SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 21: Everth Cabrera #2 of the San Diego Padres is tagged out in a run down between third base and home by Garrett Jones #46 of the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning of a baseball game at Petco Park on August 21, 2012 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
As a major-league baseball town, San Diego is a bit off the grid. Most of the residents of San Diego are transplants, and are generally athletic, outdoorsy people who prefer participating in athletic activities to watching them. They like the Padres and like going downtown to see the games, but they aren't overly invested in the outcomes. When the Dodgers come to town, L.A. fans fill the ballpark. The city of San Diego is perched in a corner of the country, with the ocean to the west, Mexico to the south, the desert to the east, and Camp Pendleton and miles of suburban hellscape separating the city from L.A. in the north. There aren't many people around who can even be Padres fans, which is one reason the organization's payrolls are usually rather low. When a team visits San Diego from the East Coast, its fans watch the games in the middle of the night (as they do whenever their team plays on the West Coast, obviously). The only MLB city that feels as far off MLB's beaten path as San Diego does is Miami.
Compounding this feeling is PETCO Park, where the games feel like they're playing on some lost reel of tape from 1968. There are entire games where you forget the last time you saw a ball leave the infield; runs are extremely hard to come by. Handle PETCO Park deftly, and games aren't that hard to win if you can get a few bounces. Make a few mistakes that wouldn't be such a big deal in other ballparks, and there's a good chance you'll be replaying them in your head on the long flight back east, wishing you hadn't been swept.
Tonight's game wasn't a standard PETCO 2-1 snorefest -- not at all. But it was the sort of game where neither team really took advantage of their opportunities, and it was a 7-5 Padres victory that ought to have the Pirates talking to themselves as they try to sleep tonight. In a ballpark that so often requires discretion and grace to win ballgames, the Pirates had bursts of inspired play but mostly comported themselves like fannypack-wearing tourists. And Clint Hurdle's Hawaiian shirt was tackier than anyone's.
The Pirates allowed their customary two runs in the first inning on a singles by Everth Cabrera and Will Venable and a double by Carlos Quentin. It's just awful to give up two runs in the first in PETCO, and the Pirates had a big early hole that they had to crawl out of.
The Bucs got one back in the third. Jose Tabata and Travis Snider singled, and Tabata came home all the way from second on a fielder's choice and an error by Alexi Amarista, thanks in part to a terrific slide by Snider. Unfortunately, Andrew McCutchen got thrown out trying to steal second -- every time the Pirates attempt to steal a base, all my facial muscles curl up into a ball and shout, "NO NO OH NO," and here ... sometimes I wonder if McCutchen's transformation from a young player (fast, athletic) to an old one (slower than before, lots of power, shoddy defense) is happening at warp speed. (Then he ran down that ball in the ninth and I stopped wondering. More on that later.)
In the fourth, Garrett Jones singled, and tried to come all the way around on a two-out double by Clint Barmes. I couldn't really fault the Pirates for sending him -- there were two outs, and the bottom of the order was coming up, and in most circumstances he would have been safe. But Amarista made a spectacular throw on the cutoff to gun him down.
Burnett played with fire again in the fifth -- Venable led off with a double, and then Burnett issued two two-out walks, but Burnett got Amarista to ground out to end it.
Jones tied the game in the top of the sixth with his 20th home run of the year, and Rod Barajas hit an RBI double to left later in the inning to put the Pirates up 3-2. In the bottom of the inning, though, Cameron Maybin and Jesus Guzman led off with singles, and then Rod Barajas misplayed Cabrera's bunt, loading the bases. Then the Padres tied the game when Jones botched a play at first. Burnett, still pitching with the bases loaded and no outs, whiffed Chase Headley with a backdoor breaking ball and got Carlos Quentin to ground into a double play to end the inning.
The Padres took the lead in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Chris Denorfia. In the eighth, Clint Hurdle put Chad Qualls in a one-run game for some reason, and Qualls promptly gave up a double to Venable, who came home on a sacrifice fly. 5-3 Padres.
It would have been nice if the Pirates had used someone who could pitch that inning, because the insurance run turned out to be crucial. In the top of the ninth, McCutchen singled, then came home on Jones' second homer of the game, tying it at five in dramatic fashion. Jason Grilli came in to pitch the bottom half of the ninth and put up a zero, thanks to a catch that McCutchen had to run about a mile to make.
The Pirates didn't score in their half of the 10th. Daniel McCutchen came on to pitch the 10th despite being somewhere around the 10th-best relief pitcher in the organization, partly because of poor roster decisions and partly because of Clint Hurdle's ludicrous strategy of using all his worst relievers in extra-inning situations before getting to his best ones, rather than the other way around. It's like a child being forced to eat his brussels sprouts before he can have ice cream, except that once he eats the brussels sprouts, it's not possible to eat the ice cream anymore. Joel Hanrahan sat this one out, people. This is very sadistic parenting. It's not good to have Qualls and McCutchen on the roster in the first place (particularly with Kevin Correia in the mopup role that represents the limit of what McCutchen ought to be handling), given that the Pirates have a number of interesting young pitchers who are currently in Indianapolis or on their way back there. And it's even worse to actually use Qualls and McCutchen in important situations.
Well, anyway, the guy the Pirates just called up from AAA gave up a walk, then hung one of those I'm-not-sure-what-pitch-that-was-supposed-to-bes for Chase Headley to smack about 15 rows into the seats in right, and the Pirates lost 7-5. As Adam Bittner points out in the comments, the Pirates shouldn't have even been pitching to Headley -- after a stolen base, there was a runner on second. McCutchen had gotten himself into a three-ball count against a switch-hitter, and Quentin, a righty, was on deck. Nothing about what Hurdle did there made any sense whatsoever.
It was a great game for Jones, despite his error, and the Pirates got way more chances than they deserved to take advantage of his fine performance at the plate -- through nine, the Padres had 15 hits and five walks and only had five runs to show for them. But mistakes and bad decisions helped do the Pirates in.
UPDATE: Bill Brink's Twitter feed collects Clint Hurdle's bizarre explanations for the decisions he made tonight. Let's insert the token gesture of respect here: thismanhasforgottenmorebaseballthanI'lleverknow yadayadayada. And now let's call these things what they are: the explanations of a man who either isn't able to explain what he was thinking, or wasn't thinking.
Hurdle said he considered Hanrahan against middle of #Padres order, but "Then it's Daniel (McCutchen) for the rest of the game."
So, you just skip the part where Hanrahan pitches, and it's No Relation pitching the rest of the game anyway. Only you get back to your hotel room a lot earlier. Brilliant.
On why Hurdle used McCutchen in the first place:
"Daniel went through one of those last year," referring to 19-inning #Braves game
This wasn't a 19-inning game. This was an extra-inning game. I'm pretty sure everyone on the team has pitched in an extra-inning game before. Most of them even did so two days ago, in fact. Actually, that was also a 19-inning game.
On Chad Qualls:
"We’re seeing thing[s] we like to see and we’ve seen it that past when he’s been effective."
What are you talking about? Really? Qualls hasn't been any good in years. He turned 34 last week. His strikeout rate is nonexistent. His recent results speak for themselves. I understand Hurdle shouldn't drive a bus over a player in a chat with the press, but maybe he could also consider not stapling the player to the road during the game.