your stomach, having to deal with different situations."

One recurring feeling for Bylsma is that of clinching a playoff series, as the Penguins did Saturday when winger Pascal Dupuis scored in overtime to void a winner-take-all Game 7.

Whatever credit anyone wants to heap on Bylsma, it shouldn't be based on painting him as a traditional inspirational leader who comes up with the perfect pregame pep talk or the effective kick in the pants.

At least that's the opinion of winger Bill Guerin, who at 39 is the same age as Bylsma and has played for a long list of NHL coaches.

"I don't think there's such a thing as a motivator anymore," Guerin said. "You can't be a motivator in this game anymore. There's too many technical aspects of the game. I am a firm believer in that. If you're a motivator, that's a thing of the past.

"Dan motivates in a different way. I think he really tries to get to know each and every player's personality and what makes them tick. But I think he feels he can get to guys without threats, without embarrassing anybody."

Bylsma has written books with his father, Jay, aimed at children, aspiring athletes and their families, so it's hardly surprising that he keeps those notebooks and approaches coaching from a teaching perspective.

"He's real energetic, real outgoing, easy to talk to, and he's got a drive to win," Staal said. "He doesn't shove the system down your throat, but he puts it out there.

"He's a great coach."

One who, apparently, is the same coach he was upon arrival in the NHL yet embraces the ability to adapt as needed.

"It's a winning recipe," Dupuis said. "Why change it?"

For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at Shelly Anderson: or 412-263-1721.

Penguins Plus, a blog by Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson, is featured exclusively on PG+, a members-only web site from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Our introduction to PG+ gives you all the details.

Would Nutting Fire Russell, Huntington?

By Bob Smizik, Tuesday 12:15 a.m.
Apr 27 2010

The losing streak for the Pirates is at seven, a span in which they have dropped from second to last place. During that stretch, they‘ve been outscored, 72-12, and their starting pitchers have posted an earned run average of 13.32.

It doesn’t get much more ugly than this. It’s so ugly, in fact, in a lot of places that kind of baseball would generate serious talk of firing the manager, even firing the general manager.

The latest humiliation, and it was a big one, came last night in a 17-3 loss to Milwaukee. The lowlights were these: veteran catcher Gregg Zaun, who went into the game batting .157 with three RBIs, was 4-for-4 with five RBIs; once-effective starter Zach Duke gave up eight runs in four innings; closer Octovio Dotel gave up four runs in one-third of an inning as the Brewers scored nine in the ninth; catcher Ryan Doumit, with the game still close, stayed back on a tag play at home and a runner who easily should have been out slid home safely.

Not in Pittsburgh, where the fan base is frustrated and angry but where ownership is highly unlikely to make a change now or at any point in the season.

Think about it! Why would owner Bob Nutting fire general manager Neal Huntington when Huntington is part of the best management team in baseball, if not all of sports? And why would Nutting fire manager John Russell when he’d have to pay him for the rest of the season not to manage?

That kind of thinking borders on blasphemy with Nutting. Pay two men to manage his team? Are you crazy?

Nutting hired both Huntington and Russell on the cheap. He’s not going to give away all that money he saved by firing them and paying them not to do their jobs while he pays others to do their jobs.

It’s not going to happen. But maybe it should.

Let’s start with Russell. Since taking over in 2008, his record is 134-206, a winning percentage of .394. Even on the Pirates, that’s taking losing to a new level. None of his three predecessors, all fired, had a winning percentage of less than .400. Jim Tracy was 135-189 (.417); Lloyd McClendon was 348-460 (.431); Gene Lamont was 295-352 (.456).
You can’t blame Russell for the caliber of talent on the team and you can’t even blame him for a lack of effort because there’s little or no sign the Pirates are not trying.

But firing the manager is a traditional baseball remedy for a poor season, whether it’s logical or not. Russell would be an easy target because dismissing him would raise some cheer among fans. He has zero public relations skills and although that’s not a key part of the job, the manager should at least try. Russell doesn’t. On a last-place team trying to sell tickets, that’s pretty inexcusable.

