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Post-Gazette Focuses on Zach Duke Conspiracy

Only a Pirate fan...

...Could take a game that included one of the most amazing offensive performances of the year and turn it into an uproar about John Russell's relatively inconsequential decision to remove Zach Duke from the game with one out left. The commenters in the last thread who are complaining about this story have it right.

In yesterday's game, the home finale, Andy LaRoche went 5-for-5 with two homers and two doubles. And yet the Post-Gazette would rather focus on Duke, who was removed from the game after giving up his first run of the game with two outs in the ninth. Russell's explanation--that he wanted Donald Veal to get a bit of work, and that he wanted to give the fans a chance to cheer Duke before the game ended--was stupid, but it wasn't deserving of any sort of moral approbation, and it certainly shouldn't take top billing over what LaRoche did, which was amazing. 

Particularly bizarre is the Post-Gazette's insinuation that there's some kind of conspiracy in play here:

Duke is second-time eligible for salary in the coming offseason, and a fourth complete game would have bolstered his bargaining position, tying him for the league lead with San Francisco's twin aces, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.

But team president Frank Coonelly strongly rejected any link.

"It was JR's decision, and the last thing he or anyone else was thinking about at a moment like that is a possible arbitration case in the future," Coonelly said.

Is there any, you know, evidence that the Pirates did this? If not, why are we talking about it? As WTM points out, the idea that there's some conspiracy here is pretty silly. Are we really to believe that Russell hatched this diabolical plan to reduce Duke's salary next year by depriving him of a complete game? Russell doesn't seem nearly that clever, unfortunately. Or did Coonelly or Neal Huntington send Russell a memo before the game? ("JR - Please leave Zach in if he's pitching well. But if he happens to give up a run in the ninth, please take him out so we can keep his salary low. But, uh, not until he gives up a run. Thanks, Frank.") Or did Coonelly or Huntington call Russell during the game? To believe there's a conspiracy here is farfetched at best. The Post-Gazette is giving ammunition to the tinfoil-hat element of the Pirates' fanbase, and I can't identify any justification for them doing so.

It's been a long season. But Monday's game was a great one. The Bucs' third baseman had the best game of any individual Pirates player so far this year (and yes, I think it was probably even better than Andrew McCutchen's three-homer game). Meanwhile, the Pirates' manager made a judgement call by lifting a pitcher in a game that was not a no-hitter, nor even a shutout. And there were perfectly good reasons to take him out of the game. Had Russell simply said, "We worried that he might be wearing down a bit, and we wanted to protect one of our most valuable arms," I don't see how anyone could fail to understand it. They might not agree with it, but it would have been a perfectly reasonable position. And yet some people would prefer to talk about the judgement call. It's strange, and disappointing. This was a great game, and yet the discussion about it has devolved into inane outrage about a far less important issue than the amazing stuff that happened on the field. Well done, Post-Gazette.

....And now I've spent as much space writing about the Duke issue as the LaRoche performance. Ugh. 

UPDATE: I quick note on the Post-Gazette's response to concerns about its coverage:

Again, people who were in the stadium, who saw it for themselves might appreciate all of this than those who were not. And I understand the game was not televised, either.

The game might not have been on FSN, but I watched in on and I heard the fans booing, as you would expect them to. I also heard them cheer as Duke was removed. While Duke's exit was probably a bit of a downer for some fans, it never even occurred to me while watching that Russell's hook would become the story of the game. I can't give much of an explanation for the way I felt, but then I'm not sure much explanation is required--LaRoche had 13 total bases! Why wouldn't people look past the manager's decision to remove Duke?

UPDATE: In fairness, I should add that the Post-Gazette was not the only source to emphasize the Duke/Russell angle. John Perrotto did too, for example. I picked on the Post-Gazette mainly because, frankly, that's what I read, or at least the first thing I read.