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Cubs 6, Pirates 4

If you watched the Pens game instead, you missed yet another frustrating, entertaining, and ridiculously long Pirates game. This one went into extra innings yet again, although this wasn't one of those wild, football-score games we've come to expect, at least not at first. Instead, it was very quiet for a while, as Ryan Dempster somehow one-hit the Pirates for seven innings.

For the Pirates, Zach Duke was the best I've seen him in at least a year. The velocity still isn't there, but he struck out six batters, including three very good ones (Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukodome). They weren't cheap strikeouts, either - he was just outsmarting his opponents and making them look silly, Fukudome especially. I don't know if this start really meant anything, but Duke was just terrific.

In spite of that, he left the game with the Pirates one run behind. Franquelis Osoria allowed another run when he made an error, dropping a good throw from Adam LaRoche. (How many errors will Pirates pitchers make this year?)

The first two Pirates reached base in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn't really capitalize. Again, a bunt was involved. Something worth keeping in mind when a bunt takes place is that it may not be successful. Even forgetting about the fact that you're giving up an out, it's a risky play. In this case, pinch hitter and BD whipping boy Luis 0-for-3vas attempted a bunt with a 2-0 score and runners on first and second with no outs in the eighth. I know the second run (represented by the runner on first) is very important in that situation, but look:

Run expectancy, 0 outs and runners on 1st and 2nd: 1.573

Run expectancy, 1 out and runners on 2nd and 3rd: 1.467

The bunt is a good play in that situation only if it's actually successful. Add in the probability that the batter flubs the bunt, and I'd say it's generally not a good play.

Well, Rivas flubbed the bunt - he popped it up and Lee made a great diving catch to get to it, then doubled off the runner at first (Nyjer Morgan, who was only in as a pinch hitter anyway), who was inexplicably stuck between first and second.

So, if you're keeping track at home, that's one player (Rivas) brought in only to bunt and failing in just about the worst way possible, and another (Morgan) who's on the bench largely for his baserunning ability getting caught with his pants down while trying to run the bases. Which raises an obvious question: what in the world are either of these guys doing on the team? Seriously? This team is built like a car that you can fry eggs on but that you can't drive anywhere. Morgan would make a heck of a track star, but a baseball player? No, not so much. (By the way, big props to the fans at PNC Park who started chanting "M! V! P!" when Rivas came to bat in the 13th.)

You can add the Pirates' first- and third-base coaches to the question, too - what is their function? On Monday, third base coach Tony Beasley was caught in the headlights while Jose Bautista made a safety squeeze. Today, Doug Mientkiewicz (who, by the way, might well come in last in a 100-yard dash against Wilford Brimley, Ronny Paulino, John Kruk, and a caterpillar) was gunned down easily while trying to stretch a single into a double. That's at least the third time this year a Pirate runner has been thrown out in embarrassing fashion in exactly that circumstance. What, exactly, is first-base coach Lou Frazier doing out there?

Anyway, the Pirates ended up picking up a run in the eighth on a hit by Nate McLouth, and then another in the ninth on a solo homer by Jason Bay (who had a great game), so the Bucs went to extra innings for the fourth time already this year.

After that, there was some pretty heroic work by the bullpen, which didn't allow a run in extras until the 14th. (That was a two-run homer by Aramis Ramirez off Phil Dumatrait.) I figured that would be it for the Bucs, but in the 14th, a miracle occurred. Bay legged out an infield single, and LaRoche - yes, LaRoche, who'd been 2-for-27 on the year up to that point - smacked a two-run homer into the right-field seats. It seemed 1980-Olympic-hockey improbable, but that's what happened, and the game went to the 15th.

Then, Rivas botched a critical double play, tagging second but failing to make the throw to first to get Kevin Hart. Geovany Soto had made a decent slide, but Rivas was a bit slow getting to the bag and shouldn't have allowed himself to be taken out of the play. That turned out to be very important, because Dumatrait made a wild pitch to move the runners up to second and third (and maybe it's my own bias shining through here, but I'm not inclined to blame the wild pitch on Doumit; only a fantastic defensive catcher would've gotten to it). After intentionally walking Alfonso Soriano, Dumatrait allowed Felix Pie to single in two more runs.

Evan Meek loomed large in this game yet again, even though he wasn't allowed to actually pitch. When Dumatrait went to the mound, Meek was the only guy left in the 'pen. Because the Pirates understandably weren't comfortable with Meek, they had no choice but to allow Dumatrait to pitch three innings and allow four runs. Those last two stood up as the Pirates failed to score in the 15th, and the Cubs won, 6-4.

Again, it seems to me that the Pirates are hurting themselves a lot by continuing to have Rivas and Meek on the roster. I can understand why the Pirates shouldn't make any rash decisions - most weeks of baseball aren't anything like this, and it's usually much easier to hide a player like Meek. Still, though, Rivas in particular has been incredibly frustrating to watch.