And who knows? Maybe a managerial change would breath some excitement into a season already on life support. In 2003, the Florida Marlins fired manager Jeff Torborg when the team opened by going 16-22.
Not much was expected when old-timer Jack McKeon was put in the manager’s office. But the Marlins came back to make the playoffs and win the World Series.

Could that happen in Pittsburgh? No! But a managerial change could spark improvement. Sometimes just a different voice can change things.
A better case can be made for firing Huntington. He has traded every player from the Pirates opening day lineup in 2007, his first year on the job, except catcher Ryan Doumit and including starting pitcher Ian Snell. The result is a worse team with no sign of getting better soon. Organizational depth is nice but it doesn’t translate into wins on the MLB level.

It’s well known Huntington’s biggest trade -- Jason Bay to Boston -- already can be considered a failure. Bay was his biggest chip and all he has to show for it is Andy LaRoche, who profiles as a mediocre third baseman, and minor-league pitcher Bryan Morris, still in class A.

In his first big trade, Huntington sent Nate McLouth, an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner, to Atlanta for pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez. While it’s true McLouth has declined sharply in Atlanta, that doesn’t excuse the return on him. Morton is 5-14 with a 5.95 ERA since joining the Pirates; Hernandez is batting .203 at Altoona, with no homers in 69 at bats after batting .262 with three homers in 344 at bats last season. Locke is 2-1 at Class A.

Finally, Huntington has pulled the rare feat in a multi-player trade with Chicago by allowing the Cubs to get the best two players in the deal, pitchers Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow. In return, the Pirates got Jose Ascanio, on the 60-day disabled list, and Kevin Hart, who was 1-8 with a 6.92 ERA after the trade and pitched himself back to the minors with a horrendous spring training.

If either Russell or Huntington were fired, there wouldn’t be a word of protest -- except, that is, from the owner’s office.

Posted: Bob Smizik with 27 comment(s)
Filed under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Steelers hoping Georgia Tech's Dwyer is a steal

Tuesday, April 27, 2010
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Goodbye Fast Willie and say hello to the Diesel, who might be the Steelers' best bargain in the NFL draft.

The Steelers were good for two trades the past week, and in essence they concluded another when they drafted Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer after letting Willie Parker go as a free agent.

Their running styles could not be more diverse, from one end of the scale to another. Parker was the home-run threat, the quick-twitch fiber of a back. Dwyer weighs 225 pounds and runs like his nickname, Diesel, ramming through lines and churning out yardage like plows through snowdrifts.

Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

The Steelers drafted Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer in the sixth round.

That the Steelers were able to get him with a sixth-round draft pick not only surprised Dwyer, but it also surprised some in the NFL. He ran for 1,395 yards as a true sophomore in 2008 as the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year. He followed with another 1,395 yards last season and opted for the draft after an NFL committee informed him he should be drafted in the first or second round. had him projected for the second or third round as the sixth-best back in the draft. He was the 12th back taken and that could be to the Steelers' advantage.

Rashard Mendenhall is the top dog in the Steelers' backfield and he also may continue his role as their third-down back. As such, he will need relief. The only other back on the roster with real experience is Mewelde Moore. Frank Summers, whose rookie season ended with minor back surgery, and two players who spent much of last season on their practice squad, Isaac Redman and Justin Vincent, join them.

Dwyer will compete for the No. 2 job and also as a short-yardage back.

"This kid's had 1,300 yards in each of the last two years," said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations. "He's a big kid, with deceptive speed and productivity. And again as a junior you still think he hasn't reached his full potential yet."

Dwyer's draft status fell once the interminable postseason analysis took over. A toe injury in the Orange Bowl set his training back before the combine, where he ran a 4.64 in the 40. He knocked that down to a 4.52 at his workout for scouts at Georgia Tech. There was confusion over a "failed" drug test at the combine, even though the NFL was made aware he was on medication for attention deficit disorder. Then there was Georgia Tech's triple-option, in which Dwyer lined up close to scrimmage with his hand on the ground. In the NFL, he will more often line up farther back and standing up. In his college system, he did not have to block nor catch much.

Either way, all those yards the past two seasons and the 6.2-yard average per carry meant something. And for those who looked deeper, Dwyer was Georgia Tech's second-leading rusher as a freshman, averaging 5.3 yards per carry under former coach Chan Gailey's pro style offense.

"He's a workhorse-type of running back, and he should excel at the next level as a runner," said Kirby Wilson, who coaches the Steelers' backs. "He's got some other things he's going to need to work on, but he does have some natural running ability. Again, when you are 230 pounds, that is a plus and that can't be taught."

Free agent rookie signings

The Steelers added a huge fullback and two safeties to their roster when they signed eight rookies who were not chosen in the draft. Demetrius Taylor of Virginia Tech becomes the team's only pure fullback, nearly the size of an offensive lineman at 6 feet, 273 pounds.

The other free agent rookies are guard Dorian Brooks (6-2, 306) of James Madison, safeties Justin Thornton (6-1, 213) of Kansas and Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith (6-2, 210) of UTEP, offensive tackle Kyle Jolly (6-6, 300) of North Carolina, defensive tackle Cordarrow Thompson (6-2, 301) of Virginia Tech, center/guard A.J. Trump (6-3, 300) of Miami and defensive end Lindsey Witten (6-4 1/2, 249) of Connecticut.

Added to their 10 draft choices, it leaves the Steelers with 90 players on their roster.

For more on the Steelers, read Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at Ed Bouchette:

Ed Bouchette's blog on the Steelers and Gerry Dulac's Steelers chats are featured exclusively on PG+, a members-only web site from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Our introduction to PG+ gives you all the details.

Roethlisberger's actions will speak loudest of all

Tuesday, April 27, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger

Two thoughts immediately came to mind after reading Ben Roethlisberger's much-anticipated eight-sentence statement Monday:

1) Never have so many waited so long to get so little.

2) Maybe it's a good thing Roethlisberger didn't spend much time crafting his statement, which almost certainly was written by one of his high-priced public-relations specialists and was released to the media via e-mail. So what if he didn't bother to read it in front of the television cameras, as Tiger Woods did in February when he started his comeback from disgrace? Actions mean far more than mere words, for one thing. Roethlisberger has too much work ahead of him to worry about news releases, for another. He needs to spend every waking moment on resurrecting his image, his career, his life, actually.

Today is hardly too soon for Roethlisberger to get started.

Isn't it nice to think that this is the final time we'll be talking about Big Ben before Steelers training camp opens in July? By then, hopefully, he will have gone through all of the evaluations and counseling sessions required by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who gave him a conditional six-game suspension last week for his behavior March 5 at a Georgia college bar when he was accused -- but not charged -- of rape by a 20-year-old student.

"I will not appeal the suspension and will comply with what is asked of me -- and more," Roethlisberger's statement read.

Satisfying Goodell will be the easy part for Roethlisberger.

Winning back his teammates will be much more difficult.

Sunday, on ESPN's "Outside The Lines" show, Roethlisberger was portrayed as a bad guy in the Steelers' locker room. Other players talked of him being aloof and feeling a sense of entitlement. That's exactly how former Steelers offensive tackle Marvel Smith described him in an interview with the New York Times last month.

Things were so bad in the 2006 season, according to the ESPN program, that former Steelers captain Joey Porter called out Roethlisberger in front of the other players at a team meeting. " 'It's like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben,' " teammates quoted Porter as saying.

Since then, there have been signs that Roethlisberger has tried to be a better teammate, at least with his offensive linemen. Tackle Willie Colon was with him on that March 5 early morning in Georgia but wasn't accused of any wrongdoing. Last season, Roethlisberger took the linemen with him when he made an appearance on World Wrestling Entertainment's "Monday Night Raw" show in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. In the '08 season, he picked up all expenses for the big fellas to go to Chicago to celebrate center Justin Hartwig's 30th birthday.

Well, it's time Roethlisberger starts trying a little harder with his other teammates.

You know, be one of the guys rather than just the superstar quarterback.

Be there to be their friend and to take part in their lives and activities and charity work.

If that happens, the other players might even forgive Roethlisberger for putting their 2010 season in jeopardy by missing the first four games because of his suspension, which likely will be commuted from six games by Goodell for good behavior.

"Missing games will be devastating for me," Roethlisberger's statement noted. "I am sorry to let down my teammates and the entire Steelers fan base."

Ah, yes, the fans.

Roethlisberger has a really big job to earn their trust again. Many have said they are embarrassed that he is the Steelers' quarterback. Many want to see him traded or even released. Some are thoroughly disgusted by his abhorrent behavior. Others are angry that he won't be there for the team for at least those first four games.

It's not as if Roethlisberger can make things right with the fans on a one-on-one basis, as he can with his teammates. All he can do is start making better decisions with his life and stay out of the newspaper headlines.

That and play winning football, of course.

That, more than anything, will win a lot of fans back.

"This guy has helped us win two championships and he's made some mistakes, but he also deserves the opportunity to rectify those mistakes," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said over the weekend. "I know we stand behind his opportunity to do that."

Surely, Roethlisberger appreciates the support.

Right now, though, he mostly stands alone.

"I am accountable for the consequences of my actions," Roethlisberger said in his statement. "[I] will make the necessary improvements."

Mere words in an e-mail, right?

Everybody knows talk is cheap.

Roethlisberger's actions in the days and months ahead will determine if his image is salvageable, if he can get his career back on the path to the Hall of Fame, if he can get his life on a healthy track, away from self-destruction.

Only his actions.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Adversity? Penguins seem to shrug it off

Monday, April 26, 2010

A favorite gesture of Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is to shrug when presented with a conversation topic not to his liking.

His teammates seemed to take the same approach during an opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series at each point when the Ottawa Senators provided them reason for concern.

The Penguins demonstrated an ability to regroup and quickly shake off adversity whenever the Ottawa Senators gave them reason for concern during the teams' opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series.

The Penguins shrugged off a Game 1 loss at home, a first for this group in 10 postseason series.

They won Game 2 despite a puck that eluded goalie Marc-Andre Fleury 18 seconds into the contest.

They raced to a 4-0 lead in Game 4 at Ottawa, but within about five minutes, the Senators had cut that lead in half and had a power play with which to work.


Forward Max Talbot scored a shorthanded goal, his finest moment since two goals in Game 7 of the Cup Final last June, and the Penguins were on their way to a 3-1 series lead.

On Saturday night, that lead appeared in grave jeopardy. The Senators had already won Game 5 at Mellon Arena, going from a 2-0 lead to a 3-2 deficit in the third period to a 4-3 triple-overtime win. They were up in Game 6 at home, 3-0.

Four straight goals by the Penguins, none scored by Malkin or fellow superstar center Sidney Crosby, who combined for nine in the series, provided one final shrug at the Senators' expense.

"Obviously, we didn't want that to happen," center Jordan Staal said of the Penguins' Game 6 deficit, "but it just shows the character of this team and our ability to leave things behind."

Staal's regular left wing, Matt Cooke, who scored three goals in the series, indicated after Game 6 that he is unsure the answer to this question:

Did the Penguins not blink because of confidence that stems from having won the Cup or naivete developed from the past two postseasons when almost everything has gone their way?

"Does it matter?" Cooke said. "This is a group that doesn't panic, and to me that is the most important thing in a playoff series. The team that handles itself best usually plays the best over seven games."

The Penguins have been that team in eight of their past nine postseason series.

They showed in this one, which Staal said rivaled any in terms of "being tough," that they are more than just the oft-hyped "Big Four" of Crosby, Malkin, Staal and Fleury.

Twelve players scored a goal against the Senators, including winners from defenseman Kris Letang (Game 2), Talbot (Game 4) and winger Pascal Dupuis (Game 6).

Injuries to two regulars, defenseman Jordan Leopold (head) and right wing Tyler Kennedy (right leg), did not deter the Penguins, who also dressed left wing Ruslan Fedotenko for only two games. Fedotenko scored seven goals last postseason and has been a regular on Malkin's line for two years.

Left wing Chris Kunitz doubled his 2008 playoff goal total, finishing with two markers, six points and 22 hits.

Talbot, a non-factor in the regular season while battling multiple injuries, finished with four points. Also, he looked to have reconnected with Malkin, whom he helped to the playoff lead in points last spring.

Dupuis did not shy away from the physical nature of a series that averaged 79 combined hits. His overtime goal to clinch a Round 2 berth was a justifiable reward for continually using his speed to reach loose pucks in the offensive zone.

There is a lot to like about how the Penguins bounced the Senators.

Perhaps the most championship-like quality of this team is that its response to what worked well against Ottawa will match the reaction to when things went wrong in Round 1.

The Penguins' collective shrug says a lot about them.

"It's one series," Dupuis said. "Everybody in this room knows there is more to do."

More Penguins headlines
Coyotes force a Game 7 with win over Detroit
Habs seek elusive home win over Caps
Second-round tickets on sale today
Pens rally, advance in playoffs
Conner takes over for Fedotenko in Pens' lineup
Sens get in Penguins' way
Senators goalie Leclaire makes the biggest save

Steeler receiver Mike Wallace ready for increased role

Monday, April 26, 2010

Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, the logical replacement for Santonio Holmes, expects to be a main object of opposing game plans for the first time in his NFL career.

"(I know) there's going to be double-teams now,'' said Wallace, a third-round draft pick in 2009. "With Santonio and Hines (Ward), a lot of that pressure was taken off (last season). I know I'm going against elite corners now.''

With his new role, comes new expectations for Wallace, who embraces the challenge.

"I think I can make a major jump — I'm trying to make it to the Pro Bowl this year,'' said Wallace, the fastest receiver on the team. "People are going to have their doubts, but I'm going to be ready.''

Steelers receiver Mike Wallace brushes aside Packers defender Jarrett Bush as he gallops into the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown on Dec. 20, 2009.

Wallace's rookie season was a pleasant surprise. He played more than anticipated in taking over for Nate Washington as the No. 3 receiver, catching 39 passes for a team-high 19.4-yard average and six touchdowns.

When the Steelers traded Holmes to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft pick, Wallace realized he would have to accept more responsibility.

Known for his explosive bursts downfield, Wallace must refine other areas of his game to erase the stigma of being a one-dimensional (speed) receiver.

"Regardless if Santonio was here or not, I was going to be ready for a bigger role,'' Wallace said. "I learned a lot from Santonio, and I'm going to continue to learn from him, even though he's not here. But this is our team, and I'm developing my new role.

"I'm trying to take no steps back. I know we've lost a big-time player, but I'm trying to make the drop-off a lot easier on everybody.''

Wallace will be expected to play outside like Holmes, one of the league's best route-runners.

Ward normally lines up in the slot.

Instead of running straight downfield against nickel backs, Wallace will now have to free himself at the line of scrimmage against starting cornerbacks intent on jamming.

"Hines is a big technique guy," Wallace said. "He has a lot of tricks. Santonio's a big route runner. I learned a lot from him just about keeping my eyes forward, keeping my arms pumping and keeping my feet moving - giving a perception of different things. With that combination of the best of both worlds, I'm ready.''

Wallace is keeping all of his options open. He fielded punts during practice, the way Holmes used to do, in case he's asked to fill that role during the season.

Stefan Logan was the Steelers' punt returner last season.

At Ole Miss, Wallace holds school records for single game, season and career kickoff return yards.

"If they want me to return punts, I will," he said. "I haven't done it in a while, but I look to get better in every aspect - not just at receiver. I never did it during practice last year, but I'd do it after practice. This year, if they want me on the depth chart, I'm ready at any time for whatever.''

More Steelers headlines
Ravens go from good to favorites
Falcons draft pick still grieving
Lions hope 'Mr Irrelevant' isn't
Draft was vital for Steeler rivals in AFC North
Pitt's Dickerson slips to seventh
Steelers bring back McFadden
Trades add spice to draft's final day

Pirates endure a week from hell

Monday, April 26, 2010

HOUSTON — A historic loss. A horrific injury. Five straight defeats. Cranky backs, queasy stomachs and weary arms. A flurry of roster moves. Jeers, tears and prayers.

The Pirates packed what seemed like a season's worth of turmoil into five days last week.

"It was tough. It was hectic," manager John Russell said.

It was much worse than that. It was the week from hell.

"Oh, my gosh, yes, it was," reliever D.J. Carrasco said. "In a full season, there will be a lot of trials and tribulations. The younger guys will learn how to get through days like this — but you just don't want them to turn into weeks."

Pirate pitcher Zach Duke hangs his head after giving up a home run to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Actually, the week began on a positive note, with a 5-1 victory to clinch a series sweep against the Cincinnati Reds.

It turned out to be the last time the Pirates held a lead until yesterday, when they had a 1-0 edge for one-half inning against the Houston Astros.

"It started off well against the Reds," third baseman Andy LaRoche said. "Even though I wasn't playing, it was still exciting to watch those games. It went downhill from there."

LaRoche missed six games due to back spasms. He joined right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, whose back locked up so badly he was forced onto the 15-day disabled list.

The Milwaukee Brewers knocked the Pirates a game under .500 by winning three games in a row, including a 20-0 laugher Thursday. When the Brewers scored 19, fed-up fans at PNC Park chanted, "One more run!"

In more ways than just the score, it was the worst loss in the franchise's 124-year history.

Thursday's game was fourth-worst shutout loss in the majors since 1900. By outscoring the Pirates 36-1, the Brewers became just the fourth National League team since 1900 to win a three-game set by at least 35 runs.

"The Milwaukee series was embarrassing, and we finished it with a game we're all trying to forget," LaRoche said.

The run of blowout losses meant short outings for the starting pitchers, which burdened the bullpen. Righty Chris Jakubauskas was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis to start Saturday against the Houston Astros.

"A fresh arm," said Carrasco, who's pitched in eight of the first 17 games. "We were hoping that Jakubauskas would go deep into the game, but — pow! — right off the bat ..."

On his 12th pitch, Jakubauskas was nailed in the head by a line drive. He left the field on a motorized cart, but, miraculously, sustained only a concussion and bruises.

"It's scary," pitcher Daniel McCutchen said. "It brings you back to this is just a game and how important other things are."

The Pirates' clubhouse was quiet Sunday morning. On the surface, things seemed normal — a few guys played cards, others crashed on the couches in front of the television, and Octavio Dotel sang along loudly with a Spanish-language pop tune.

"We have to regroup," said catcher Jason Jaramillo, who the night before dropped to a knee at home plate and prayed as Jakubauskas writhed in pain. "I know we'll be fine. It's going to show what kind of character we have."

However, reliever Brandon Donnelly, a seven-year veteran who's played pro ball since 1992, sensed tension in the room.

"Right now, it's hard to stay up," Donnelly said. "It seems like everybody is sitting back, waiting for one person to do something. That's not going to happen. We need everybody to do something, even if it's the little things, to win."

Donnelly smiled when someone asked if there's truth to the cliche about losing building character.

"When you're winning, things are easy," Donnelly said. "When you're losing, you find out who you are. Right now, we're doing some soul-searching and finding a way to fight."

More Pirates headlines
Morton hit hard as Pirates fall to Astros, 10-3
Pirates farm system report
Players shaken up by Jaku's injury
Jakubauskas put on 15-day disabled list
Cubs club Brewers to complete sweep
Pirates drop sixth game in a row, fall into last place
Pressure at bats require next level

Storms ahead for Big Ben

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Anyone who has watched Ben Roethlisberger play football knows he does his best work when his world is falling apart.

Skim his greatest-plays catalog, and you'll see the pattern: Roethlisberger is about to be engulfed, his receivers' patterns are toast, the play is ruined ... and he somehow turns all that trouble into triumph.

A Roethlisberger family friend, Tony Iriti, once told me: "Ben loves to prove people wrong."

We have seen ample evidence of that:

» Roethlisberger transitioned from Miami (Ohio) to unexpected NFL starter two games into his rookie season - and went 13-0.

» He made the best quarterback tackle in NFL history — in the open field against a cornerback half his size.

» He took his team 88 improbable yards to win the Super Bowl.

» He suited up for the first day of training camp just six weeks after a near-fatal motorcycle accident and lined up behind center just two weeks after a spinal-cord concussion.

But all of that combined cannot compare to the challenge awaiting Roethlisberger this season, in the wake of a second sexual assault accusation within a year.

Charges were not filed in either case, but Roethlisberger faces a stiff sentence nonetheless. He is liable to encounter as much scrutiny and verbal abuse as any athlete in recent memory when he returns from his NFL-imposed suspension.

Big Ben has become a pariah in these parts. His likeness was removed from a display at the Pittsburgh Zoo, replaced by Mario Lemieux's. His brand-name beef jerky was pulled from the shelves. Polls show fans heavily in favor of trading him.

One woman called a local sports-talk show to say she wanted to organize a bonfire where people could burn their No. 7 jerseys.

Imagine if Roethlisberger doesn't win right away. Imagine if he throws a few interceptions in his comeback game.

And when the Steelers hit the road, well, let's put it this way: NFL stadiums aren't exactly the Augusta National Golf Club when it comes to taming the locals. A taste of what Roethlisberger can expect occurred at the NFL Draft at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

When the Steelers were announced with the 18th pick, the upper gallery chanted: "She said no! She said no!"

What's more, Roethlisberger's favorite receiver — Santonio Holmes — is gone, as is his freedom to run the offense as he pleases. The Steelers are under an ownership mandate to re-emphasize the running game.

I thought of all this Saturday, six years to the day the Steelers drafted Roethlisberger. My assignment that afternoon was to write a get-to-know-him piece for The Trib. The first person I called was his mentor and college coach, Terry Hoeppner.

"He's a special guy," said Hoeppner, who died of brain cancer three years ago. "The people of Pittsburgh are going to fall in love with him."

That they did. Big Ben wore a crew cut and the initials P.F.J. — Play For Jesus — on his football shoes. His teammates spoke of how he drank only ice water in bars. He won every game, too, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to go 13-0.

Fans had been waiting a quarter-century for the next Terry Bradshaw. The love affair intensified the following season, when the Steelers finally reeled in "One for the Thumb."

Big Ben had become larger than life. He was beloved, just as Hoeppner had predicted.

Behind the scenes, we know things weren't so rosy. As Roethlisberger admitted to ESPN six months ago: "I wasn't a good leader early on, and I probably wasn't the best teammate the first couple of years."

The implication of the ESPN piece was that Roethlisberger had since changed and was growing into a mature leader of men.

That would be laughable if it weren't so sad. You'd think the motorcycle accident would have knocked some humility into him. Instead, it might have jarred his demons loose.

Now, four years after the wreck, it is not Roethlisberger's face but his image that needs to be rebuilt. The first step is to behave, of course, but even that won't cut it if he doesn't play well and win.


More Columnist Joe Starkey headlines
Starkey: Almighty Goodell sets dangerous precedent
Starkey: When things get hairy, it's Talbot's time
Starkey: Fleury, Pens fail Game 1 test
Starkey: A different Penguins ceremony
Starkey: Mellon Arena memoir
Starkey: It's (not) time for Pirates
Starkey: Living, dying with Mountaineers

Steelers had inside info on SMU's Sanders

Monday, April 26, 2010
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It's not as though the Steelers needed any more convincing about Emmanuel Sanders, a slippery wide receiver from Southern Methodist. In fact, not wanting to risk waiting until the fourth round to draft him, director of football operations Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin decided to take Sanders in the third round for fear of losing him to another team.

But, during the process of evaluating Sanders as a possible replacement for Santonio Holmes, the Steelers received a character reference and scouting report about the 5-foot-11, 180-pound receiver from an unlikely source. And he just happened to be next door in the same building.

Louis DeLuca/Dallas Morning News

Steelers draft pick Emmanuel Sanders is SMU's all-time leader in receptions (235), receiving yards (3,791) and touchdown receptions (34).

Before he became the defensive coordinator at Pitt, Phil Bennett was the head coach at SMU and the man responsible for recruiting Sanders, who went on to become the school's all-time leader in receptions (235), receiving yards (3,791) and touchdown receptions (34).

When Sanders visited the Steelers' South Side facility for a pre-draft interview several weeks ago, he and his former head coach had lunch together in the team's cafeteria.

Now Bennett can visit with Sanders whenever he wants.

"I'm pretty proud of Emmanuel," Bennett was saying the other day, less than 24 hours after the Steelers selected Sanders with the 82nd pick in the National Football League draft. "He was gung-ho from the day he got on campus. He made everyone around him better. He loves to play the game of football. We used to call him 'Go-Go' because he never stops."

Bennett, who has been at Pitt since he was fired at SMU during the 2007 season, said Sanders reminds him of Steelers receiver Mike Wallace because they are both always smiling, both very personable.

The Steelers will settle for Sanders looking like Wallace, a third-round draft choice in 2009, on the football field.

All Wallace did his rookie season was catch 39 passes for 756 yards and six touchdowns. He was the second-fastest receiver in the draft and used his speed to get behind defenses, catching seven passes of 40 yards or longer, including four for touchdowns.

Sanders is not as fast as Wallace, but he was timed at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and has what receivers coach Scottie Montgomery calls "quick to the tuck." That means Sanders starts upfield as soon as he catches the ball.

And he caught a lot of them last season -- a school-record 98 in the run-and-shoot-style offense used by SMU coach June Jones.

"He really came to the forefront," Colbert said. "We had evaluated him during the fall, but at the East-West [game], he really stood out among the wide receivers. The more work we did, the better we liked him, including when we had him here for a visit."

Bennett had a similar experience when he went to Bellville, Texas, to recruit Sanders, who was a first-team all-district selection at three positions -- quarterback, wide receiver and safety.

"You couldn't get anyone to say anything bad about Emmanuel -- principals, counselors, nobody," Bennett said. "They were all just emphatic about him."

Sanders, though, did develop one blemish.

At SMU, he was suspended for the final two games of the 2008 season, leading some to believe he was a problem player. But Sanders said the suspension was because he was 15 minutes late twice to study hall and another time he was five minutes late to practice. They were minor infractions, but they added up to three strikes, which, under the penal system of Jones, who was in his first season at SMU, equated to a two-game suspension.

"My coach had implemented a three-strike policy, regardless of what you did," Sanders said. "It was three strikes and you got a two-game suspension."

Sanders said the suspension changed his perspective. He worked harder, in the weight room and the classroom. And his coaches noticed.

Bennett noticed a similar reaction during Sanders' freshman season at SMU when he didn't get to play because he was being redshirted. He reacted positively to a negative challenge.

"He would get so mad at me," Bennett said. "He could have helped us as a freshman, but I had made up my mind he was going to be redshirted. He was only about 158 pounds and I had decided we were going to bite the bullet and get him stronger.

"Well, he'd get on that scout team and every day would be an adventure. Our coaches would say to me, 'Why aren't we playing him?'

The Steelers hope they don't have to ask the same question.

Gerry Dulac: